Friday, December 09, 2016

"The Quiet Man" (1952)

I have a particular fondness for fish-out-of-water stories, which is one of the main reasons I enjoy The Quiet Man so much.  The other main reasons, of course, are my favorite actor and favorite actress:  John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.  They seem to bring out the best acting in each other, and of course, John Wayne always gave his all for director John Ford, which means he is particularly on in this film.  And Maureen keeps up with him scene after scene -- they're simply a joy to watch together.

The titular quiet man is Sean Thornton (John Wayne), an American who moves to the tiny Irish town of Innisfree.  He wants to buy White O'Morn, the cottage where he was born shortly before his parents emigrated to the United States.  But when he outbids Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) to buy it, he makes an enemy of Danaher, who vows to make his life miserable.  He finds it easy to do, too, because Thornton promptly falls in love with Danaher's sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara).  Mary Kate has a temper as fiery as her brother's, and the town regards her as unmarriageable.  Who would dare tame Mary Kate, or want Will for a brother-in-law?


But Sean Thornton believes himself superior in his American sophistication to these quaint, quirky Irish people who tell him this or that isn't or can't be done.  He wanted White O'Morn, and he got it.  He wants Mary Kate, so he's sure he can get her too.  He is quiet not in volume, but in action -- although he is bold, he is also kind and considerate, very unlike most of the men in Innisfree.  He sees Mary Kate is not only beautiful, but also lonely and sad.  She's spent her life keeping house for her loutish brother, and no one has ever courted her.  Under his attentions, she thrives.


And they get married.  But Will Danaher discovers he was tricked into giving his sister away, and in a towering rage, he refuses to give her the dowry he had promised or her rightful belongings.  Mary Kate expects Sean to fight her brother to get back her money and things, but he won't do it.  Sean says he wanted Mary Kate, not money and objects, and he takes her home.  But there Mary Kate gives him an ultimatum:  until he gets her dowry and the furniture she inherited from her mother, she will cook and clean for him, but she will not share his bed.


Sean still refuses to fight her brother, and so they do not consummate their marriage.  Mary Kate despises her husband as a coward, and he cannot understand why she values money and goods more than him.  The rest of the film revolves around how they come to understand each other's reasons for how they're behaving so they can find a resolution to their problem.


What I find really interesting about this film is how the problem isn't solved by the "backward" Mary Kate changing her ideas about marriage and how husbands and wives should behave.  It's "enlightened" Sean who gradually adapts to how his new friends and neighbors live and act.  It's not until he gives up on thinking he's somehow better than they are that he can understand why Mary Kate believes he's failed as a husband.  And only by sacrificing his own dignity by publicly reclaiming his wife, and then putting aside his own wishes and feelings to honor hers, does he finally prove he's a man worthy of her.


The truth is, this quiet man has been too quiet for his own good.  He's been harboring a terrible secret and refusing to share it with anyone, not even the woman he loves.  Finally, he confesses to a priest, and in a wordless flashback we see what has been haunting him, what drove him to seek Ireland in the first place.


He went searching for a new life, a place where no one knew who he had been and what he had done.  But he couldn't outrun himself.  And hiding his secret did him no good -- it isolated him from his friends, kept his wife from understanding why he wouldn't fight her brother.  It's not until he stops being quiet -- keeping his secret, being peaceful and avoiding fights, and calmly accepting his wife's behavior -- that he can find resolution and win peace.


Not only is this an intriguing look at gender and cultural differences, but it's a perfectly beautiful film.  John Ford shot it in Technicolor on location in Ireland, and you can still see how lovely this movie is.  There has yet to be a really good restoration of The Quiet Man available on DVD, which is a crying shame -- I hope someone like TCM or the Criterion Collection lavish their attention on it soon.


This has been my contribution to the John Wayne Blogathon that Quiggy and I are co-hosting here on my blog and on The Midnite Drive-In.  Please follow this link to see all the other entries in this celebration of one of the most popular actors of all time!  Also, I'm hosting a giveaway of six of John Wayne's films, which you'll find by following that link as well.

26 comments:

  1. Time for confession. Yes, I have nearly every Wayne movie available, including this one. But I keep avoiding this one when it comes time to watch a Wayne movie, because it feels unlike anything he ever did before. Or since. But I keep reading such great reviews as this one and keep rethinking my opinion. OK, so I'll pack this one with the rest of the videos I plan on taking with me on my vacation later this month, and I'll hopefully FINALLY watch it. Great review.

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    1. Quiggy, that's so interesting! I agree that it's not a "typical" John Wayne movie, if you consider westerns and war movies his type. But he made plenty of movies that were neither of those, such as this, Trouble Along the Way, and The Long Voyage Home. It may not have the same setting, but it's very much his sort of role -- strong, untalkative, principled, protective, etc. I think when you finally watch it, you will be pleasantly surprised.

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  2. This is actually the first John Wayne movie I saw! I was surprised to see him in a western, but my dad told me that he usually was in westerns and The Quiet Man was an exception, along with a few others. But I love this movie. I havee been watching it ever since I can remember! And we do have it on DVD at our house! It's a Collector's Edition DVD because my mom really loves the story. Did you know that the two children talking to Mary Kate on the beach are ohn Wayne's children? Great review as always!!

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    1. MovieCritic -- how cool! The first John Wayne movie I ever saw was either In Old California or Dakota, neither of which are particularly awesome. May I ask which edition you have? Is it this edition? I have this one and the picture quality is pretty awful -- I want to get a better one. I was thinking this one from Olive Films because I have some of their other DVDs and the transfers are good. I actually couldn't screencap this myself because the picture quality on my DVD was so awful.

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    2. Oh, and four of John Wayne's kids are in this (Melinda, Michael, Patrick, and Toni) in the horse racing scene.

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  3. I'd really like to see this film! I don't think the story will be one of my FAVORITE-est favorites; but it still sounds very intriguing, and it's much more my sort of thing than "The Searchers" or any of his other famous Westerns. And the scenery looks gorgeous :-)

    I'm gonna resist the temptation to look it up on YouTube, because whenever I try to watch an old color film on YouTube, the colors always end up looking washed-out and terrible, and for some reason I find that deeply distressing. (My eyes are picky, I guess.) I'll find a DVD copy or something somewhere.

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    1. Jessica, it's a great story, full of meaty things to think about. Plus excellent acting, pretty scenery, and the like. I never even got to mention the wonderful Catholic priest, played by Ward Bond, or the funny little matchmaker, played by Barry Fitzgerald.

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    2. Oh, I remember Barry Fitzgerald from "Going My Way"--didn't he play the old priest? He was a very funny, cute old man :-)

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    3. Jessica, yup! Barry Fitzgerald is in that too. He's endlessly amusing.

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  4. Nice review and lovely screencaps! I love this movie. I think it's my favorite Ward Bond character. He's so delightful in this one. I never did understand a thing about their relationship when I was young, why she throws the money in the fire etc, and reading this made me realize I've never actually thought about any of it. Childhood memories always overruled the rest. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it all!

    Mostly, I always waited impatiently the entire movie until Thornton and Danaher finally have it out. Hee.

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    1. DKoren, I cannot tell a lie -- none of these screencaps are mine. My DVD's picture is terrible and not worth screencapping at all. I'd actually never watched it before, just picked it up at the used bookstore to replace my old VHS copy. Blech. I'm going to get a new one. (Do you have a good version of this?)

      I first saw this around the age of 13, and I just kinda sorta got that she wouldn't sleep with him because he wouldn't get her stuff for her -- I fully understood her wanting to have "all her things about her" because I've felt (and thought) that many times myself. But once her friends brought over her things, I was like, "Oh, come on, that should be that!" It wasn't until I watched this again as an adult that I went, "OH! That's why she's mad." And that was when I understood why she ran away from him -- because she did sleep with him, finally, and then felt ashamed of and angry at herself for giving in when he hadn't done as she insisted.

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    2. Hm. I own this one. My recollection is that it was bright and colorful and I had no issues with it... but I haven't watched it in a couple of years. I'll have to put it on and check it out again.

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    3. Nope, I don't recommend that one. Just watched part of it on my computer and it's not sharp and clear, and the colors are, while not washed out exactly, they're less than stellar. I think the last time I saw this was at my parents, on TCM, and that was a nice sharp version of it.

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    4. A different version yet! The colors on mine are nice, but it's really grainy, like an older VHS tape.

      I've done a bunch of research this afternoon and went ahead and ordered this one because I've read several reviews (not just on Amazon) saying it's very nicely restored. I've got several other films from Olive Films that are very nice (Father Goose and Alan's Appointment with Danger and Captain Carey USA are the ones I can think of), and actually both of the versions I was thinking of upgrading to are from them, but this one has bonus stuff and and and I spent my Christmas money.

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  5. The Quiet Man is my desert island movie. As soon as the theme music begins I start to smile and cry at the same time. Such a beautiful film and you truly did it justice with your review.

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    1. Caftan Woman, it's a great choice for a desert island movie! It's got a little bit of everything :-) I'm glad you liked my review!

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  6. I agree - I hope someone does restore this gorgeous film soon!! I watched it on Olive Film's blue ray release, which was an improvement from the Dvd, but it still not what it could be.

    Really enjoyed your review and your thoughts on is quietness!

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    1. Thanks, Christina! I've always been fascinated by the idea of John Wayne playing a character described as a quiet man -- it's kind of unexpected, so I enjoyed delving into that.

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  7. A beautiful movie, so well done in every way. It would be wonderful if it got the "Criterion treatment"!

    Like you pointed out, it's up to Wayne's character to stop thinking he's more progressive than everyone else, and to honor his wife's wishes. Wayne does a terrific job of guiding his character through this growth.

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    1. Thanks, Silver Screenings! I agree -- it's a very believable character arc, thanks to John Wayne's grounded performance.

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  8. This is one of my favorite movies of all time! I just love watching John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. I wish more people knew about the Quiet Man and gave it more attention.

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    1. Ekaterina, so cool you love it that much! I think a lot of classic film fans know it, but those more inclined to modern films don't, so it's one I like to introduce people to.

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  9. This was the first A-film of John Wayne's that I ever saw...and I've been loving it ever since!

    Oh, and the music is terrific!

    One of my favorites of all films--not just Wayne's!

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    1. Annie, very cool! I bought the 40th anniversary VHS edition when I was 12 or 13, having never seen it, and really liked it. It's probably the movie that cemented Maureen O'Hara as one of my favorite actresses, even back then.

      And yes, the music is great!

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  10. I'm going through all of last years blogathons I participated in and make sure I read and comment on all the hosts posts, something I often forget to do. December was so crazy but I can't believe I never read this post!

    I really like the points you raise about Mary Kate being lonely and Sean Thornton having to change and share his past. I've seen this movie so many times that I guess I've missed some of the subtleties you've brought up.

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    1. Phyl, that's a lovely idea! December was definitely crazy.

      It took writing this post to make me really dig into the story and see what's going on behind the obvious things I knew so well. Often happens for me! I'm glad you liked it.

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