Review for The Quiet Man
I saw ‘The Quiet Man’ some years ago as part of a hefty John Wayne DVD box set and remember being surprised then, as I was again now, at how untypical a film it was for ‘Duke’. If I had to place it in a genre, it would perhaps sit most neatly aside the gentler Ealing films like ‘Whiskey Galore’ or ‘ The Titfield Thunderbolt’. Yes – I know. This is a John Ford directed movie with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in starring roles. But if you haven’t seen it, now’s your chance and maybe you’ll see what I mean.
If you’re a fan of the film already and want to know whether this Blu-Ray edition is worth upgrading to then the answer is a resounding yes. It looks great; far better than the DVD edition with stunning detail, richer colours, and deeper contrast. For such a visual film, this really does make a difference.
If you’re new to the film, the read on.
John Ford is almost synonymous with the Western. After all, when it comes to the big and important films of the genre, he was responsible for the lion’s share having directed such classics as Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande, many featuring Wayne, before he was finally able to convince a studio to finance a film he longed to make; ‘The Quiet Man’.
You can understand the studio’s reticence in a way. ‘The Quiet Man’ was based on a short story that had been published some time earlier in a magazine which had caught Ford’s eye, about an American returning to his home town (well, village) in Southern Ireland. Ford himself felt strong spiritual roots to Ireland, his ancestral home, and had spent much time there and he longed to make this film as a way of capturing that spirit.
An American named Sean Thornton (John Wayne) returns to his childhood home of ‘Innisfree’ after many years in the USA. His mother had emigrated with him as a child but, when she had passed on prematurely, Thornton, now a man of means, decides to return to the simple life ‘back home.
In common with Ealing films’ approach to Scotland and middle-England, Ford paints an idealised and affectionate look at Ireland, full of stereotypes and bewildering and illogical tradition, where even the ‘baddies’ are OK once you get to know them.
The resulting comic-romance does have occasional touches of melodrama and action but it never gets too heavy. ‘The Quiet Man’ is a fun movie in that respect, a perfect way to spend a wintery Sunday afternoon.
When Sean arrives on a steam train to the main town, we are introduced to the quirky Irish way of life at the outset when he steps off the train and asks the best way to get to Innisfree. Very soon even the train’s driver has joined the discussion about the best approach to take. Indeed the small crowd debating the point hardly notice when Sean moves off with an elderly gentleman who agrees to take him there.
On their journey, Sean asks to stop to take in the beautiful view and notices his old family cottage still intact. More significantly he sees a vision – a redheaded beauty, Mary-Kate (Maureen O’Hara) shepherding some sheep across a field. There’s no doubt that he’s now a man in love – with the village, with the home, and with Mary-Kate.
But it’s not going to be easy. He makes enquiries to buy back his mother’s cottage and land from a local land-owner, Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick), but it becomes clear that a local farmer has also had his eye on the property and is none too pleased about the arrival of this American. This turns out to be the local blowhard, Will Danagher (Victor McLaglen) who just happens to be Mary-Kate’s brother.
We also quickly learn that Mary-Kate is no angel either. She’s a tempestuous woman who loses her temper quickly and has scared off most potential local suitors, having settled into a life with her brother.
The film sets up these barriers early and then takes us through the joyous journey of resolution as one battle after another is fought and resolved towards a happy ending.
Wayne is great in the role. Big enough and brash enough to carry it off and a man of few words, earning the respect of the local community and the right to make it his home.
O’Hara is equally well-cast. Beautiful but fiery and (according to the accompanying documentary) an absolute sport during a notable scene where Sean drags her across a couple of miles of fields in front of the whole community to make a point about how much he loves here – in a language that she understands.
I won’t tell much more as it will spoil the story, suffice to say that the fim culminates in one of the most affectionate and long-winded fisticuff fights (or ‘donnybrooks’) ever committed to celluloid. It goes on for some twenty minutes and takes in miles of village and even a brief respite for refreshments in a pub before it resumes. Great stuff!
The film was shot both on location in Galway (and it looks beautiful) as well as in studio. Like many films of the period, the joins between the two are fairly obvious but this doesn’t spoil the enjoyment.
As this is a Eureka! Masters of Cinema edition, it comes with a some welcome contextual extras.
The Making of The Quiet Man - This is an informative documentary which was made some time ago, certainly in time to have been included on the DVD edition. Despite that and its 4:3 ratio, it’s very informative. Lovingly hosted by Leonard Maltin hosted it includes plenty of interviews, stills and contextual ‘making of’ material, including interviews with some of John Wayne’s children who recall the trip to Ireland with fondness.
New and exclusive video essay on the film by Ford expert and scholar Tag Gallagher - this is a really good overview of the film from an academic’s point of view though is perfectly understandable for non-academics too.
Booklet – the film ships with a 44 page booklet featuring new writing by Sheila O’Malley; a 1953 profile of John Wayne; a 1955 profile of John Ford; an essay on cinematographer Winton C. Hoch; and archival imagery.
‘The Quiet Man’ is a film that deserves to be in everyone’s collection, principally because it’s so much fun to watch. Yes, it may be full of stereotypes and a highly idealised view of life in rural Ireland, but it’s all the better for that. This is certainly the edition to get.