This review was first published in February 2014
I have always dreamt of visiting Ireland, it is on the top of my list and this year I will get there. I think one of the most prominent reasons for my love of anything Irish is John Ford’s The Quiet Man.
John Ford was one of the greatest directors of all time; he won 6 Academy Awards for his film-making. He is most famous for films like The Searchers (1956), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Man who shot Liberty Valance (1962) and many many more, mostly westerns. But my favourite John Ford film by far is The Quiet Man. Something about the idyllic setting and the pairing of his greatest leading man; John Wayne and his greatest leading lady; Maureen O’Hara strikes gold with me.
This is such a beautiful film; the cinematography still stands up today. Green, the national colour of Ireland can apparently be seen in every shot in the movie though not on any of the actors. Excluding the green dress worn by O’Hara in the graveyard scene. Many criticize the film for giving a false and idealized portrayal of Ireland. But I think the innocence and warmth this version displays is what makes the film so successful, plus who wouldn’t want to go to a place like that.
The setting for this Irish tale is the tiny made up village of Inisfree (Cong, County Mayo was used to double for the make believe village) in the 1920’s. Sean Thornton (Wayne) is an American who steps off the train and is looking for directions to get there. He is, it turns out a retired boxer and has come home to where he was born after hearing tales from his mother about the idyllic village and cottage he lived in. He is also running away from America after accidentally killing a man in the ring and has never fought since. Sean is picked up by Michaleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald, who could not be more suited or adorable in the role). On their way to buy his family cottage he reveals who he is and sees a life changing sight. Mary Kate Danaher (O’Hara) walking through the fields, he is immediately attracted to her and wants to marry her.
The problem is Mary Kate’s brother ‘Red’ Will Danaher has taken an instant disliking to Thornton and itching for a fight because Sean has bought the cottage that Danaher himself had his eye on for some time. He makes life very difficult for the pair who are obviously madly in love at first sight. Through sneaking and trickery members of the village trick Will Danaher into accepting the marriage, only for him to then find out about it. He is too late to stop the wedding but he can refuse to give Mary Kate her traditional dowry. This puts a wedge in the marriage before it even begins, Sean must decide whether it is worth fighting again for the honour of himself and his wife or accept being a coward in the eyes of his new love.
Sounds like quite heavy stuff, but this is essentially a comedy, the chemistry between all the actors involved is perfect as is the script. A story like this handled by Ford can be made into so much more than it seems on the page, and this is a film that Ford had spent 30 years trying to get made. It was an extremely personal film for him. John Ford was Irish by birth and he had always wanted to make a film in and about Ireland, this was his tribute to his home country and his roots.
John Wayne’s character is called Sean in the film, John Fords real first name was Sean. Maureen O’Hara’s character is called Mary-Kate reportedly named after 2 of the great loves of John Ford’s life; Mary McBryde Smith – his wife and Katharine Hepburn; whom he reportedly fell in love with whilst making Mary of Scotland (1936). John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara had great chemistry in The Quiet Man, more so in this than in any other movie they did together. They were very good friends off screen and had worked together before on Rio Grande (1950) which incidentally was the deal breaker Ford, Wayne and O’Hara made with Republic Pictures to get The Quiet Man made; if they delivered a Western, Republic would finance their first feature outside the United States and make a departure from their usual speciality which was low budget Westerns and War films. Their deal paid off as it was the only picture Republic made that received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Wayne and O’Hara worked together again 3 times in The Wings of Eagles (1957), McLintock! (1963), and Big Jake (1971)
John Ford had a stock company, he used the same actors in most of his films and many familiar faces can be seen in The Quiet Man. But they were more than just a stock company they were a family, and they loved working with this temperamental genius of a director. The actors Ford worked with kept coming back for more because they knew how great Ford’s films could be. The part of Mary Kate Danaher was written for Maureen O’Hara who had worked with Ford twice before. Ford idolised her in this movie, shown by the shots he chooses to use, catching all of her beauty, Ford was said to have been in love with O’Hara for many years. I adore Maureen O’Hara, she was such a stunning beauty and a great actress, she stood equal to the men and not many could do that in those days; especially not next to the likes of Duke Wayne. She is feisty and fiery with a great energy; her character in this film is as close to how I would like to think she is in real life.
John Ford was notorious for being difficult to work with, and few people ever understood him, but nobody can deny that he was an absolute genius. The proof is in the pudding as the expression goes, 6 Academy Awards how many other directors have achieved that? Many of the greatest directors the likes of Steven Spielberg, Peter Bogdanovich and the great Martin Scorsese all revere Ford and admit to learning their craft by watching his movies. Maureen O’Hara said of John Ford with whom she worked many times “He could be kind, gracious and gentle, with a wonderful sense of humour but he could also be vindictive and mean. All one can do with John Ford is accept him with all of his faults and virtues, and love him” And I for one do love him for giving us such amazing cinema to aspire to and repeatedly enjoy.
John Ford’s The Quiet Man was a departure for Ford, but like his other departures; The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and How Green was My Valley (1941) (the latter also starring Maureen O’Hara) this is a classic film for the ages. It is just as watch-able today as the day it was released, with an innocent story full of fun and warmth. Which could certainly show the modern comedies and romances a thing or two.
Nothing but the best for my favourite John Ford film 5/5, and thoroughly deserved if I say so myself. If you do nothing else this week watch The Quiet Man. You’ll be very satisfied and humming the score, which is as beautiful as the scenery, for days.
I meant every word of this review, John Ford the man I find fascinating, I don’t think I would have got on with him one bit, but there is no denying he had an eye for cinema. Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne are one of the great classic double acts, I hold them in high regard along the likes of Hepburn and Tracy. Maureen O’Hara remains a firm favourite, I re-watched The Parent Trap (1960) this summer and she was just fantastic. She is such a beauty but she has this fiery spirit which leaps off the screen, and she shows it two-fold in The Quiet Man. John Wayne has also long been a favourite, he feels so nostalgic to me because he reminds me of Sunday afternoons as a child watching his Westerns with my dad. The film completely holds up, the cinematography really is something, it is stunning, it really makes Ireland look idyllic, I am sure many tourists for the last half a century can thank The Quiet Man for their trips to Ireland. The colour used here is so bold and it draws your eye immediately, and the film has a real old-fashioned feel; like a way of life that used to be but no longer exists. I think that’s part of what attracts people to the film, this slow innocent place, and people that we wish we could visit.