The “best” films are the ones that touch us on an emotional level. They stir, they move, they ultimately conquer us. I am all too willing to surrender to them, be transported. That’s what John Ford’s The Quiet Man does. A lovely film full of the requisite Ford tradition and ceremony – and a deep tenderness.
“Well, then. Now. I’ll begin at the beginnin’. A fine soft day in the spring, it was, when the train pulled into Castletown, three hours late as usual, and himself got off. He didn’t have the look of an American tourist at all about him. Not a camera on him; what was worse, not even a fishin’ rod.” – narrator, Father Peter Lonergan (played by Ward Bond)
Sean Thornton, played by screen icon, John Wayne, arrives in Ireland, his place of birth, for a new start in life. He’s a retired boxer searching to cleanse his palate, sort to speak – escape from a terrible event in his life. On his way to the small cottage where he was born in the town of Innisfree, there, among the glorious Irish pastures, surrounded by sheep, he sees a woman – the gorgeous Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), bright red hair shining, lovely against the rich, Irish greenery. She sees him as well.
Both Sean and Mary Kate are smitten from that very first look. Mary Kate becomes central to him. Sean sets forth to win her heart and hand, not an easy task given the traditions of his new home. In order to even take her out for a walk, he must get the blessing of Mary Kate’s less than agreeable brother, Will Danaher (played by Victor McLaglen). Sean and Will get off to a terrible start when Sean outbids the large man for the purchase of the cottage in Innisfree. Will is adamant. He does not want Sean near his sister. Mary Kate, a woman with a vicious temper to match her beauty, is heart-broken. She’s tried not to let on about her feelings toward the new resident of Innisfree but they’re strong. Not to mention she should be married by now.
I must digress for a moment – when Sean arrived in his new cottage right after purchasing the land from the widow, Sarah Tillane (played by Mildred Natwick), he finds someone’s been there cleaning the abandoned cottage. It turns out to be Mary Kate who’s now trapped, hiding so Sean won’t discover her. Knowing someone’s there, Sean makes a loud noise and finds Mary Kate in the shadows. She tries to run out but Sean overpowers her and forcibly draws her in for a kiss. She retaliates with a fierce attempt to punch him, which resulted in O’Hara actually breaking a bone in her arm when Wayne blocked the punch, by the way. Tempest of anger and wind, as the door remains open, makes a stunning scene between these two powers. Of course, no one to make it so better than John Ford, whose talent and vision for framing a scene impresses even the most casual of viewers.
“It’s a bold one you are! Who gave you leave to be kissin’ me?”
Back to the story – Sean, determined to make Mary Kate his own, but forced to comply with local traditions, heeds the wishes of her disagreeable brother, Will. But Sean’s made friends in the small town who are as determined as he to ensure the couple get together. They conjure up a plan.
Michaleen Flynn, a small, ever-so-charming drunkard native of Innisfree, immediately took Sean under his wing upon picking him up at the train depot. Michaleen, wonderfully played by Barry Fitzgerald, along with the town pastor and priest convince Will Danaher that his love interest, the Widow Tillane, will never agree to marry him as long as he has another woman in the house. This means he’ll have to somehow get rid of his sister Mary Kate. He should seriously consider allowing the pairing of Sean and Mary Kate as the best and quickest solution. In the meanwhile, as part of the plan, Sean starts exhibiting signs of interest towards the Widow himself. Will succumbs and Sean and Mary Kate start to date – the first outing a carriage ride and long walk with Michaleen as a very strict chaperone.
Michaleen allows no touching or displays of anger. The two must behave properly according to the many rules set by that place and time. And there are a lot of them. But, alas, as the two spot a bicycle built for two, they make a run for it, leaving Michaleen and his horse and carriage in pursuit. Well, in pursuit that is until the horse passes the Cohan bar where it comes to a complete stop. The animal has never been shown a route passed that place. Taking it a sign, Michaleen steps off and into his favorite haunt to partake in his favored activity. Chaperoning be damned.
The couple, meanwhile, cross the gorgeous countryside on their bicycle built for two. Suddenly they stop and toss the bicycle aside. Sean’s delighted with the adventurous side of Mary Kate. She runs ahead, across a creek and into an old cemetery. All the while there’s no dialogue in this long sequence, as Sean runs after Mary Kate in what can be viewed as a mating ritual of sorts, as much for emphasizing his trying to conquer her love as it is an excuse for John Ford to show off his native Ireland. Your senses are awestruck by this place, these two people. An homage to the land, Ford-style.
By the time Sean and Mary Kate step in, among concrete ruins and crosses, it’s pouring rain. They let the elements bring them together. A gorgeous and tender scene between the shrew and the boxer. Sometimes words are overrated!
There’s no stopping this coupling now. They marry.
The trials and tribulations only deepen, however, when Mary Kate refuses to fulfill her marital “duties” that night. Despite the fact she loves the man, tradition and pride take precedence. Since she was a child, she’d had personal possessions set aside – some gold and furniture left to her by her parents – saved for when she married and set up her own home. Her personal dowry, which in that place and time was equivalent to her worth as a woman. During their wedding celebration, which took place in her brother’s house, Will finds out about the “plan” set forth to trick him into allowing her marriage to Sean when the Widow Tillane, his intended, is appalled that he should think her love is his. As payback, Will refuses to give Mary Kate her few possessions. When time came for her to “be” with her new husband, she claims she’s not officially married until she has them. Without them her situation has not changed, she still has no self-worth, is still a slave – the possession of a man, instead of his equal, just as it was when she lived with her domineering brother. She expects her new husband to fight for her things, as any self-respecting man would do. Sean, however, refuses to fight her brother – he never wants to fight again.
As time passes, all the town folk find out the newly married man has been relegated to sleeping in his old sleeping bag in his own house. Mary Kate grows ashamed of her husband who refuses to fight her brother for her things, for her honor. Surely he’s a coward. One night they spend the night together as man and wife, unable to resist passion. The next morning Sean awakes, smells the flowers, proof he is pleased after a night with his wife only to find, moments later, that she is gone. His friend Michaleen, who’s always about, informs him his wife loves him too much to put up with the shame. Infuriated, having taken enough of Mary Kate and Irish tradition Sean goes after her. Michaleen quickly spreads the word at Dohan’s bar – at last Sean is behaving like a man, demanding what’s his.
Sean arrives at the train depot and literally drags his wife out of the train, then proceeds to drag her through the fields and town. Happy he’s showing some gumption, the townsfolk start gathering around them and following along, agreeing that Mary Kate deserves to “get hers.” It’s worthy of note that John Ford insisted Maureen O’Hara literally be dragged through grass, mud and manure for the long sequence. When one of the crew offered to clean the manure off the path where she’d be dragged, Ford insisted it stay the way it was. No doubt Maureen O’Hara has some of Mary Kate’s feistiness in her. A real trooper because let me tell you, she is thrown, dragged and manhandled for a long stretch – in the story for more than five miles from the train depot to the town of Innisfree and her brother’s house, where finally, Sean demands her dowry and when her brother refuses, throws Mary Kate at his feet. “This deal is off!”
Will doesn’t hesitate to give up Mary Kate’s gold at the mere thought of having her back in his house. But by this time, what Mary Kate really wants is her husband to stand up to her brother. It’s the principle of the thing. Well, stand up to him Sean does as the long-anticipated fight between the two men takes place to the delight of child and priest alike. Through the river, over the hills, along the beaten path, into a bar and across the fields they punch, push and prod. A glorious sequence with the Irish countryside, again, present and accounted for. Exhausted, beaten to a pulp and quite drunk, the two men finally make amends. Their friendship gained through blood and guts, the old-fashioned way.
Of Sean and Mary Kate – well, things work out. In the end we see them waving at another newly married couple as they pass on by. Mary Kate then whispers something into Sean’s ear, getting somewhat of a surprised response from the man who then turns and follows her toward their cottage.
The Quiet Man is a memorable film for so many reasons it’s difficult to put into words. By telling its story, at least the main parts of it, I am able to relive it – vividly. By all accounts this film was a labor of love for John Ford, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and it is clearly evident on the screen. The love of Ireland is palpable – it is filmed with majesty and reverence. Despite John Ford’s successes before this film – he’d already been nominated for four Academy Awards and won three – no major studio supported his making it. He had to turn to the small studio that turned out low-budget, B movies, Republic Pictures, to get it done. Thanks in large part to John Wayne who was Republic’s biggest star.
Ford went on to win his fourth Academy Award as Best Director for The Quiet Man and the film received a total of seven nominations, including one for Best Picture, winning also for Cinematography for its glorious Technicolor. The only acting nod went to Victor McLaglen for Actor in a Supporting Role, for his portrayal of Will Danaher.
This is one of my favorite John Ford films and my favorite of all John Wayne roles, as I mentioned above, perhaps because it’s a “softer” Wayne here despite the fact he portrays a fighter. I recognize the star’s undeniable, iconic screen presence – a movie STAR if there ever was one, the biggest among all the bigger-than-life. I can’t help but remember the many conversations about film I’ve had with my dad through the years whenever I think of John Wayne. We are originally from Cuba and he’s always referred to Wayne as “the horse of the screen,” referring to his magnificent presence, the power he portrayed and stood for – a symbol of American power and strength. I don’t know if it was the same way throughout the world. But in Cuba watching Wayne was watching America, much as it was in this country.
I have to mention that the famous John Wayne “gait” or “swagger,” however you want to call it, is a real hoot to see in The Quiet Man and the film allows for ample opportunity to witness one of the most famous “moves” in filmdom. The stuff of legend and what countless imitators have used to honor the man. So recognizable and unique – foot over foot and arms, in sync, from side to side across his body causing the stride to sway left and right, as he moves forward. Something to behold from the original, I must say.
Maureen O’Hara who’s wonderful in everything I’ve ever seen her in is a vision in The Quiet Man. Perfect casting and, man, oh, man is there some kind of chemistry between her and Wayne! Phew! This film would not work if not for that. I might add O’Hara is the only actress with presence enough to match Wayne’s onscreen persona. Her energy matches his. The (nearly) overwhelming stature of the man. Clearly, happily and luckily for film fans, John Ford knew that. As an aside, while watching a documentary on John Ford I heard a story I love in reference to how the character of Mary Kate in The Quiet Man came to have that name. Simply, Ford named her after the two great loves of his life, his wife Mary Ford, to whom he was married for over fifty years, and Kate Hepburn.
The Quiet Man is the second of five films that Wayne and O’Hara made together, all directed by John Ford. This film is also one of the twenty-five collaborations between Ford and Wayne, a legendary friendship and partnership that spanned fifty years.
Of all John Wayne films, it seems people comment most about The Searchers as his best, the one considered the quintessential John Wayne-John Ford masterpiece. I love the undeniable force that is The Searchers, another visually stunning film. But to me, The Quiet Man trumps it. I enjoy the story more, its feel, the unforgettable characters of which there are many, and the fact that it is an ode to beauty on several levels. I can’t express it any better than to say it’s full of love (as corny as that may sound.) It is a dance of sorts.
I sometimes post tributes to films or actors on this blog by way of simple pictorials. Ironically, for one of the most gorgeous films ever made for which a pictorial would have sufficed, I could barely stop writing. By the way, if you think I may have inserted spoilers by retelling this story. I have not. There is no spoiling this one. You gotta see it!
Here’s to The Quiet Man – for its heart, romance, beauty and sheer charm. It is one of the greatest from one of the greatest, John Ford. It also stars a different kind of John Wayne.
Starting today is a blogathon extravaganza. Michael of Scribehard on Film and Jill of Sittin’ On a Backyard Fence are hosting a month-long Summer Under The Stars (SUTS) blogathon to coincide with the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) schedule. Classic film bloggers the world over will be posting numerous entries on films, stars, and other pertinent Hollywood topics. It promises to be an insightful marathon. For details on the schedule, participants and submissions, go to either of the host sites and prepare to be enchanted for 31 straight days.
On this inaugural SUTS day in 2012, John Wayne is honored. Although I don’t consider myself a big John Wayne fan, I enjoy several of his films. A few I enjoy a lot with one absolute favorite, one that I absolutely, unequivocably adore. This one is not included in the day’s 12-film tribute to Wayne on TCM but it is my entry on this day for this event. I post this entry in remembrance of John Wayne but the post is dedicated to The Quiet Man and all its players. It is a film that shines. Yes, like an emerald.
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