Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Movie Time: Rewind: The Quiet Man
Welcome back to the Rewind, highlighting great movie made before the year 1976. Since March has St. Patrick's Day in it, I though would look at a really great movie about Irish life, John Ford's The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. Filmed in 1952 for Republic Pictures, it is a serious departure for both Ford and Wayne.
The film stars Wayne as Sean Thornton, a disgraced ex-boxer who has fled America to return to the land of his parents in a small rural Irish town. Upon arrival, he catches the eye of one Mary Kate Danaher, played by the fiery Maureen O'Hara. Mary is a spinster, leaving with her older brother Will, played by John Ford regular Victor McLaglen. Sean falls in love with Mary, but her brother Will takes a quick dislike to the American after he outbids him in an effort to reclaim the old Thornton family estate from a rich widow that Danaher also likes. Sean quickly earns the support and respect of the town folk as a quiet and peace loving man, refusing to fight against Danaher.
When Sean learns of the the antiquated rules of courtship that are still in effect in the town he is confused. Enlisting the the help of the town matchmaker (or chaperon) they try to arrange courtship for Mary, but the quick tempered Will refuses. Devasted, it is up the the towns folk, led by another of John Ford's Regulars; Ward Bond as Father Lonergan, to set up the affair. Tricking Danaher into believing that the widow Tillane would agree to a courtship between them if his sister was married off, he reluctantly agrees to the courtship between Sean and Mary. Unfortunately he learns of the deceit on the day of their wedding and refuses to pay Mary's dowry of 350 pounds. Sean is unconcerned, long ago learning that money isn't worth fighting for, refusing to "shame" himself over the matter. Mary interprets this as cowardice, and refuses him his martial rights on their wedding nights.
Tensions grow between the two as Sean refuses to fight over money, and Mary lives in shame of her husband. When Mary finally leaves Sean, it is the final straw. The film culminates into a final confrontation, as Sean literally drags Mary 5 miles back to town, and confronts Will in one of the movies greatest fist fights on film.
There is a lot about this movie to like. Arguably my second favorite John Wayne film (only behind his and John Ford's 1956's The Searchers) it is a very different role for Wayne. Far more subtle and layered, the film isn't the kind of movie Wayne was known for. Despite the great fist fight at the end, much of the film is about a very deep and complex relationship between two people, Wayne channelling inner turmoil and pathos into a character many would expect to fight first and talk later. Part of this is why Ford and Wayne worked so well together, Ford could push Wayne into places many other directors never could and its why the two made so many movies together. This movie, along with The Searchers and 1948's Red River, are the three films that really show the depth and range that Wayne truly had, if only he let himself.
Ford himself won his fourth directorial Oscar for the movie, having won previously in 1935 for The Informer, 1940's The Grapes of Wrath, and 1941's How Green Was My Valley. Ford had been attempting to make this film for over 15 years, initially buying the screen rights in 1933 after reading it as a short story. It wasn't until the late 1940's that he could get financing for the project. Republic Pictures was a small studio that mostly made low budget war films and Westerns. Low costs on low budget films. They agreed to finance the film with Ford's hand picked cast of Wayne and O'Hara, if they three also agreed to make a Western for them first. They figured the Western would recoup any loss they would have making this film. The three went onto to create a big hit with 1950's Rio Grande for the studio, but went onto to make them even more money with The Quiet Man. It also acts as the only film ever to be nominated for an Oscar from the studio.
Ford's trademark cinematography is all throughout the film, wide sweeping vistas, much of it on location in Ireland, another first for the studio. Ford is a master of creating wide open spaces in film. It always amazes me how he can keep so much action in a shot, but leave room for the viewer to take in the wide open spaces of the countryside. The lush iconic green of Ireland can be seen in every shot of the movie, which he also shot in chronological order. The cinematography went on to earn the film another Academy Award.
The beautiful and fiery Maureen O'Hara is wonderful as well. One of the biggest box office performers of the 1940's she co-starred in five films with Wayne. She was tough and athletic and beautiful. She really broke out in movies in 1939, starring in Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn and The hunchback of Notre Dame at only 19. She would go onto success in Ford's How Green Was My Valley and most notably in 1947's Miracle on 34th Street. To many though, it's her pairing with Wayne that were memorable. As a tough tempered woman, you always knew she could hold her own against a movie star who was bigger than life. In no film is that more evident than in The Quiet Man.
The Quiet Man has a little something for everyone, romance and fighting. It is a great picture that truly transcends as such a timeless film. John Ford is one of the best directors in cinema history and John Wayne is one of the biggest stars to ever grace the screen. Even if you are not a fan of many of Wayne's movies, this is the one that is different, this is one that really stands out. Check it out, Republic Pictures The Quiet Man, by director John Ford and starring John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, and Victor McLaglen.
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