Tuesday 20 January 2015

The Quiet Man (1952)

Den Tavse Mand
15 years ago I was madly in love with Ireland and everything Irish. I spent my vacations in Ireland and even contemplated moving there. One summer I spent a month bicycling 1000 miles around the island. Then I started having work in Ireland. I was doing some wind farms for clients there and that tempered my relationship with the green island. It is classic. The idyllic impression only lasts as long as you are a tourist. When you get below that surface there is a harsh reality completely at odds with your dream image.

I can sort of understand John Ford when he did “The Quiet Man”. He had this sentimental idyllic image of his ancestral home and that is what he wanted to show the audience: his dream vacation. The same way as his westerns depicted an iconic American West this movie tries to show an iconic Ireland. The result is a pre-industrial romanticism about the jolly life on the countryside full of stereotypes and cliché images. He was not alone in doing that. In Denmark at least half the films made during the fifties cover this very ground.

In Ford’s Irish fantasy world an American (Ford himself maybe, in his dreams?) is returning back to Ireland to buy back his ancestral home and settle in. He finds a girl, but her brother will not give her away in marriage because the American bought land he had his eyes on. This pisses off the girl and the Yank will have to fight the brother. That is all there really is to the plot and symptomatic for Ford’s picture of the Irish countryside this is the level of the problems they have. In fact in all other matters, life is great, the nature beautiful and no problem so great that you cannot solve it with a pint and a song. It sounds a bit silly, but at least it is not as ridiculous as it was in Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley”. You can almost believe in this carefree life and it is an image that have drawn tons of people myself included to Ireland. The fact and the reasons that millions of Irish went the other way is happily ignored.

The reason I am not entirely sold by this movie has a lot to do with the rosy picture the movie paints. This Ireland is a little too happy and tidy, a little too much of a fairy tale for me to buy into it. We are supposed to love all these characters, something that the movie “Whiskey Galore!” succeeded at on a Scottish island, but here everybody is just a bit too much on the side of a caricature for it to work, at least for me.

Still there is no questioning the entertainment value. John Wayne as the returning Yank, Sean Thornton, is as always a pleasure and although he is for sure of Irish origin he is sufficiently a fish out of water that he is believable. His confusion with the Irish and their quaint and illogical ways is plain in his face and speech. Considering how we know him as the quintessential Western hero he really looks misplaced and that is a good thing, mind ye.

Maureen O´Hara as Sean’s love interest Mary Kate Danaher looks glorious in Technicolor, but I am not so sure I like the character. She is supposed to be a fiery Irish redhead who gives anybody a verbal thrashing, but like so much else in this film it is just getting a bit too much volume. She is friggin out of her mind! Considering the trouble she is giving everybody it is a wonder what Sean sees in her, but more about that later.

The rest of the cast is stuffed to the brim with quaint characters who are drinking their pints and following their sports and doing their best at being as old school Irish as possible.

I cannot say that I did not enjoy myself. I did and it is difficult not to. What the film shows is a pleasant dream with just enough going on to make it more than fluff. It also keeps a nice pace considering it clocks in at just over 2 hours. So in that sense this film is nice enough company.

What tickles me however, beside the over the top white wash of rural Irish life is some strange points of the movie. Sean wants to marry Mary Kate and manage to get his bride through an inventive scheme carried out by the villagers. That is fine and even fun. Mary Kate´s brother Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) refuses to give her her furniture and money because he felt cheated, obviously a way to get back at Sean though I do not see how he could do such a thing to his sister, but all right. Mary Kate is going bazooka over not getting her money even though Sean tries to convince her it does not matter and she wants to leave him because of it… This is presumably because he refuses to fight her brother…??? When Sean catches up with her he manhandles her home in a not very pleasant way and everybody are excited…????? Mary Kate is pleased to be treated like this and everybody are excited that Sean and Will start beating the crap out of each other….????????

I must say there are a few things here I do not understand. Are we supposed to think that the reason Mary Kate is a bitch is because has been too nice to her and what she really needs is a good slap? And are we supposed to think that Sean is a real man because he manhandles his wife. And what is this stupidity of fighting it out? Where I come from brawling like this is the lowest behavior imaginable and certainly nothing to cheer.

Yet here it is part of the glorious Irish charm. Sorry if I do not manhandle my wife or go into fistfights with people who owe me money. I guess I would make a poor Irishman.

Of course you might argue that with a fiery wife you have to stand up for yourself, but considering Mary Kate´s level of bitching, is that really her husband’s fault? Frankly I think I would have kicked her out at a fairly early stage.

Still Ireland is a pretty place and Co Galway and Co Mayo are not the worst places to go in Ireland. For my money however I would head north to Co Donegal where you can still find the old and real Ireland, where life is truly tough, but the beer and the whiskey is particularly good. Slainte.


  1. Yeah, my reaction to this was to wonder what made Mary Kate desirable. I'd have punted her long before Sean does.

    It is pretty, though, and demonstrates that John Wayne could do more than ride a horse.

    1. Me too. Well, she is pretty, even when she is angry, but that is all.
      I like when John Wayne does something else. It fits him well.

  2. I saw this quite a few years ago and while I felt it was a decent movie I didn't see what all the fuss was about.

    In regards to the fighting: one of the Irish stereotypes, in addition to the drinking, is that they are all tough as nails and are willing to fight anyone else at a moment's notice. The fact that Wayne's character won't fight means we are supposed to interpret him as not really a man. And if he's not really a man then he can't get his woman to respect him, either. That's why people were happy when he finally did fight.

    It's not just a product of the era the film was set in, but also the era the film was made in.

    1. Well, that is more or less my own interpretation. I just do not buy it. It seems like a westrern theme transplanted to Ireland where it just do not belong.

  3. I have trouble with the wife-beating part as well. Not one of my favorite Ford movies. He's not too great at comedy and that is essentially what this film is meant to be, I think.

    1. I guess it is a case of stay-with-what-you-are-good-at.
      Ford was good at westerns.
      Maybe there it is a sign of manhood to beat up your wife...