Sunday, March 26, 2023

2023 Blind Spot Series: The Quiet Man


Based on a short story for Saturday Evening Post by Maurice Walsh, The Quiet Man is the story of a boxer who travels from Pittsburgh to his home village in Ireland to purchase his old family farm as he deals with locals while falling for a woman whom he wants to spend the rest of his life with. Directed by John Ford and screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, the film is an exploration of a man wanting to return to his roots and start a new life while dealing with conflict from those who don’t see him as worthy of anything. Starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, Francis Ford, and Ward Bond who also does the film’s narration. The Quiet Man is a majestic and rapturous film from John Ford.

The film follows a former boxer who has returned from Pittsburgh to a small Irish village to purchase his old family cottage as he gets the ire of his neighbor who wanted the land as the tension worsens when the boxer falls for his neighbor’s sister. It is a film that plays into this man who has chosen to leave behind the world of boxing but also wanting to return home to his old family cottage in order to restore the family’s legacy while falling for this woman whose brother has immense hatred for. Frank S. Nugent’s screenplay, with un-credited contributions by John Ford, is largely straightforward as it is told mainly from the perspective of Father Lonergan (Ward Bond) who narrates the story as it opens with the arrival of Sean Thornton (John Wayne) who goes to the village of Inisfree with a lot of money in wanting to buy the cottage that his family used to live in when he was a child. Upon his arrival, Thornton gets a glimpse of a fiery redhead in Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) whom he tries to court only to realize her older brother is Squire “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) who is upset that Thornton purchased the cottage and land from the rich widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick) who accepted Thornton’s offer.

Though Red refuses to have his sister wanting to do with Thornton despite the town’s embracement of him due to his family history. Mary Kate does fall for Thornton as many of its locals including Father Lonergan, the matchmaker/bookmaker Michaeleen `Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), the Protestant Reverend Cyril Playfair (Arthur Shields) and his wife Elizabeth (Eileen Crowe) decide to create a little lie that would get Red to allow his sister to marry Thornton. Yet, things eventually get complicated making things for Thornton and Mary Kate troubling with the former also carrying the guilt into why he ended his boxing career as he is unwilling to get physical with Red. Even as the latter has a dowry that she had worked for and wants as Thornton is unsure in how to get it without getting physical as he is afraid of what he might do.

John Ford’s direction is definitely full of richness in its imagery as many of its exterior locations were shot on location in the Ireland counties of Mayo and Galway with the interior locations shot at the Republic Studios backlot. Ford’s usage of the wide shots definitely add to the beauty of the locations with so much attention to detail of the hills and mountains in the background as well as the fields and grass in the foreground. It plays into the vastness of the village while Ford also employs a lot of close-ups and medium shots for the scenes at the cottage and at the pub where the characters go to. Even as it play into the drama such as the scene where Red meets Thornton for the first time at Tillane’s home where Ford definitely showcases the tension that looms throughout the film while also infusing bits of comedy when Flynn is asked to watch over Thornton and Mary Kate as their courtship begins.

Ford’s direction also plays into the difference between American and Irish customs as it is something Thornton has trouble with when it concerns the latter as well as his own confusion about Mary Kate’s dowry. It is a moment where Ford definitely shifts from the male perspective of things to Mary Kate’s own perspective of pride as she is someone who has to tend to her brother and his mates yet has worked hard to make something for herself. While Thornton has everything he can get her, the dowry isn’t something that Mary Kate needs as Thornton would eventually understand as Ford does create some unique shots as it plays into Thornton’s own fear about his past and what he’s afraid he might do. Yet, it all comes down to this climatic moment that is all about Thornton needing to prove how much he loves Mary Kate and what he must do for her. Overall, Ford crafts a riveting and evocative film about an Irish-born American ex-boxer trying to get the approval of his neighbor so he can marry that man’s sister.

Cinematographer Winton C. Hoch does brilliant work with the film’s Technicolor cinematography as it captures the lushness of the locations along with some low-key lighting for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Jack Murray does excellent work with the editing as it has some unique rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and action along with a few transitional dissolves. Art director Frank Hotaling, with set decorators John McCarthy Jr. and Charles S. Thompson, does amazing work with the look of the interiors of the cottage that Thornton used to live in as a child as well as the home of Danaher. Costume designer Adele Palmer does fantastic work with the costumes from the look of the dresses that Mary Kate wears as well as some of the fine suits and casual clothing that Thornton wears.

The special effects by Howard and Theodore Lydecker are terrific for its usage of a few of the film’s minimal effects such as some of the medium shots of the characters on a carriage with rear projection footage in the background. The sound work of Daniel J. Bloomberg, T.A. Carman, David H. Moriarty, W.O. Watson, and Howard Wilson is superb for capturing the sounds of the crowd during some big events including the film’s climax along with the sound of music that is played on location. The film’s music by Victor Young is incredible for its luscious score that mixes orchestral string arrangements with traditional Irish folk as it is a major highlight of the film that include traditional songs that play into the atmosphere of the film.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast as it feature some notable small roles from Jack MacGowran as Red’s assistant Ignatius Feeney, May Craig as a woman with a fish basket at the train station, Paddy O’Donnell as a railway porter, Eric Gorman as a train engine driver, Kevin Lawless as a train engineer fireman, Joseph O’Dea as a train guard, Sean McClory and Charles FitzSimons in their respective roles as the locals Owen Glynn and Hugh Forbes who are skeptical towards Thornton at first only to accept him due to his family heritage, and James Fitzsimons as a young pastor in Father Paul who would inform Father Lonergan about the events in the film’s climax. Arthur Shields and Eileen Crowe are superb in their respective roles as the Reverend Cyril and Elizabeth Playfair as a couple who help in creating a courtship for Thornton and Mary Kate with the former knowing Thornton under another name as a boxer. Francis Ford is terrific as an elderly villager in Dan Tobin who knows about the Thornton family as well as being supportive of him.

Mildred Natwick is fantastic as the widow Sarah Tillane as a rich woman who owned the land and cottage that used to be Thornton’s home as she accept Thornton’s offer against Red’s offer believing he will do more for the community. Ward Bond is excellent as Father Peter Lonergan as the film’s narrator who is among those who immediately accepts Thornton while also giving Mary Kate some guidance as he brings some humor including his quest to catch a large salmon. Barry Fitzgerald is brilliant as Michaeleen `Oge Flynn as a matchmaker/bookmaker who is the first to befriend Thornton as he is aware of Thornton’s family as he does what he can to guide Thornton about the Irish customs as well as courting Thornton to Mary Kate. Victor McLaglen is amazing as Squire “Red” Will Danaher as Mary Kate’s older brother who is upset at Thornton in buying the land and cottage that he hoped to get while also doing what he can to not approve the courtship between Thornton and his sister in an act of pride and arrogance.

Finally, there’s the duo of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in tremendous leading performance in their respective roles as Sean Thornton and Mary Kate Danaher. O’Hara’s performance is full of radiance and energy as a woman who is independent and prefers to do things her way despite having to care for her brother while also trying to save up money for her own dowry. Wayne’s performance is surprisingly tender as well as witty as a man who just wants to return to his roots as well as wanting something simple as a way to hide from the guilt he is carrying from his time in Pittsburgh. Wayne and O’Hara together just have immense chemistry in the way they deal with each other but also try to be respectful towards another as they are a major highlight of the film.

The Quiet Man is a sensational film from John Ford that features great leading performances from John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Along with its incredible ensemble supporting cast, gorgeous cinematography, beautiful locations, its exploration of pride and guilt, and Victor Young’s enchanting music score. It is a film that isn’t just this exhilarating and intoxicating romantic film but also an exploration of two people wanting to create a life for themselves despite the ire of a man who is full of pride because he couldn’t get what he wants. In the end, The Quiet Man is a phenomenal film from John Ford.

© thevoid99 2023


ruth said...

I've been curious about this one but for some reason I'm just not interested in seeing any John Wayne movies. At the same time, Wayne's role here doesn't seem to be the typical macho cowboy nonsense so I might give this a chance one day.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-John Wayne has become a polarizing figure due to his politics but he is much better actor than people give him credit for when he's in the hands of a great director like John Ford or Howard Hawks.