[Film Review] The Quiet Man (1952)

The Quiet Man poster

Title: The Quiet Man
Year: 1952
Country: USA
Language: English, Irish
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: John Ford
Writer: Frank S. Nugent
based on the story of Maurice Walsh
Music: Victor Young
Cinematography: Winton C. Hoch
John Wayne
Maureen O’Hara
Barry Fitzgerald
Ward Bond
Victor McLaglen
Mildred Natwick
Arthur Shields
Eileen Crowe
Francis Ford
Jack MacGowran
Sean McClory
Charles B. Fitzsimons
Rating: 7.4/10

The Quiet Man 1952

John Ford swooped his historically fourth BEST DIRECTOR win for THE QUIET MAN in the Oscars, a record very much likely will never be matched, to say nothing of being surpassed. But it was his only win from a Ford-Wayne picture, THE SEARCHERS (1956) was wholesomely snubbed, but it is not a conventional Ford-Wayne picture either, its locale is deviant from their usual Western landscape.

Wayne plays Sean Thornton, an Irish-born American from Pittsburgh, returns to his homeland, a backwater town called Inisfree (a fictional place) in the 1920s, he reclaims his family land from widow Sarah Tillane (Natwick) and falls for an ardent ginger Mary-Kate Danaher (O’Hara), after locking horns with her eldest brother Squire Will Danaher (McLaglen), a loutish heavy who also sets his eyes on Thornton’s farm, and according to the provincial tradition, Mary-Kate cannot marry without Squire’s consent.

With a little conspiracy from Sean’s new local friends – yes, Sean is the new apple of the eye for this jerkwater town, who can easily gain trust and favor from denizens over the unwelcome Squire himself. – including the matchmaker Michaeleen Flynn (Fitzgerald), reverend Cyril Playfair’s (Shields) and his wife (Crowe), who fabricate a quid pro quo to inveigle Squire to marry Mary-Kate to Sean, so himself in return could marry Ms. Tillane, and the plan works (for the first half), Sean and Mary-Kate ties the knot, but an unknowing Ms. Tillane refuses to take Squire for the team, after a bout of ruckus, Squire holds back Mary-Kate’s dowry, which according to Sean’s noble confession, doesn’t mean anything to him, what he loves is her, not her fortune, but talking about different values, for Mary-Kate, her dowry is not just money, it is her own reputation at stake, that’s something worth her husband to fight for, but Sean seems to be unmotivated.

Sean’s past in USA has been carefully veiled in the narrative, only his burly figure and the occasional attention from reverend Playfair, who is a fervent sport fan, knowingly suggest his vocation, a former prizefighter, who has sworn to abnegate boxing after accidentally knocking off an opponent during a match. Now, coerced by an obdurate Mary-Kate, Sean has to use his fists to earn back her respect and prove that he is not a coward, even though in his mind, it is plumb purposeless, but the point is, that’s what husbands must do to defend his womenfolk, so a long-delayed close-range brawl between Sean and Squire arrives ebulliently with on-lookers betting their money on who is the last man standing.

THE QUIET MAN adheres to the conventional criteria of a patriarchal society under the microcosm of Inisfree, machismo reeks of booze, smoke, gambles and sweat after a fist fight, even Mary-Kate, a perfect specimen of a fine lady, blindly hamstrings her pride in the shibboleth, which leaves the picture a smack outmoded in the eyes of a new viewer six decades later.

Visually expansive, thanks to the sublime topography of the Irish countryside (in the sunny days only) and John Ford’s discerning sense of aesthetics, THE QUIET MAN also elicits a more layered performance from John Wayne, not merely a macho bigot bogged in his own intransigence, he can also be a rose-loving, violence-relinquishing pacifist, paired with a strikingly zealous Ms. O’Hara, who is so ambidextrous both indoor and outdoor, whether she is playing harpsichord or playing rough against Wayne. Alas, Wayne finds his match, a virtuous leading lady who can both physically and characteristically challenge him in a Ford picture.

Victor McLaglen, who is visibly too old to play big brother of O’Hara (34 years of her senior), is the only member in the cast rewarded with an Oscar nomination, but in retrospect, he chews the scenery a bit little. Yet, it is Barry Fitzgerald who almost single-handedly holds intact the film’s comedic vibe as the booze-dependent Flynn, with gusto and impeccable foibles, and in truth, THE QUIET MAN aims to be a bubbly ethnographic study sending a more liberal message – there is no reason why Catholicism and Protestantism cannot co-exist harmoniously under the same roof, maybe not all roads can lead to Rome, but at least there are several of them can. A final nod to Victor Young’s majestic score, utterly pertinent to accompany a jolly journey in that bygone era and faraway place.

Oscar 1952  The Quiet Man


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