Quiet Man, The (1952)
Release Date: September 14th, 1952 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: John Ford Actors: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, Francis Ford
rriving at Castletown, Ireland in the spring, Sean Thornton (John Wayne) from Pittsburgh journeys to the nearby Inisfree, intending to buy the little cottage where he was born. Driver Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), who knew Sean as a child, takes him into town; along the way, he’s also acquainted with Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond), who narrates the film – quite unnecessarily. Sean spies a fiery redhead in the field, the stern Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), who returns his gaze with a disapproving glare. The following morning at mass, Sean sees her again, and once more she’s dismissive of his flirtatious posturing.
When the respected, elderly Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick) agrees to sell the property, despite neighbor Squire Will Danaher’s (Victor McLaglen) vehement insistence against the transaction, Mary Kate sides with Sean, despising her brother’s drunkenly cantankerous nature. To an unavoidable degree, Will assumes the role of overprotective father in age, appearance, and action. Sean also gains the support of the townsfolk, standing up for himself while tactfully avoiding the bar fight Will wishes to initiate. In short time, Sean and Mary Kate desire to wed, but without Will’s consent, strict Irish tradition dictates that her choice is ultimately invalid. At the coastal Inisfree Races, with the helpful goading of Michaleen and Lonergan, Will finally gives in and allows the two to court (an act that is itself dictated by an exacting set of virtuous guidelines, continual propriety, and constant chaperoning).
A great deal of comedy is derived from these stringent, old-fashioned rules of dating. In many ways, Sean and Mary Kate are reduced to juvenile, happy-go-lucky mischievousness as they desert their attendant and bypass lengthy wooing procedures to passionately embrace in the rain. A conspiracy to conceal Sean’s American troubles more seriously contrasts the romancing, while also facetiously mirroring the scheming conducted by Michaleen and the reverend to unite him with Mary Kate. Will’s discovery of the ploy suddenly and dramatically changes the tone, marking the wedding day a direful occasion, paired with Mary Kate’s draconian conformity to archaic customs – chiefly, her unwavering attitude toward the sentimental material possessions that comprise her dowry (though it also represents independence and pride). Flashbacks to Sean’s traumatic history as “Trooper Thorn” also reveal his once intensely formidable presentation, leading to the perceived importance (in the eyes of Mary Kate and the townsfolk) of social courage and showy bravery. In the world of “The Quiet Man,” cowardice and shame are the most despised of traits. And, in the end, it’s a matter of sensibility succumbing to heritage for the sake of love.
It may not be a Western, but it’s one of director John Ford’s finest collaborations with John Wayne. There’s a slow, careful approach to the characters and the plot, moseying along like the generally gentle Irish breeze that surrounds Inisfree. Thornton guards a secret that is also alluded to rather gingerly, allowing the audience to be amused by the discreetly revealed details that complicate his character. True to form, Wayne portrays a hero of the most moralistic order, regardless of a checkered past and his final acquiescence to forceful defense. When Mary Kate is caught civilly prepping Sean’s new home, he tugs her back inside for a forceful kiss that epitomizes Wayne’s celebrated, larger-than-life machismo – which is humorously supplemented by the later sight of his collapsed bed, actually caused by a lone person. It also helps that all of the supporting roles are further dwarfed by his towering frame.
“The Quiet Man” is, of course, best known for its rambunctious, thrilling conclusion. A climactic fight is what the townsfolk and Mary Kate demand, and it’s what viewers have eagerly anticipated – made more exhilarating by the five-mile walk back into town as Thornton teaches his wife a lesson about principles. Humor is wrapped up into the valley-traversing, afternoon-spanning fistfight as well, shifting the tone back to one of adventurous revelry, especially as men of the cloth place bets on the winner.
– Mike Massie