The Quiet Man

The Quiet Man
Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Frank S. Nugent (based on the short story by Maurice Walsh)
Stars: John Wayne (Sean Thornton), Maureen O’Hara (Mary Kate Danaher), Barry Fitzgerald (Michaleen Oge Flynn), Ward Bond (Father Peter Lonergan), Victor McLaglen (Squire “Red” Will Danaher), Mildred Natwick (The Widow Sarah Tillane), Francis Ford (Dan Tobin), Eileen Crowe (Mrs. Elizabeth Playfair), May Craig (Fishwoman with Basket at Station), Arthur Shields (Reverend Cyril Playfair), Charles B. Fitzsimons (Hugh), James O’Hara (Father Paul), Sean McClory (Owen Glynn)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1952
Country: U.S.
The Quiet Man Olive Films Signature Collection Blu-Ray
The Quiet ManFor a filmmaker who, in close contest with D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, and Orson Welles, is widely considered “The Great American Director” and who is most frequently associated with that most mythic of American genres, the Western, it is curious that John Ford’s most popular film remains The Quiet Man, a romance set in rural Ireland. It was a major hit in the U.S., ranking among the top 10 highest grossing films of that year and earning more at the box office than any of Ford’s other films; it also netted him the fourth of his still unmatched four Oscars for Best Director (Winton C. Hoch and Archie Stout also took home a statue for their Technicolor cinematography, but the film lost Best Picture to DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth). The film’s reception in Ireland wasn’t immediately positive, as some viewers felt that its fairy tale depiction of their homeland as a quaint, picturesque world of ancient customs, repressed sexuality, and good-natured fighting and boozing was an insult. But, in the ensuing decades it has become a beloved classic there, even topping an Irish Times’ 1996 poll as the “Greatest Irish Film” despite the fact that it was a Hollywood production.

The story is set largely in the fictional village of Inisfree, although the exact time period is left vague (it seems to be set in the 1920s). It should be noted immediately the film’s Ireland is a kind of fantasy world that draws from reality, but restructures it into a misty dream of the land. The saturated Technicolor images paint a world of lush green hills, open skies, and stony walls that have long since beaten time itself, all bathed in ethereal, mist-filtered light (it is a real disappointment, then, when Ford intercuts shots and scenes done on soundstages; the patent fakery breaks the mood, rather than enhances it). The people, who are simultaneously characters and caricatures, are a lovable rogue’s gallery of types from the entire socioeconomic and religious spectrum, and they all get along in their own way, suggesting a kind of rough-hewn utopia where almost everyone finds some kind of common ground (a message we desperately need now).

The protagonist, Sean Thornton (John Wayne), arrives by train in the film’s opening scene, having returned to his homeland after living most of his adult life in the United States. He plans to buy back his ancestral family’s small plot of land and cottage, known as “White O’Morn,” from its current owner, a wealthy widow named Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick). This infuriates Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), the largest landowner in the village who has been wanting to buy the land for some time. This tension with Sean is further exacerbated when Sean becomes interested in Danaher’s sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara), a beautiful redhead with a well-known temper. Sean is smitten and determined to marry her, and even though Mary Kate returns his affections, they are stymied by the land’s rituals of consent and dowry, which effectively gives Danaher control over his sister. Mary Kate wants Sean to fight her brother and Danaher does everything to egg him on, but Sean resists because, for reasons that aren’t made clear until later in the film, he has sworn off fighting. This, of course, gets him branded a coward, even by Mary Kate, who is ashamed at his unwillingness to go mano-a-mano with Danaher (their marital problems are, like everything else, a community issue as much as they are a personal issue).

Sean’s unwillingness to fight provides the film with its structuring tension, although Wayne’s presence makes it fundamentally impossible to believe that he won’t eventually stand up for himself and fight the brutish Danaher, with the primary surprise being that the catharsis of the long-delayed violence is not so much in Wayne beating the barrel-chested Irish bully into much-deserved oblivion, but rather in Ford’s treatment of the fight as a big, raucous, rowdy ritual of long-overdue male bonding. The fight goes on and on in high comic style, with the two men pounding away at each other, getting doused with buckets of water, stopping at the pub to slam some porter before going at it again. There are cheap shots, sucker punches, and all manner of taunting, all of which is watched and cheered by the entire village (bishops and priests included), but it becomes readily clear that this is all in good fun, which marks a strong departure from the film’s literary source, a short story of the same title by Maurice Walsh. In the story, Sean is a lean, thin man who no one thinks capable of violence, an idea that the casting of Wayne, by the time the biggest and most macho star in Hollywood, immediately eliminates.

The film reveals fairly late in the story that Sean had been a boxer in the U.S., and his aversion to violence stems from his having accidentally killed a man in the ring. The flashback sequence of Sean’s lethal moment in the ring is by far the film’s most compelling scene, both emotionally and aesthetically. Dreamlike and even horrifying, it gives powerful evidence to Sean’s lingering torment, which stands in conflict with the eventually raucous nature of the film’s long-delayed fisticuffs. In some sense the boxing flashback feels like it was pulled from another film entirely, although it works magnificently on its own (Martin Scorsese has said that it was a primary visual influence on his depiction of boxing in 1980’s Raging Bull).

Wayne, in the atypical role of romantic hero, is quite good, conveying Sean’s fundamental decency and desire to reconnect with his family heritage, which is why everyone in town save Danaher immediately takes to him; they recognize a good man when they see one. He connects with Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), a frequently soused carriage driver and matchmaker who gives the film an immediate burst of color and humor every time he comes on screen. His role chaperoning any official sanctioned courting (including an outing between Sean and Mary Kate) provides the film both its comic high points (“No patty-fingers, if you please. The proprieties at all times,” he says) and a sly jab at the rigidity of rural Irish-Catholic customs regarding romance. Although it certainly has its moments of levity, The Quiet Man is primarily a comedy of manners, with Sean trying to navigate the ways of Innisfree while still maintaining his uniquely American character. This is not surprising, given that Ford came from a family of Irish immigrants (he was born John Martin Feeney), and many of his films feature ethnic minorities and immigrants trying to make it in the American stew.

Wayne’s Sean may be the film’s protagonist, but Mary Kate in its soul. Maureen O’Hara, in the third of her five collaborations with Ford, plays the character with genuine passion, which makes her complicated and even a bit infuriating at times. She wears primary reds and blues, which makes her both a contrast and complement to the verdant green all around her; she is both an inherent part of the land and a stand-out. Her attachment to her possessions, which Sean mistakes as simple materialism, is testament to her intensity of feeling, which causes no small amount of turmoil in her relationships with everyone around her. Her and Sean’s wedding night is a study in how lack of communication can drive people apart, although it sets up one of the film’s funniest jokes involving Sean tossing her onto a bed, which then breaks and is seen the next morning by Michaleen as evidence of something entirely different.

The film’s saucy mix of comedy and melodrama is one of its greatest charms, although it can give you whiplash from time to time, especially if you’re not used to Ford’s brand of broad, back-slapping comedy, much of which hinges on drinking, fighting, and men being men to the point of absurdity. If you’re on board with that, The Quiet Man is a gem of a film, and its continued popularity suggests that it has long since outstripped its time and place and entered the realm of the classic.

The Quiet Man Signature Collection Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.37:1
AudioEnglish DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural
  • Audio commentary by John Ford biographer Joseph McBride
  • Tribute to Maureen O’Hara with Ally Sheedy, Hayley Mills, and Juliet Mills
  • “Don’t You Remember It, Seánín?: John Ford’s The Quiet Man” a visual essay by historian and John Ford expert Tag Gallagher
  • “Free Republic: The Story of Herbert J. Yates and Republic Pictures” featurette
  • “The Old Man: Remembering John Ford” appreciation of the director with Peter Bogdanovich
  • “The Making of The Quiet Man” featurette written and hosted by Leonard Maltin
  • DistributorOlive Films
    Release DateOctober 18, 2016

    The image on Olive Films’ Signature Collection Blu-ray of The Quiet Man was sourced from the same 4K scan of original camera negative that was used for their 2013 Blu-ray, and it looks magnificent. There was clearly quite a bit of digital restoration done, as the image is almost entirely blemish-free, but they have been careful to not flatten it out too much or erase all the grain, which means that maintains a pleasantly film-like appearance. The Technicolor saturation looks absolutely gorgeous, with the primary greens of the Irish landscape contrasting with the expansive blue sky and the intense reds of Mary Kate’s hair and dress. There are also several darker, less saturated scenes, including the early sequences taking place in Sean’s cottage and exteriors during rainstorms, the maintain good black levels and nuance, even in the shadows. Detail is very good throughout, although the three-strip Technicolor process results in a slightly soft appearance, particularly in the long shots. Close-ups boast excellent fine detail, though, especially in the material patterns on the clothes. The original monaural soundtrack sounds quite good in DTS-HD Master Audio, with virtually no hiss and decent depth in the musical score.
    While the transfer is sourced from the same scan, the supplements are decidedly different from what was included on the 2013 release (which was almost nothing). We can begin with the excellent new audio commentary by film historian and scholar Joseph McBride, who has written two books on John Ford, 1975’s scholarly monograph John Ford (Part of the “Cinema Two” series, co-written by Michael Wilmington) and the 2001 biography Searching for John Ford. McBride tells us right off the bat that Ford is his favorite filmmaker and that he has great esteem for The Quiet Man, and for the rest of the two hours he enriches our experience of the film with detailed historical and cultural background on the film’s relationship to Ireland, close visual readings of Ford’s aesthetic and how the film is shaped by his Irish legacy, and intriguing anecdotes, many of which were told to him firsthand in interviews with those who worked on the film. Historian and John Ford expert Tag Gallagher’s 17-minute visual essay “Don’t You Remember It, Seánín?: John Ford’s The Quiet Man” makes a nice companion piece to McBride’s commentary, as it focuses on several specific themes (especially the Irish community) and visual motifs in the film. Also on the disc is “Tribute to Maureen O’Hara,” a 10-min. featurette in which actresses Ally Sheedy, Hayley Mills, and Juliet Mills reminisce about working with O’Hara, and “Free Republic: The Story of Herb Yates and Republic Studios,” a 6-min. featurette in which archivist Marc Wanamaker gives us the fascinating backstory of the film’s production company (this supplement was also included on Olive’s Johnny Guitar Blu-ray). “The Old Man: Remembering John Ford” is a 12-minute interview with director and film historian Peter Bogdanovich about his experience interviewing Ford on the set of Cheyenne Autumn (1964) for an Esquire article and working with him on an AFI documentary, as well as his thoughts on The Quiet Man. And, finally, we have “The Making of The Quiet Man,” a half-hour featurette written and hosted by film critic Leonard Maltin from 1992 (it looks like it was transferred directly from an old VHS tape), which was the only supplement included on the 2013 disc.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Olive Films / Paramount Pictures

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    James Kendrick

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