by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: John Ford
Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen
My Rating: 6/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 91% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A retired American with a secret in his past returns to the village of his birth in 1920s Ireland, where he falls for a spirited redhead, whose brother is contemptuous of their union.

John Ford’s The Quiet Man won two Academy Awards, one of them for Ford himself as Best Director, his fourth Oscar in that category, a feat which has yet to be equaled by any other director since.  It is on the National Film Registry, on the AFI’s list of “100 Years, 100 Passions”, and is included in the invaluable annually updated book of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.  It currently carries a 91% Certified Fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website and is JUST outside of the IMDb’s top 250 most highly rated films.

(And, as movie nuts will be happy to tell you, this is also the film E.T. is watching on TV when he’s drunk at home and Elliot is at school with the frogs…)

I mention all of this because I want to stress the amazing “pedigree” of The Quiet Man, a film which many have called John Wayne’s finest, one in which the familiar Wayne swagger is on display, but without the kind of Western bravado that was so integral to his success in the movies.  Yet, despite this rather impressive list of accomplishments, The Quiet Man is not quite as timeless as I hoped it would be.  It’s a relic of romantic attitudes that went out of style with the sexual revolution, the Me-Too movement, and – I’ll just say it – common sense.  It has its moments, of course, but aside from one genuine laugh-out-loud moment and a fistfight for the ages, it’s a bit of a chore.

John Wayne plays Sean Thornton, a man looking to escape his past by reconnecting with Ireland, the land of his birth, some time in the 1920s.  In the process, he falls madly in love with Mary Kate Danaher, a fiery-headed and fierce-tempered lass played by Maureen O’Hara.  Such is the chemistry between these two lovebirds that when they first lay eyes on each other, the normally stoic Mary Kate can barely walk ten feet before turning back to stare at Sean’s goofy grin…once, then twice, then THREE times.  Sean asks an old friend, “Hey, is that real?  She couldn’t be…!”  Yeah.  They talk like that all through the picture.

Anyway, one thing leads to another, and they start courting.  But Mary Kate’s elder brother, Will (played by Victor McLaglen with a face that looks like it was put together by a committee of blind men), is against their union because Sean plans to buy a parcel of land he’s been angling to get for himself.  And because this is the ‘20s, the elder brother’s word is law, so no romance for Sean and Mary Kate.  Until, that is, the townsfolk intercede on behalf of the lovebirds.  Small village, you know…the kind where everybody’s private business is an open secret.

The rest of the story is fairly predictable.  Marriage, Will still objects, a new home, the bride’s determination not to consummate the marriage until she gets her dowry, the false crisis, the big fight between Sean and Will at the climax, and so on.  The movie rises and falls on the chemistry between Sean and Mary Kate and the obstacles to their happiness.  Some formulas are old because they still work, and it is competently exploited in The Quiet Man.

For me, though, I must be honest and say that I was never quite engrossed in the story and atmosphere as I would have hoped.  For one thing, John Ford shot much of the film on location in Ireland, an extravagance not commonly indulged in during the 1950s.  However, there are insert shots here and there that were obviously staged and filmed on a studio set.  They are so obvious they became a distraction, something that has never really bothered me in other films of that era.

For another, the attitudes between men and women in The Quiet Man are hopelessly dated, so much so that I’m surprised this film still enjoys such a high rating on IMDb.  For example, there’s a famous scene where Sean intercepts Mary Kate as she’s about to leave on a train because Sean won’t ask her brother for her dowry.  Sean pulls her from the train and drags her home.  Literally drags her.  As they cross a green field, Mary Kate loses her balance and falls, but Sean barely breaks stride, and she is pulled along the grass like so much flour in a sack.  [The making-of documentary on the blu ray reveals the field was littered with sheep droppings which were not removed at Ford’s insistence.  Ah, showbiz.]  One of the female townsfolk witnesses the scene and yells to Sean: “Sir!  Sir! …here’s a good stick, to beat the lovely lady!”  Say what???

Now look: I’m not advocating for “cancellation” of The Quiet Man.  I’m just saying that you should be warned.  It’s a product of its time as much as Gone with the Wind or Some Like It Hot, full of attitudes and jokes that could never be filmed today except as parody or satire.  I get that, intellectually.  For the sake of this story (there’s a lot I’m leaving out), this scene was a necessary beat so Mary Kate could be finally convinced of Sean’s love and determination, equal to hers in every way.  But scenes like that are so glaring that they took me out of the story, and eventually all I saw was this bully who was pulling this poor woman across poop-littered grass.  What can I say.

Now.  Having said all that…I must admit there is one scene that had me laughing out loud at its daring.  It’s so forthright and downright bawdy, I’m frankly amazed it was allowed to make it into the film at all.  I was about to write a full description below with SPOILER ALERT at the beginning, but I won’t.  It involves a misunderstanding between the local matchmaker and broken furniture.  You’ll know it when you see it.  It was such a risqué joke that theaters in Boston edited it out of their film reels when it was released.  I laughed out loud pretty dang hard.

That brilliant joke aside, The Quiet Man is a serviceable film, showcasing two stars, Wayne and O’Hara, at or near the height of their powers, but who are at the mercy of a melodramatic script that is nearly a parody of itself.  I’m not sorry I watched it, you understand.  It’s a piece of Americana as ingrained in cinema history as Singin’ in the Rain.  But on the whole…I would rather watch Singin’ in the Rain for the fiftieth time than watch The Quiet Man again.  At least, not so soon.  Maybe in a few years.

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