The Quiet Man
directed by John Ford
(Republic Pictures, 1952)

There are places in County Galway and County Mayo that are very proud of their affiliation with the 1952 classic, The Quiet Man. I've passed through those Irish settings often enough to be curious about the film, which starred John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara and earned director John Ford an Oscar. My father's enthusiastic description of the movie, including the rousing bareknuckle brawl at its climax, was enough to convince me to check it out for myself. I'm so very glad I did.

This is an atypical John Wayne movie. He wears no cowboy hats and he shoots no Indians, Mexicans or Western badmen. In The Quiet Man, he is Sean Thornton, a Pittsburgh steelworker and prizefighter who decided to retire to a quieter life in Innisfree, the bucolic Irish town where he was born.

Initially suspicious of the outsider, the Irish folk quickly warm up to the American who's come home again. He buys the small cottage where he was born and quickly catches the eye of Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara), a fiery local girl who lives under the controlling thumb of her brother, Red Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen).

The inevitable conflict between Thornton and Danaher dominates the story, but I found myself primarily enjoying Thornton's bashful wooing of Mary Kate and his quieter, often whimsical interactions with the townsfolk. Locals such as the impish Michaleen Flynn (an unforgettable Barry Fitzgerald), Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond), the Rev. Cyril "Snuffy" Playfair (Arthur Shields) and his wife, Elizabeth (Eileen Crowe), the widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick) and pub owner Pat Cohan (Harry Tyler) keep the story flowing beautifully, as they rally to the aid of Thornton's faltering courtship.

The scenery is, of course, gorgeous, although filmmakers made too much use, in my eye, of painted backdrops to imitate the Irish countryside. The pacing of the story is excellent, with occasional action puncuating the laidback feel of the film. And Wayne seemed completely at ease in the role, meshing perfectly with O'Hara's shy romance and firebrand temper.

The donnybrook between Thornton and Danaher is inevitable, and it must stand as one of the longest bareknuckle bouts in film history. It's not all brawny violence, however; you'll find plenty of chuckles as the two trade blows and everyone descends from Innisfree and nearby towns to see the match.

It's easy to overlook the old classics in this day of big budgets and special effects, but The Quiet Man deserves to be seen by anyone with a fondness for good filmmaking and solid storytelling. It's an Irish-American treat that has deservedly survived for the ages.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 15 February 2002

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