Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Frank S. Nugent
Based on a Story by: Maurice Walsh
Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen
Running Time: 129 min
BBFC Certificate: U
John Ford is best known as a director of westerns, but none of the films that picked him up his impressive four best director Oscars are from the genre. Stagecoach got him a nomination, but it was The Informer, The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man that snagged him those golden statuettes. I haven’t seen nearly enough Ford films as it is (he’s directed an awful lot of well respected titles), but I’ve been working my way through the classics in my quest to watch more westerns and now find myself venturing into his non-westerns with this Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray release of 1952’s The Quiet Man.
The plot has a little bit of The Taming of the Shrew to it. Sean Thornton (John Wayne) travels from American to rural Ireland, where he was originally born. He’s an ex-boxer (a fact only hinted at in the first half of the film) and is looking to reclaim his family home and settle down. He quickly sets his eye on Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) as a wife to settle down with, only she won’t fall into his arms so easily (which is where The Taming of the Shrew comes into it). She’s strong-willed and stubborn which doesn’t help, but the biggest thing that stands in Sean’s way is her brother and guardian Squire ‘Red’ Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). According to strict Irish tradition, any man wanting to marry or even court Mary Kate must have Red’s permission and unfortunately Sean ruined his chances by buying up land (his aforementioned home) that Red desperately wanted. Thus begins a series of challenges faced by Sean, who refuses to resort to violence to resolve the problem, due to a tragedy in the ring during his old life back in America. This seeming unwillingness to ‘man up’ brings shame on Sean’s name, which further threatens his relationship with Mary Kate.
Although I’m a big fan of the John Ford westerns I’ve seen, I was slightly apprehensive about watching The Quiet Man. For one, there has been a little critical backlash against the film in modern times, when compared to the reception his classic westerns still receive. Also, the genre and subject matter doesn’t interest me as much. I do enjoy a decent romantic drama, which may not always be apparent through my Weekend of Trash write-ups and love of martial arts movies, but the glossy Hollywood romances rarely do much for me. I tend to prefer the subtle, naturalistic approach when it comes to on screen love.
Well, I won’t say The Quiet Man totally defied my expectations. It hasn’t aged particularly well in terms of its attitudes towards women, or men for that matter. Its view of men being men and women knowing their place wouldn’t pass muster these days, even with Hollywood still having a long way to go to reach true gender equality. I expected those old fashioned values to come through though, so they didn’t bother me too much, but they do keep me from rating the film more highly. The overly twee, sentimental view of Ireland and its people was a bit hard to stomach too. Most of the characters revert to Irish stereotypes, with the men all heavy drinkers with fighting being the only solution to their problems.
That’s not to say I didn’t like the film though. It has a lot of charm and humour so it’s difficult to have too strong feelings against it. The cast is great, with Wayne and O’Hara sharing a strong chemistry together. Barry Fitzgerald is particularly enjoyable as the drunken Michaleen Oge Flynn, Sean’s guide and right hand man throughout the film. Victor McLaglen makes a great ‘villain’ too and the stand-offs between him and Wayne are most effective.
Some of the film’s big set-pieces are very memorable too, such as the classic kiss in the cottage during the storm, the thrilling horse race in the middle of the film and the ludicrously epic fight scene that brings the film to a close. On top of Ford’s expert direction, these scenes are helped by Winton C. Hoch’s glorious Technicolour cinematography. The colours pop off the screen, particularly in this HD transfer, and the authentic Irish locations look stunning (although the studio-shot inserts stand out a mile).
Ultimately though, as much as I admired numerous elements, it wasn’t a film for me, so I can’t award it the highest praise. Because I found the core drama a bit dated and it’s quite a long film, I found myself clock-watching towards the end. I do think it could have been a bit shorter and worked as, if not a little more, effectively. The film still has a lot of charm though and is easy to watch, I just personally lean towards something like The Searchers when sizing up Ford’s work.
The Quiet Man is out on 30th November on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The picture and audio quality is exceptional as usual for the label.
There’s a making of documentary included on the disc, as well as a new and exclusive video essay on the film by Ford expert and scholar Tag Gallagher. The former is an old piece, presumably from the 80’s, and looks to be a VHS transfer, so is a shock to see initially after the glorious HD restoration work done on the film itself. The content is strong though, even if Leonard Maltin’s presentation is a tad cheesy. Tag Gallagher’s essay is quite basically put together, but again makes up for any technical deficiencies with some thoroughly insightful analysis. He breaks down some shots and sequences in great detail which really makes you appreciate the craft that has gone into the film.
As with all Masters of Cinema releases, you get a booklet in with the package too, which is particularly good here, weighing in at a substantial 52 pages. As well as the usual essays and interviews, you get the original short story the film was based on. It’s a great addition to the package and further proof that the Masters of Cinema booklets are as valuable to their releases as any documentary or commentary.