The greatest American movie genre is easily the Western. Italy may have made them cool, but some of the best came from the good ol’ U.S. of A. where John Ford ruled the roost. When John Wayne starred as his leading man, not only were some of the great Westerns made (“Fort Apache”, “The Searchers”), but some of Hollywood’s most classic films. Day 3 of our St. Patrick’s week, might be a little surprising at first glance. It’s a classic John Ford film, but one that’s as far from the West as the Atlantic is wide. “The Quiet Man” is as Irish as a Guiness and despite not having a single leprechaun or a glowing pot of gold, shows the Emerald Isle in all her beauty with every exterior shot.
Former boxer, Sean Thornton (John Wayne) is trying to escape his past. Having killed a man in the ring, he quits the sport and moves from Pittsburgh, PA to Innisfree, Ireland. Finding his family’s old estate for sale, he outbids local land owner Squire “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) and reclaims what is rightfully his. Though Danaher doesn’t see it this way. How could Thornton be entitled to land he’s never worked? To add insult to injury, Sean falls in love with and proposes to his sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara). Out of spite, Danaher refuses to sanction their marriage – until he falls for a wealthy widow who agrees to marriage once Mary Kate leaves home. This pushes him to change his mind and encourage his sister’s marriage all the faster. But on their wedding day, Danaher learns this was a rouse set up by the townsfolk to help Mary Kate’s cause. Enraged, he humiliates the new bride by taking back her dowry. Sean, a yank who’s oblivious to Irish customs, doesn’t think this matters much so long as they’ve wed. Mary Kate, however, having been dishonored, can’t let things go. Her husband’s unwillingness to confront her brother makes her think of him as a coward and the newlyweds live estranged from one another. As the marriage crumbles, Sean must make a choice – either confront his past and fight once again for the woman he loves or loser her forever.
Made in 1951,”The Quiet Man” was a deeply personal film for Ford (born John Martin O’Feeney), who liked to perpetuate the image of a tough hard-drinking Irish-American. A pioneer of location shooting, he filmed all of the picture’s exteriors in Ireland. With those gorgeous landscapes presented in the vividness of Technicolor, it’s no surprise that the film was nominated for five Oscars, including one for “Best Cinematography”. In the end, “The Quiet Man” only won two of them: “Best Cinematography” and “Best Director”.
A master storyteller who’s mark can be famously seen in the work of Steven Spielberg, Ford was always able to get great performances from his actors. Maureen O’Hara portrays Mary Kate as both a sweet damsel and a hot-blooded bitch, who feels scorned by husband. As lovely as she is, you can’t help but feel Thorton’s frustration grow as she becomes more and more ornery. McLaglen, who was nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” as Danaher, is just as great – a real cantankerous sonofabitch. Then there’s The Duke. I’ve never thought of John Wayne as a good actor, but I know he’s a great movie star. He’s pretty much the same in every movie – an easy going tough-guy who delivers his lines in a near monotone. When the scene calls for it, he can be light and comedic and he’s never boring to watch. Ford surely liked using him for his broad appeal and as long as the script was good, so was Wayne.
“The Quiet Man” still holds up today. The dialogue is solid and the blend of comedy and romance with a slight “fish out of the water” storyline, keeps the movie interesting for today’s audiences. Despite the cheesy, aged colorization (certainly due in part to the poor transfer of this DVD ), the film could easily have been made today as a period piece set in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Going off of Artisan’s “re-mastered” 1999 release, the picture quality is weak, looking much like a videotape transfer. The sound comes through in mono (the way it was recorded), but again doesn’t sound any different than you’d get from a VHS tape. There is one extra on the disc, a 27 minute featurette called “The Making of The Quiet Man” hosted by Leonard Maltin, which is informative and fun to watch. Who knew Ford bought the rights to the story for only $10?!?
“The Quiet Man” gets 4 angels simply for being great on every level. It’s the type of film that shows a master performing at the top of his game. That said, this DVD release is an insult to the great director. A 60th anniversary Blu-Ray was released by Olive Films this past January and though CJD hasn’t reviewed the disc, it looks like the picture has finally got the restoration it deserves.