Review: The Quiet Man (1952)

John_Wayne_Maureen_O'Hara

When you think of the combination of John Ford and John Wayne, it’s only normal to conjure up the quintessential western pairing. It’s true there are so many films that we could pay a nod to like Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1961), etc.

Thus, when considering such company The Quiet Man always felt like an obvious outlier and yet I’ve always been taken with it for those exact reasons. John Ford was an Irishman through and through. He made The Informer in 1935 and though How Green was my Valley (1941) was based around a Welsh family it might as well be considered an analogous world.

But with this picture, we see Ford’s final venture into such a country — the homeland of his people and there’s certainly an idealized quality to it. Where the Catholics priests (Ward Bond) pretend to be Protestants when the local magistrate comes through the village to inspect the parish. Where the colorful figures of the village, despite small stature, are painted with bright and jovial strokes that nevertheless seem larger than life. There’s nothing lackluster about them and no harm in that.

Stereotypically wrought or dated by today’s standards you might say but Ford is undoubtedly paying a final homage to the lore of his ancestors. A history that stretches further back than many of us might be able to comprehend. There’s a surprising affection that courses through the picture. If not simply in the people than certainly through the capturing of scenery as well.

Exterior sets aside, the on-location imagery is on par with John Ford’s most  resplendent scenes from Monument Valley. There couldn’t be a sharper contrast either in Winston Hoch’s photography of rolling hills with the arid plains that define most of the indelible visuals from Utah. Again, that makes them all the more resonate, the true epitome of lush mise en scene.

Because The Quiet Man is a film that is continually blessed by a big screen where the Technicolor tones overwhelm you with their fervent grandeur only surpassed by the feisty fire bursting forth from Maureen O’Hara. Ireland has never looked more gorgeous and the same can be said of the bonniest lass I did ever lay eyes on clothed in red and blue. Victor Young’s score proves to run the paradoxical gambit between utter serenity and majesty with playful dips to match the film’s own backbreaking brand of broad comedy.

Sean Thorton (John Wayne) makes the pilgrimage to the little community of Innisfree intent on buying back his childhood home and finding himself a local bride. He’s reticent as to why exactly he’s decided to return. But regardless, the yank is not accustomed to the way the world works in the old country. He is in need of some sagely council.

Sean’s main guide is the bright-eyed leprechaun in human form (Barry Fitzgerald) who becomes his matchmaker, the liaison between him the and barrel-chested bully Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). Though Sean is taken with the man’s sister, he can’t call on her until the squire gives his consent and a squabble over some real estate makes their relationship tenuous at best.

There are certain sensibilities. Certain customs that are unspoken law of the land. Life moves a little slower too.  But when it does move it rolls down the roadways with a blistering pace of good-natured thunder. Local horse races become the arena for men to exercise their prowess and win the favor of the local ladies through feats of athleticism leading to a bonnet-lined finish.

Sean finally gets some consent and the courtship begins though Flynn constantly warns against any amount of “Paddy Fingers.” And they get on well enough until Mary Kate, being the proud woman that she is, demands her husband collect the dowery that is rightfully hers. He could care less about the money or her hulking brother and yet he declines. She figures him a coward and not to be touted as such, he finally relents, ready to have it out with his rival onece and for all.

To make his point, he deals with both of them setting up The Quiet Man’s exemplary showdown. It’s a final fist-throwing wallop fest that’s all spectacle. The whole town runs rampant across the countryside as the two men (Wayne and McLaglen) wail on each other. Back and forth. One decked. The other pushed, kicked or whacked. They’re on the receiving end of a face full of water and start it all over again. In the end, its all in good fun and that’s how this movie would have it. There’s little need to take it too seriously. The pure enjoyment factor is one of its most laudable virtues.

It’s also the stuff of legend what Maureen O’Hara was coaxed by her director to whisper to Duke in those last moments. The words are said michievously and his face lights up with sheer incredulity. For me, it doesn’t matter because his expression says it all and the way she playfully leads him off into the distance, enticing him to follow her across the row of stones, is so candid.

The chemistry between them is as real as anything I’ve ever seen on screen. He whips her around and drags her along, gives her a slap, and yet she’s got fire enough to face off against him and give him a run for his money. She keeps him on his toes and he goes to great lengths just to be with her. The Quiet Man works because that central dynamic is robust and still equally passionate. Their natural affinity for one another cannot be counterfeit. It’s too sincere. It’s what made them so iconic together and it’s part of what made John Ford’s The Quiet Man an idiosyncratic and still thoroughly luxuriant classic.

5/5 Stars

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1948)

6a177-sheworeayellowribbonpost“Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.”

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon can probably be considered lighter fare than the Searchers or Liberty Valance, but it is still worth a watch for Ford or Wayne fans.The 2nd installment of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy, this film was shot in Monument Valley in color and features a 41 year old John Wayne playing a 60 year old captain on the verge of retirement. However, before he is done he must diffuse the aggression of the Native Americans due to the aftermath of the Little Big Horn. At base and on the the trail he must deal with two young bucks (James Agar and Harry Carey Jr.) and the stuck up girl (Joanne Dru) they are fighting over. However, he also has some very capable men in his company, two of which are played by Victor McClaigen and Ben Johnson. With his retirement imminent he salvages his last mission before riding off as a civilian towards California. Except they are not quite done with him yet.

Here Wayne takes on a more fatherly role and does a good job dispelling his knowledge and know how as the experienced Nathan Cuttings Brittles. As usual John Ford does not disappoint and there is some brilliant scenery whether it is Monument Valley in the rain or the shine. Next are Fort Apache (1948) and then Rio Grande (1950)!

4/5 Stars

Rio Grande (1950)

f5e4d-riograndeThe last installment of John Ford’s Calvary Trilogy. Not the best of him or Wayne for that matter, but it is still a worthwhile film. First, there is the tension in the paring between Wayne and Maureen O’Harra as they quarrel about what to do about their young son who is a member of Wayne’s unit. There is a supporting cast including the likes of Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson, Harey Carey Jr., and Calude Jarman Jr.

While watching it I was just thinking how Ford has so many great looking films in both color and black and white. This one uses the latter as well as a Monument Valley backdrop to perfection. It just looks so beautiful in every shot and Maureen O’Hara does not hurt the eyes either for that matter.

Soon after Ford would pair again with a few of his stars to make another little film. Anyone for The Quiet Man?

3.5/5 Stars

Gunga Din (1939)

ac5f5-gungadinStarring Cary Grant, Victor MClaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. with Sam Jaffe in the title role and director George Stevens, the film follows three men in Her Majesties’ Forces. They soon have a run in with a violent cult but they narrowly come out in one piece. However, after that things quiet down and one of the three plans to leave the service so he can get married. Another follows the water boy Din and happens upon a golden temple. Then the cult takes him prisoner while Din flees to get help. His tow buddies come alone only to be captured as well. After putting up a fight they watch in horror as their troops start to fall in the same trap. The wounded Din sounds the alarm just in time, allowing the forces to defend themselves and then lead an offensive attack. Miraculously the three friends come out alive and Din dies a hero. This film is a great combination of action and humor. As Kipling would say, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

4.5/5 Stars

The Quiet Man (1952)

Starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara with director John Ford, the film follows an ex-American boxer as he returns to his roots in Ireland. Soon he is befriended by the proper yet kindly folk in the quaint town. Also, a beautiful red-haired girl catches his eye one day. Fireworks start between the American and the proud brother, so he will not condone the courtship or marriage of his sister. Finally, Wayne does gain his wife but she is unhappy without her dowry and she believes her husband is a coward since he will not fight for it. Little does she know the past he tried to escape, but once he gets it off his chest, he does fight. Through the exciting event both men grow fond of each other and the town gets a kick out of the entertainment. O’Hara and the rest of the cast including Barry Fitzgerlad are wonderful as the Irish folk, all playing off the Quiet Man.

5/5 Stars