Thursday, March 17, 2011

THE QUIET MAN: “Impetuous! Homeric!”

Those of you who’ve been reading TotED blog posts for a while now might be thinking, “‘The Quiet Man?’ Isn’t that an Irish romantic comedy with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara? What, no Hitchcockian suspense, chases, guns, murder, derring-do?” Derring-do, no; action and tension along with the romantic comedy, aye! Based on Maurice Walsh’s short story, there’s a lot going on in director John Ford’s justifiably beloved 1952 comedy-drama both  action-wise and emotion-wise, including a memorable cast of characters and, in my opinion, the funniest, rowdiest marathon fistfight in movie history—take that, Fight Club! 

The Quiet Man (TQM) has been one of our family’s favorite films since I was a kid growing up in New York City. My late mom’s side of the family is Irish-American, so every St. Patrick’s Day, our family would drive from the Bronx to Manhattan to see the big parade on Fifth Avenue. Afterward, we’d all eat at what was then our favorite Irish restaurant, Limerick’s on Second Avenue and 32nd Street, for a fine dinner including corned beef, steak, baked potatoes, Irish soda bread, and for the grownups, Irish Coffee. Nowadays, we of Team Bartilucci make our own corned beef and cabbage St. Patrick’s Day dinner at home, including my yummy (if I do say so myself) gluten-free Irish soda bread, and of course, we watch our 2002 Collectors’ Edition DVD of TQM, with all its wonderful documentary featurettes, including interviews with John Wayne’s grown children—all of whom traveled to Ireland with their dad and played roles in the movie, along with Ford’s veteran actor brother Francis Ford, and so many other friends, loved ones, and longtime colleagues in front of and behind the camera, including Ireland’s Abbey Players. The film is the richer for it; each actor, from star to bit player, is memorable and engaging. Our DVD includes a marvelous commentary track by Maureen O’Hara herself (Miracle on 34th Street, The Fallen Sparrow, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and a great many other films with John Wayne, and so much more!) with all kinds of heartwarming, hilarious, and fascinating anecdotes about the making of the film. (Fun Fact: O’Hara took notes in shorthand for Ford in the script’s early stages.) How fitting that making TQM was a family affair for director John Ford, winning him his fourth Best Director Oscar (his other winners being The Informer, The Grapes of Wrath, and How Green was My Valley), especially since watching and quoting TQM have long since become a family tradition in our own home.

“Always hated a flabby handshake myself.”
Let the feud begin!
Filmed mostly on location in Ireland, with the film’s fictional town of Innisfree (or “Innishfree,” as it's often pronounced onscreen) played by the village of Cong in County Mayo, TQM was a labor of love for Ford and Company—and just like so many other cinematic labors of love now hailed as classics, Ford had a tough time getting it underway despite his enviable critical and financial success. Potential backers feared there wouldn’t be enough of an audience for Ford’s fairly simple, sentimental story (no Angela’s Ashes, this) about Sean Thornton (Wayne), born in Ireland, raised in Pittsburgh, PA, and now returning to Innisfree to stay. Along the way, Sean reconnects with such colorful local characters as tippling matchmaker and bookie Michaleen Ogh Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald, beloved in films ranging from Bringing Up Baby to The Naked City to his Oscar-winning turn in Going My Way, and more!); Catholic priest Father Lonergan (Ward Bond, one of Ford’s regular cast members), who’s been trying to catch the same bass for years; and Protestant Reverend Playfair (Arthur Shields, who was actually Fitzgerald’s older brother!), whose enthusiasm for boxing reveals Sean’s secret: in the U.S., Sean was prizefighter Trooper Thorn until he accidentally killed his opponent in the ring, leading him to quit boxing and live a, well, quiet life. Quiet goes out the window when Sean falls in love with spirited Mary Kate Danaher (O’Hara), whose temper is as fiery as her flame-red hair—and so are their love scenes. Not a stitch of clothing is removed, but the chemistry between Wayne and O’Hara has as much heat as a forest fire; no wonder the pair co-starred in five films together, as well as being close platonic friends offscreen! But it’s Mary Kate’s bullying older brother, “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen, whose wide array of memorable roles include not only his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for TQM, but also Gunga Din, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and The Informer, for which McLaglen won the Best Actor Oscar in 1935), who really gets his Irish up. Will’s nasty temper and overall obnoxiousness blow up in his face after our hero asks to buy White O’Morn, the house Sean grew up in. The Widow Sarah Tellane (Mildred Natwick of The Trouble with Harry, The Court Jester, and Barefoot in the Park, among many others) takes issue with Will’s entitled attitude. Sean gets the house and a new enemy in Will. This is a bargain?

With lovely Mary Kate Danaher around,who needs Little Bo Peep ?
Sean and Mary Kate wed after the townsfolk pull a fast one on Will to make him think The Widow Tellane might become Mrs. Danaher. When Will finds out he’s been had, all hell breaks loose, and a battle of traditions begins as the loving but strong-willed newlyweds have to contend with overall culture shock; Will’s refusal to give Mary Kate her dowry and furniture; Sean’s refusal to fight back when Will gets in his face, and the resulting unfair accusations of cowardice; and, being an American, Sean’s difficulty in understanding why it’s so important to Mary Kate to have a dowry in the first place. She tries to explain that it’s not just about the money: “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of having my things about me…Until I have my things, I’m no married woman. I’m the servant I have always been.”  Will those roses Sean planted turn into a bed of thorns (with plenty of horse fertilizer), or will he realize sometimes you literally have to fight for what you want? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason the exciting, hilarious epic fistfight between Sean and Will is a classic!

It’s practically a miracle that TQM even got made! Wayne’s long-standing contract with low-budget Republic Pictures turned the tide, since its head honcho Herbert J. Yates wanted to upgrade Republic to a big-budget studio. Ford formed Argosy Productions and they signed a three-year contract with Ford and partner Merian C. Cooper (yep, King Kong’s Merian C. Cooper), but the antsy Yates wanted to make sure he got his money’s worth. So before filming TQM, Ford, Wayne, and O’Hara filmed Rio Grande (1950)—and it was a smash hit, resulting in a green light for TQM.  In addition to Ford’s Best Director Oscar, TQM also won for the gorgeous Technicolor cinematography by Winston P. Hoch and Archie Stout, with nominations for Best Sound and its art direction and set decoration.

Sean and Mary Kate are soaked to the skin,
but who’s complaining?

Sean's walking his baby back home!

Wonder what kind of sweet nothings Mary Kate is whispering in Sean’s ear?
Read our friend and fellow blogger Clara Fercovic of Via Margutta 51


  1. Gosh, I love this movie, just saw it again the other day :) It was really fun and interesting to read how you and your folks celebrated St. Patrick's Day and then watched The Quiet Man :) Greetings from Chile!

  2. Welcome to ToTED, and thanks for Following our merry band of movie mavens! You're in Chile? Really? How cool; Clara, I'm impressed with your exciting life! :-) Thanks for your nice words; glad you enjoyed my blog and St. Patrick's Day memories! Happy St. Patrick's Day to you and yours, and/or anything else you'd like to celebrate! :-)

  3. Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra! Tis the uillean pipes I heard during the reading of your comments on THE QUIET MAN, Dorian, and there'll be no denying it My Girl!

    If this is not the Perfect Irish Film, it at least comes pretty durn close. Any film with both Maureen O'Hara and Barry Fitzgerald in it is gonna be as Irish as you can get short of hopping a plane over to Dublin and rollin' about naked in the clover (and anyone who hasn't yet read Maureen O'Hara's autobiography 'TIS HERSELF is doing themselves a severe injustice). I suspect this movie has done more to promote tourism to Ireland than any other item one could think of.

    Dorian, I'm especially glad you mentioned Mildred Natwick. Between her portrayal here and in THE COURT JESTER, she has long since cemented her position as one of my favorite character actors. Knowing my fondness for romance stories (especially ones between mature couples), the subplot of the fiery courtship between Natwick's Sarah Tillane and McLaglen's Will Danaher was an added treat for me, almost matching the romance between Wayne and O'Hara's characters for sheer fun.

    Anyway, croí follain agus gob fliuch (as they say in some places).

  4. Michael, me bhoyo, thanks for your enthusiastic comments on THE QUIET MAN! Someday I'd love to visit Ireland myself (where's a winning lottery ticket when you need one? Doesn't have to be the Irish Sweepstakes, either! :-). I'm not surprised that a gent of your superb taste in movies and character actors would love Mildred Natwick as much as we do! Ms. Natwick had a knack for mature romance, not only with Victor McLaglen in TQM, but also with Edmund Gwenn in ALfred Hitchcock's THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (another film I must blog about sometime in the not-too-distant future). Thanks for joining the chat here, and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

  5. I saw The Quiet Man for the first time less than a week ago, and I'm a hopeless romantic, so of course I adored it! It's amazing how intense and passionate their love is portrayed without becoming inappropriate. Now I'm going to be very cliche and bemoan that they don't make movies like this anymore -- but it's true. They don't.

    Happy St. Paddy's Day!

  6. Emm, your assessment of THE QUIET MAN is right on target all around, especially your observation about how Sean and Mary Kate, as played so wonderfully by John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, are passionate without becoming inappropriate. I'm delighted that you discovered TQM and that you're enjoying it so much. Thanks for getting in on the conversation, Emm, and Happy St. Patrick's Day to you and yours! (Got the NY parade on TV in the background while I work, and I'm about to bake my GF Irish soda bread! :-))

  7. And, quite frankly, it's the one John Wayne SHOULD have won his Oscar for. He's wonderful in this (as is Victor McLaglen). I adore this film, could watch it over and over and over again (and have!). "Cheer like Protestants!"

  8. Excellent post, Ms. O'Dorian! Great info, background, etc. And your title includes my very favorite line from that movie!

    Got to run, I'm the designated mother driver for my son and his wife tonight. I'm as Irish as Paddy's pig, but didn't go out tonight -- doing this is my contribution to Irish drunks everywhere!

  9. Wildrider, thanks for putting in your two cents! (Or is that two pence? Gotta brush up on my foreign currency! :-)) I agree, John Wayne's performance was Oscar-worthy, with a sensitivity that belied his tough image (that awesome fistfight notwithstanding :-)). Heck, if it were up to me, the whole cast would've won Oscars, even the walk-ons! :-) By the way, "Cheer like Protestants!" is one of our household's catchphrases, even though we're Catholic. :-)

  10. "Ms. O'Dorian" -- love it! :-) Thanks, Becky, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! As you've undoubtedly surmised, the line "Impetuous! Homeric!" has long since been another favorite Team Bartilucci catchphrase. :-) And I applaud you for acting as your son and daughter-in-law's designated mother/driver on St. Patrick's Day, keeping your family and the streets safe! I hope everyone had fun and got back home safe and sound.

  11. Thanks for this great article!

    Whenever people start insulting John Wayne and saying that he can't act...I politely refer them to this film.

    It usually changes their minds!

  12. Good to hear from you, Nate! I'm delighted, though not surprised, that a gent with your excellent taste in movies liked THE QUIET MAN in general and John Wayne's underrated tough yet tender performance in particular. The palpable anguish in Wayne's face in the dramatic scenes, especially the boxing tragedy flashback, brought tears to my eyes. The only thing I didn't like about THE QUIET MAN was that nobody in its wonderful cast received Oscar nominations -- not that I'm complaining about John Ford, and cinematographers Hoch and Stout winning! :-)

  13. Oops! Sorry, everyone, I just realized I foolishly forgot to mention that Victor McLaglen was indeed nominated for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as uber-bully "Red" Will Danaher in THE QUIET MAN. TQM was also nominated for Best Screenplay for Frank S. Nugent's adaptation of Maurice Walsh's story, and Best Picture. THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH took the Best Picture prize, but for my money, it should've been TQM. Well, I guess it'll just have to settle for being a much-loved classic instead! :-)

  14. >THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH took the Best Picture prize

    *shakes fist at sky*


    Anyhow....yeah...I've always loved John Ford's work and I have been a fan of John Wayne since before I can remember. I own almost all of the films where the two of them collaborated.

  15. "DEMIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEE!" Nate, you had me laughing out loud, and I'm in complete agreement with you on all counts! John Ford and John Wayne are my favorite writer/director team next to Hitchcock and Grant, and Hitchcock and Stewart! :-) Thanks for your nice words about the blog; I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  16. I kid, of course. I actually really like DeMille. I just hate that "The Greatest Show on Earth" won Best Picture because:

    a)It was a bad film by a great director
    b)It beat out several more worthy films
    c)It won because of Red Scare politics.

    Basically, DeMille was the leading personality in the charge against Communism in Hollywood during the Red Scare. If anybody disagreed with him, they were automatically assumed to be associated with Communists and therefore were blacklisted. It's a real shame....

  17. Wow, Nate, I had no idea that DeMille had spearheaded the charge against Hollywood Red Scare paranoia. I agree, it is indeed a shame; an awful lot of creative people lost their livelihoods, and more, alas.

  18. It is a real shame. And do you know who eventually shut him up?

    John Ford.

    Check this out:

    A faction of the Directors Guild of America led by Cecil B. DeMille had tried to make it mandatory for every member to sign a loyalty oath. A whispering campaign was being conducted against Mankiewicz, then President of the Guild, alleging he had communist sympathies. At a crucial meeting of the Guild, DeMille's faction spoke for four hours until Ford spoke against DeMille and proposed a vote of confidence in Mankiewicz, which was passed. His words were recorded by a court stenographer:

    "My name's John Ford. I make Westerns. I don't think there's anyone in this room who knows more about what the American public wants than Cecil B. DeMille — and he certainly knows how to give it to them.... [looking at DeMille] But I don't like you, C.B. I don't like what you stand for and I don't like what you've been saying here tonight."

  19. You know, Nate, one of the things I enjoy most about doing this blog is that I learn so much more movie lore from knowledgeable and enjoyable movie mavens like you! Hearing about how John Ford, one of cinema's most memorable no-nonsense tough guys, put DeMille in his place during that Guild meeting makes me respect Ford and his films all the more. Thanks for sharing this anecdote!

  20. You're welcome!

    I've got plenty more...but I'll save them for another day........

  21. Oh I love, love this movie and though Wayne is always great, the fabulous Maureen O'Hara plays the first "real" woman in an older movie that I ever did see! Hope your corned beef and cabbage is better than ours!

  22. Eve, Happy St. Patrick's Day, and thanks for your enthusiastic comments on our QUIET MAN blog post! I absolutely agree that Maureen O'Hara is a "real woman" here, rather than some simpering cipher who's just there to give the hero someone to kiss -- another reason O'Hara has always been one of our favorite actresses. Thanks for joining the conversation, Eve -- have a plate of delicious corned beef, a glass of beer (if you're so inclined; I'm a teetotaler myself), and GF mini-Irish sodabreads on us! :-)