Directed by John Ford
This film is an old favourite of mine and seeing it again after all these years didn’t disappoint. It’s wonderful. However, a cautionary note needs to be sounded …
This movie is sentimental. It’s politically incorrect. It is not Ireland. If these sorts of things get your shorts in a knot, avoid this movie.
The Ireland of The Quiet Man is an Ireland that never existed. It is loaded with every Irish cliche imaginable. For all I know, this movie is responsible for generating many of them. While it doesn’t include leprechauns, it might as well with the drunken Irish priest played by Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way).
So what is this movie? It’s the other side of the John Ford coin. As a director, he may have been the apotheosis of the American macho Hollywood filmmakers of the 40’s and 50’s. Like Howard Hawks, his films were about men – stoic and tough and articulated best through John Wayne. It was directors such as these that made the western what it was, creating the formula that would be worked and reworked and improvised on in so many later films.
Despite their surface toughness though, all these films were high romanticism. They were idealized images of what men were or should be. The North American stoic is, like the cynic, an inverted romantic. Imagine Oscar Wilde as an introvert.
The movie The Quiet Man perfectly illustrates this. This is a movie made by the same man who gave us Stagecoach, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande and The Searchers.
This time, however, rather than the spare-talking tough warrior, we see the Ford male in domestic surroundings. The warrior at home, as it were; the patriarch in love.
And if the westerns and war films are excessively tough-minded, here we see the same excess mirrored as sentimentality. Everything is idealized (hence, the Ireland we see). Everything is fantasy.
Essentially, it is a fairy tale and one that works tremendously well. A large part of the reason is the combination of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara (Miracle On 34th Street). They always worked well together but never more so than in this movie.
And the relationship they have – at odds, somewhat embattled, and a bit appalling to a contemporary audience with the surface submissiveness of the Maureen O’Hara character – is thoroughly engaging.
And just to remind us we’re in the macho world, we get a brilliant brawl at the end of the film. This is the man’s Harlequin romance. And while it may be a guilty pleasure, it is a pleasure nonetheless.
(Originally written in 2002.)