"The Quiet Man" Is a Love Story Set in the Emerald Isle of Ireland
The Quiet Man
No one ever said that film-making was easy, only that it could be very good and sometimes enduring, as in “The Quiet Man”, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara with legendary Director John Ford.
Like a lot of great films, this is a story of the conflict and conquest in the courtship of a man and a woman. A woman determined to get her way, a brother determined to keep his sister from the man she loves, and a man determined to win the heart of the woman he marries.
Irish-born Sean Thornton (John “Duke” Wayne) is an American who swears off being a professional fighter after accidentally killing an opponent in the ring. Returning to the Irish town of his birth, he starts a new life and finds happiness when he falls in love with the fiery Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara).
Mary Kate’s brother, Will “Red” Danaher (Victor McLaglen) stands in their way. Without her brother’s permission, she cannot marry Sean. The male dominance in Irish culture during this period is evident. Women were to obey, period. Red Danaher resents the fact that Sean was able to purchase his birth home adjacent to the Danaher’s property. Danaher had continually bid for the property next door but lost out to the American “newcomer” and outsider.
Eventually Danaher is duped into letting Sean marry Mary Kate, but initially he refuses to let Mary Kate take her inheritance (furniture and a dowry). The villagers persuade Red to give Mary Kate her furniture, but he stands fast on the dowry.
For Mary Kate the 350 pounds sterling she is owed represents a lot of money, but the breaking of tradition and doing the right thing becomes an issue she cannot and will not ignore, even for the sake of her marriage. Mary Kate is a woman who, if nothing else, makes it clear she will be dealt with despite her ill temper and stubbornness. She believes that Sean is a coward for not confronting her brother Red. Sean simply does not want to accidentally kill another man in a fight over money.
When Mary Kate decides to leave her marriage and take the train out of town, Sean goes into action. After dragging Mary Kate off the train and through the pasture, the longest fistfight in screen history erupts.
Once Mary Kate realizes that Sean will fight for her, she is quite happy to return to their cottage and makes it clear that dinner will be ready when Sean returns home. The Duke (Sean) slugs it out with Kate’s brother, eventually wins, and wins back Kate’s heart as well. The story of The Quiet Man reminds me of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and its movie version in 1967 starring Elizabeth Taylor as Katharina and Richard Burton as Petruchio.
Katharina is cast as an ill-tempered, strong-willed, opinionated, vocal, recalcitrant, unmanageable woman. Petruchio manages to bring her around and when he does, Katharina is content to do his bidding. I see a lot of Mary Kate Danaher in Katharina.
The supporting cast is a collection of Irishmen worthy of the name: Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond), Father Paul (James O’Hara) and The Widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick) among others. And, yes, there are a lot of relatives in this cast.
The Quiet Man was based on a 1933 Saturday Evening Post short story by Maurice Walsh. Ford read the story in 1933 and purchased the rights to it for $10.
In 1944, John Ford, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara made a handshake agreement to do the film version, but it would take another 8 years for Ford to raise the money necessary to produce the film. It was the first American feature to be filmed in Ireland’s picturesque countryside. The film almost never happened as Ford was told by producers that a “silly Irish story would not make a penny.”
Finally Republic Pictures was approached and studio chief Herbert Yates relented under the condition that Ford, Wayne and O’Hara would also do a western for Republic, a sure money-maker that would offset losses anticipated from The Quiet Man. The result was the 1950 production of “Rio Grande”.
John Ford was more than interested in doing the film. His real name was John Martin Feeney, his parents immigrated from County Galway, Ireland and settled in Maine. Ford also went by the name Sean O’Feeney. Maureen O’Hara (real name Maureen Fitzsimons) was born in County Dublin, Ireland, spoke Irish and used her Gaelic language in the film. Her father was part owner of Ireland’s leading football team, the Shamrock Rovers.
John Wayne was half Irish. He appeared in more than 20 of Ford’s films, many of them low budget westerns and war movies. The Duke said that of all the films he made, The Quiet Man was his favorite.
Ford earned his 4th and last Best Director Oscar for The Quiet Man in 1952. His other 3 Best Director Oscars were for “The Informer” in 1935, “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1940 and “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941. Only How Green Was My Valley won an Oscar for Best Picture.
Ford remains the only director in history to win 4 Best Director Oscars. Two others-William Wyler and Frank Capra-have won 3 times.
Ford received the American Film Institute’s first Life Achievement Award in 1973. He has been recognized as one of the greatest directors of all time. His work had an influence on directors Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Peter Bogdanovich, Sergio Leone, Jean-Luc-Godard and Akira Kurosawa.
The Quiet Man won a second Oscar for Best Cinematography and was nominated for 5 other Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Victor McLaglen), Best Art Direction, Best Sound and Best Writing (screenplay by Frank Nugent). The Best Picture Oscar in 1952 went to “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
Action adventure freaks and lovers of unredeeming modern-day films such as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” will not be able to stand The Quiet Man, which is very slow developing yet offers a perfectly picturesque Irish setting for a real love story. It is an Irish movie filmed in Ireland for the glory of Ireland, its people and its culture.