Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Favorite Movies: The Quiet Man

Movie poster from the Quiet Man

My attachment to The Quiet Man goes back a long way.  I remember watching this as a boy on a black and white set on a Saturday afternoon.  I miss those days of free television with lots of movie re-broadcasts.  My mother, with her father a native of County Cork, never let us forget we were Irish, and there is something charming about this John Ford/John Wayne collaboration.  It earned Ford an Oscar for best director, as well as another for best cinematography, and another five nominations.  The Quiet Man was another successful pairing for Wayne with co-star Maureen O'Hara. 
Sean Thornton (Wayne)  spies "White of Morn," the family home for the first time with Michelene Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald)
Made in 1952, Wayne plays Sean Thornton of Pittsburgh who has returned to the old family home in Inishfree. A negotiation with the wealthy Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick)  lands Thornton his home "White of Morn" but sparks conflict with landowner and neighbor Redwill Danaher (Victor McLaglen) who also covets this land.  The animosity deepens when Thornton is smitten with Danaher's lovely sister Mary Kate (O'Hara.)  Danaher initially rebuffs Thornton's advances, but falls for a scheme orchestrated by the local matchmaker (Barry Fitzgerald) and supported by the village priest (Ward Bond.)  Though Sean and Mary Kate were wed, Squire Danaher's anger at his deception denies them Mary Kate's "fortune," which leads the couple to all kinds of ill will. Thornton's secret is revealed.  He is "Trooper" Thorn, a boxer in America who killed another fighter in the ring.  Though an accident, Thornton was never able to forgive himself, and fears fighting any man, even the deserving Danaher.  The climax of the movie comes on a knock-down drag-out display fistfight between Thornton and Danaher that seems to range across the entire county.
Thornton and Flynn ask Danaher's (Victor McLaglen)  permission to marry his sister, as Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara) looks on hopefully

On so many levels this is an interesting movie.  The story is complex with subplots.  Thornton's secret.  Danaher's pursuit of the Widow Tillane.  The conflict of customs between America and Ireland.  Mary Kate's need to possess her fortune in her own right.  However the best aspect of the movie are all the interesting and quirky characters.  McLaglen is fabulous as Danaher, and Bond is wonderful as Father Lonergan.  Another standout is Arthur Shields as the Reverend Mr. Playfair and Eileen Crowe as his wife.  The most charming of the cast is Fitzgerald as Michelene Og Flynn, the village matchmaker, who is as elfin and Irish as can be.  O'Hara is smart, tough and beautiful, a perfect match for Wayne's brooding physical presence and conflicted combative character.
The fight of the century ends suddenly here, at Cohan's Pub

The Quiet Men, from left: Francis Ford, John Wayne Barry Fitzgerald (front), Victor McLaglen, John Ford (director.)  McLaglen was nominated for a best supporting Oscar for his portrayal of Redwill Danaher.
There are many memorable scenes. One of my favorites is the horse race for the Inishfree Cup.  The women of Inishfree offer their bonnets as favors for the finishers.  Six racers, seven bonnets.  One is left at the end--you guessed--it Mary Kate, while the winner, Thornton carries off Tillane's bonnet, much to the chagrin of Danaher.  Lots of pouting and the plot to free Mary Kate from her brother's house is hatched.  The best part of the movie is the ending fight between Thornton and Danaher.  Beginning with Thornton retrieving Mary Kate from the Dublin train, dragging her back to her brother's house and the ensuing melee, the show lasts about fifteen minutes.  It ends at Cohan's pub when Thornton says two simple lines-"Barkeep, bar towel.  What time is it?" and with the response blasts Danaher through the pub door as the tour buses line up to see the fight of the century. 

It's a fun movie, a feel good movie, that portrays Ireland of the 50's as a paradise that it almost certainly was not.  It was likely much closer to Angela's Ashes than the Quiet Man.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting story with quirky characters and great performances.  I don't ask for much more.

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