The Quiet Man April 19, 2016
Majestically photographed and punchily performed, The Quiet Man, directed by John Ford and based upon the short story of the same name by Maurice Walsh, is a zesty romantic comedy of buxom warmth and bountiful charm. It stars the indelibly rugged John Wayne as Sean Thorton, an American ex-boxer en route to his birthplace, the lushly green Ireland, to reclaim his mother’s home and reclaim what’s left of his dwindling identity. Settling in a minuscule village, the quaint Inisfree, it doesn’t take long before he finds himself a welcomed, new part of the community. But once his eye catches Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), a flame-haired local, his newfound tranquility and determination to rediscover himself are dropped down to second and third on his list of priorities, a dedication to winning her heart suddenly first.
But Mary Kate is not the type of woman you can effortlessly woo as if she were a second rate Betty Grable. A loud-mouth unafraid of speaking her mind, she’s lived by the belief that she doesn’t need a man to survive; and, living with her bullying, cantankerous brother, Red (a scene-stealing Victor McLaglen) at home, she might even be too scared to look for one when the time is right.
Inevitably, though, Sean and Mary Kate do meet and do notice an attraction between them and do decide that they want to be together. But in the 1920s Ireland in which they live, Mary Kate can only court her love interest with her brother’s consent. Because he wanted the land Sean bought before his arrival, however, Red, in retaliation, decides to refuse to allow the couple to simply date, igniting a long-winded battle between him, Sean and Mary Kate, and the townspeople who are more than a little tired of his ill-tempered ways.
The Quiet Man’s premise has dated, but the appeal of its stars and breathtaking Technicolor photography has endured measurelessly. Wayne’s macho persona, at its most toned down, makes for an ideal contrasting of the always impassioned O’Hara; Winton Hoch’s cinematography provides for some of the most resplendent images in film history, his fondling of the Irish countryside, along with O’Hara’s ethereal beauty, distinctly extraordinary. It is stunning in all areas except its damned story, which has aged badly in the face of a modern world where the idea of someone holding up a dream romance is consummately preposterous. It’s a twist in Ford’s filmography — though attributing some of his greatest artistic achievements — as the director never was one to spend time with the romantic comedy genre.
But with Wayne and O’Hara he did, and the actors are nothing less than splendid, Wayne an unexpectedly tender lead, O’Hara a terrifically spunky leading lady that brings the heated Mary Kate, one of the best female characters of an era without many great female characters, to roaring life. Their chemistry is tremendously robust — I adore the scene in which they first let their feelings be known, with an explosive kiss during a windstorm — and the film is almost able to triumph solely because of their being together.
But not quite. I could never really buy the storyline — which is a product that wasn’t all too out of the ordinary in the 1950s — and was never convinced, despite the immense sexual tension between Wayne and O’Hara, that its central romance was ever pressing enough to call for the massive conflicts that arise because of Red’s halting of it. But The Quiet Man has enough lavish imagery, enough dogged star power, to make it worthy of one’s time — just remember it was released in 1952 and not 2016, and that times, though seeming more glamorous by the standards of audiences who fall prey to romanticism, were not as progressive as they are today. B-