A Movie A Week: THE QUIET MAN (1952) Sir! Sir! Here’s a good stick to beat the lovely lady!
Published at: June 9, 2009, 6:32 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Week.
[For those who new to the column, A Movie A Week is just that, a dedicated way for me explore vintage cinema every week. I’ll review a movie every Monday and each one will be connected to the one before it via a common thread, either an actor, director, writer, producer or some other crew member. Each film, pulled from my DVD shelf or recorded on the home DVR (I heart TCM) will be one I haven’t seen.]
This is another big one. I’ve said it in previous AMAD and AMAW articles, but to reiterate… John Wayne wasn’t particularly loved in my house growing up. My stepdad was into Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery, not the Duke. My mom couldn’t care less about it all. She likes legal dramas, comedy and horror.
When I was in high school we were shown THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE in Newspaper of all classes (“print the legend” and all that… even though that went against everything they were actually teaching us in that class) and that’s what turned me around on Wayne and got me into Westerns not starring Clint Eastwood.
So it’s been a bit of catch-up when it comes to The Duke and I’ve used AMAD and AMAW as an excuse to really analyze these flicks.
Today we’re going to take a look at a fantastic John Ford/John Wayne collaboration THE QUIET MAN.
I was immediately taken by the easy-going tone of the film, helped a great deal by the lush photography of Winton C. Hoch, which was evident even though the DVD transfer was god-awful. Is there a reason there’s not a pristine, remastered transfer of this? Yes, I want a high-def version, but I’d settle for a remastered DVD.
Anyway, Hoch’s photography of the rolling green hills of Ireland and Victor Young’s score made me instantly love this setting and that, in turn, made me relate immediately to John Wayne’s Sean Thornton. Thornton is a wealthy American who has roots in Ireland, his birth country, and is fulfilling his dream of relocating to his homeland.
Upon his arrival at the train station John Ford and screenwriter Frank Nugent give us a taste of the culture as the conductor argues with damn near everyone at the station on the best route for Wayne to take to get to his sleepy little town.
Character. That’s what I’m loving so much about John Ford’s flicks as I plow through those I haven’t seen and revisit some old favorites. Every single person you meet in his films could be the stars of their own movie or, at the very least, the star’s memorable sidekick.
Speaking of, it’s not long before we meet Wayne’s real deal little drunk Irish buddy in the flick, one Mr. Barry Fitzgerald, who we are following over from last week’s THE CATERED AFFAIR. He has a lot more to do in this one, using his heritage for all it’s worth. He plays a kind of small town matchmaker. The dude knows everybody and everybody knows him. He’s always on the hunt for a sip of whiskey and isn’t ashamed to ask for more.
When Wayne blows into town Fitzgerald’s Flynn is at his side and hardly ever leaves. That’s a good thing for Wayne because he soon makes eyes at Mary Kate Danaher, sister to the wealthiest brute in town and a fiery redhead who is as quick with her fists as she is with her tongue.
Maureen O’Hara plays Mary Kate and boy… it’s easy to see why Wayne falls for her instantly. I loved seeing her barriers drop one after the other as Wayne’s charm worked its way through.
And Wayne deserves a lot of credit for his work here, too. Yes, he’s always a version of himself, but that’s kind of the reason for his iconic status. Here he’s incredibly vulnerable. He is indeed a tough guy, but one that is running from his past, determined not to use his considerable phyiscal strength. He's passive through most of this film. A non-violent John Wayne is a bit of a shocker, right? I think it took a lot of guts for him to drop his usual tough guy persona and open himself up here.
His passiveness is put to the test by an almost instantaneous rivalry with Mary Kate’s thuggish brother, Will Danaher, played by the always great Victor McLaglen. The brute is begging for it the whole damn movie and you're just itching to see them go toe to toe.
But that’s the catch of the flick. Mary Kate is bound by the rules of her country and village, which means she can’t get married to Thornton without her brother’s consent. I figured that’d be the central drama to the whole love story, a forbidden love, but again my preconceptions were wrong.
With the help of the local priest (Ward Bond) and Fitzgerald, Thornton pulls a bit of a trick on the big, strong, but a tad dim-witted Will Danaher, playing on his own loneliness. It’s actually kind of a douchey trick they pulled, insinuating that the rich widower that McLaglen has an eye on would consider marrying him, but only if his sister moves out of the house… and what better way to do that than marry her off?
That ruse can’t (and doesn't) last for long and the second half of the movie is Mary Kate determined to get her dowry, which her own mother had spent her whole life slaving away to give her. But the problem is deeper than that. She views her new husband as a coward, not willing to stand up for her honor.
Everything comes to a head with perhaps one of the longest knock-down, drag-out fist-fights in movie history. This fight is so long that our two leads need to take a breather and there is an intermission at a pub (naturally) before taking it home.
Final Thoughts: THE QUIET MAN is just a lovely movie. I don’t know of a better word to describe it. The acting, the characterization, the score, the cinematography, locations, direction, pacing… it’s just lovely to watch. It’s such a confident, fun, entertaining film that I couldn’t help but get swept up in it. And yes, that ET moment plays so much better for me now. Of course Elliott had to lay the smackeroo on that girl in science class. I know I wanted to grab some cute girl I barely know in a windy doorway and lay one on her, but I’m no John Wayne (or even a Henry Thomas), so that probably would only gain me a restraining order and a night in the tank.
Upcoming A Movie A Week Titles:
Monday, June 15th: RIO GRANDE (1950)
Monday, June 22nd: THE GETAWAY (1972)
Monday, June 29th: THE MACKINTOSH MAN (1973)
Monday, July 6th: THE LONG HOT SUMMER (1958)
Next week brings us RIO GRANDE, also directed by John Ford and starring most of the cast of THE QUIET MAN. In fact, its history is really interesting… I’ll get more into it in my next column, but RIO GRANDE is the “sure thing” Western that Ford had to make in order to get his passion project, THE QUIET MAN, greenlit. See you folks next week for that one!
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