Film Title: The Quiet Man
Studio: Republic Pictures
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
- John Wayne
- Maureen O’Hara
- Barry Fitzgerald
- Victor McLaglen
- Ward Bond
Throughout the golden years of Hollywood, no director was as feared, respected, loved, hated, or as sought after as John Ford. He was a perfectionist, a man who loomed as large as his films. He was a master storyteller who could spin a tale from the smallest of threads, could glean significance from the simplest moments of life or from the humblest of characters. The Quiet Man (1952) stands out among Ford’s other acclaimed works such as The Grapes of Wrath, How Green was My Valley, and The Searchers. It was a film about confrontation; homecoming, discovering roots, and love, all nestled in the lush fabric of Ireland. It was a film 17 years in the making. A film nobody in Hollywood wanted.
The Quiet Man is the story of Sean Thornton (John Wayne), a boxer known in America as Trooper Thorn, the man who delivered a fatal knockout to his opponent in the ring. He longs to shed his celebrity image, along with his guilt, and return to his boyhood home in Ireland. Once there, the village of Innisfree greets Sean not as a fallen professional boxer but as a long-lost neighbor returning home. He takes a quiet moment to breathe in the flourishing scenery of Ireland, recalling memories long forgotten, when he first notices the fiery red flame that is Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara). It’s love at first sight. With the image of Mary Kate dancing around his mind, he sets out to buy the family cottage, much to the chagrin of Mary Kate’s brother, Red Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), who wants to buy the property to get close to his widowed love interest Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick).
Sean succeeds in claiming his home, but also finds an enemy in Red Will, who spitefully refuses to let Sean marry his sister. Sean is willing to buck tradition and take Mary Kate without permission; but, he quickly realizes that Ireland is not America and without her brother’s consent the pursuit is hopeless. With a few white lies and some matchmaking, Sean’s friends Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) and Father Lonergan (Ward Bond) band together and concoct a tempting story for Red Will. They tell Will that if he can get rid of his sister, the Widow Tillane wouldn’t feel threatened by another woman in the house and would happily marry him. Will is eager to eat up the story and push Mary Kate into Sean’s arms. After the marriage ceremony, however, the Widow Tillane is furious at Will’s announcement of their engagement, and he realizes he has been duped. As punishment, he refuses to give Mary Kate her rightful dowry. Mary Kate is heartbroken. To her, the dowry represents her dreams of building her own home with her own furniture passed down from generations of happily wed women. Without it, she doesn’t feel married. The only thing Sean can do is confront Red Will and fight for the dowry. Sean, with memories of his last fight still haunting him, is unwilling to fight Will or anyone else, especially when he doesn’t understand Mary Kate’s attachment to “things.” Mary Kate responds with an ultimatum: no dowry, no marriage bed. Sean must decide if his marriage is worth confronting the demons that have chased him from America to Ireland.
Maureen O’Hara loved Mary Kate Danaher. “I loved the hell and fire in her. She was a terrific dame, tough, and didn’t let herself get walked on”, she said. True, Mary Kate never did let herself get walked on, but she was conflicted, and always testing her limits with others. Her love for Sean was apparent from their first gaze, but she had to be sure of him. She didn’t really want to withhold herself from him or run away; she wanted him to pursue her, but also didn’t want him to completely catch her. She wanted him to be as headstrong and fiery as herself, but his fire couldn’t diminish her own and that’s exactly why the relationship worked. Much the same as Wayne and O’Hara’s chemistry, their dueling passions rise up but never fully consume the other.
O’Hara masterfully infused these qualities into Mary Kate, making them work off of each other, the shyness necessary to make the outbursts all the more powerful. She was feisty and bold, but also shy and nervous. Each glance and movement was given purpose and provided the complexity that entranced Sean and the audience.
Wayne also successfully portrayed the conflict within his own character. He brings forth the vulnerability of a lovesick man who struggles to overcome guilt while maintaining the image of a tough all-American male who won’t be stifled by Irish tradition or the emerald-eyed redhead who came to capture his heart. He plays wounded without weakness, tough without cruelty.
But The Quiet Man was more than Sean’s battle against Red Will Danaher. Behind the scenes, it was John Ford’s fight against Hollywood to make the picture. In 1933, Ford read Maurice Walsh’s short story of a disgraced, lovesick boxer in the Saturday Evening Post. The story touched Ford, for it mirrored his own dreams of rediscovering his Irish roots. He bought the rights from the author for just $10. While he was busy making other films over the next decade, Ford kept The Quiet Man tucked away in his pocket, waiting to find the money and the cast to create a worthy interpretation.
In 1944, Ford approached Maureen O’Hara on the set of The Spanish Main to offer her a leading role as Mary Kate Danaher opposite John Wayne’s Sean Thornton in The Quiet Man. O’Hara had heard whispers on the set of How Green was My Valley that Ford was planning to make a film in Ireland, and had hoped it would be true. She eagerly agreed to return to her beloved Ireland and make the picture with Ford, working closely with him on his yacht, brainstorming ideas and sharing stories of Ireland, drafting and redrafting the screenplay. This process continued every weekend until filming on The Quiet Man began years later (while Ford had to convince a studio to finance it).
Hollywood’s major studios rejected The Quiet Man, calling it a silly sentimental little Irish story that “wouldn’t make a penny.” Ford responded by forming Argosy pictures with Merian C. Cooper and, at John Wayne’s urging, pitched The Quiet Man to Herbert J. Yates at Republic studio. Yates agreed that the story was sentimental at best, but was willing to finance it if it meant working with Ford. He insisted, however, that Ford make a western for him using the same cast and crew he planned to use in The Quiet Man. Ford agreed, and this western became Rio Grande.
Although Ford and the cast saw Rio Grande as little more than a bargaining chip, it sparked the chemistry in O’Hara and Wayne that would go on to smolder and nearly burst into flames in The Quiet Man.
Filming on Rio Grande wrapped in just six weeks. Now, 17 years after Ford first discovered the tale in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, he and his cast and crew flew to Ireland to start filming on The Quiet Man. The village of Cong, in County Mayo, was transformed into the fictional Innisfree. Prior to filming, the village had no electricity or telephone service. Ford brought in the “Irish Players”, which consisted of local Irish talent, many from the Abbey Theatre where O’Hara had her beginnings on stage. He even turned filming into a family affair by bringing several family members of the cast and crew into the movie, including John Wayne’s children, Maureen O’Hara’s brothers James O’Hara and Charles B. Fitzsimons, and his own brother, Francis Ford.
As of 2007, fans of The Quiet Man can find the film on four different DVDs: one Collector’s Edition and three that are included in separate DVD tributes to John Wayne.
“The Quiet Man: Collector’s Edition” seems to be the favorite among fans although most admit the quality could and should be better on all versions. This edition includes a slew of extra features including a commentary by Maureen O’Hara, “The Joy of Ireland” documentary with Maureen O’Hara, The Making of The Quiet Man, and the “Remembering the Quiet Man” montage.
The “John Wayne: The Quiet Man” DVD has garnered mixed reviews among fans due to picture quality. Some feel it is a welcome burst of vibrant color compared to the washed-out images of the old VHS copies, while others find the occasional splotches and blips too distracting and nearly unwatchable. As for special features, this DVD offers a Making of The Quiet Man documentary, which chronicles the background of the film nicely, and, fitting as part of a John Wayne collection, focuses on the relationship between Wayne and Ford. Many of the interview segments are with Wayne’s children. The special features also include a theatrical trailer. Despite being labeled as part of a John Wayne collection, this version is not connected to a DVD set, but is sold separately for those solely interested in The Quiet Man. Overall, this DVD is decent, but not the best.
The John Wayne Collection: Vol. 1 contains The Quiet Man, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Flying Tigers, and The Wake of the Red Witch. For Wayne fans, this set is a great value priced at just $20 at online auction sites.
Similarly, there is a John Wayne Collector’s Pack that includes The Quiet Man along with Rio Grande and The Sands of Iwo Jima. This set can also be found for around $20.
The Quiet Man holds its own among the masterpieces of John Ford’s lengthy career. Modern viewers can appreciate this film as a classic love story knit into the fabric of the Technicolor wonder of Ireland. The iconic stars, Wayne and O’Hara, convey both strength and vulnerability as their characters, struggle to not only be together, but to survive each other.
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