Friday, December 09, 2016
"The Quiet Man" (1952)
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.