Monday, September 29, 2008

This Month on TCM: "The Quiet Man" (1952)

Tomorrow on TCM is John Ford's valentine to his Irish roots, The Quiet Man. The Quiet Man has a wisdom paralleling the ages and experience of its seasoned creators, all just past middle age. John Ford and Merian C. Cooper were in their mid-50s, John Wayne was in his mid-40s, and Maureen O’Hara was just over 30; the Ford stock actors were 60ish. This group knew how to make movies and knew how to translate a good time on the screen and the movie endures mainly due to its charm.

The story follows “Yankee from Pittsburgh” Sean Thornton (Wayne), who returns to his hometown of Inisfree (while escaping his past) and buys his childhood home. Soon thereafter, he falls for an Irish lass named Mary Kate Danaher (O’Hara) whose tempestuousness is matched only by that of her brother Red Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), whose permission Thornton must secure in order to marry her. Ford favorite Ward Bond, who plays the town clergyman, narrates the film, and serves with the local matchmaker (played by Barry Fitzgerald) as the go-between of the two camps.

At the center of the movie is both the mystery of Thornton’s past and his love-at-first-sight romance with Mary Kate. Although both of these are familiar (as is the fish-out-of-water premise), the handling of them is given dramatic sweep, Hollywood-style. There are several scenes in which Wayne and O’Hara embrace— the most celebrated of which occurs on a windswept night. The second of these, using a rainy night, allows for both romance and some emotion, particularly for Wayne, whose expression exposes doubts in this relationship. Although, this might too be a factor of Ford’s notorious egging on of Wayne in the love scenes, which Wayne voiced complaints about, saying that Ford was having him do what Ford could not do himself.

Wayne shows off his natural talent, especially in such a change of pace role, and its among his finest (if not quite three-dimensional) characterizations. Victor McLaglen has a showy part and scored his only late-career Oscar nomination for the role. O'Hara's acting "shows" a bit but she gets points just for putting up with what was required of her!

Although a few process shots distract, the Technicolor cinematography and location shooting are at times breathtaking. In one scene, for example, Thornton storms off (in long shot) into the countryside in a huff, as a flock of white birds scatter around him— a perfect moment. The beauty of the night scenes rival Black Narcissus at times for there compelling lighting and mood setting.

The Quiet Man has an all-out crowd-pleasing finale in which Sean and Red Will finally square off and Thornton and Mary Kate's relationship is secured (by, economically, one symbolic gesture from Sean involving Mary Kate's dowery). With all the popcorn elements in place and with something for everyone, it's no wonder that this movie has been a perrenial favorite on television, and is John Ford's most rewatchable film.

The Quiet Man (1952): Crowd-pleasing film exhibits a wisdom from seasoned pros and a charm and Hollywood sweep that make it one of John Ford's most enduring works.


Jeremy said...

I think you're right whe you say we're on the same wavelenghth with this movie, it is one of those I can just pop in anytime and enjoy it. I'm glad you mentioned that scene where John Wayne is walking through a field with the birds flying off, it is a perfect moment. I also love the scene with Wayne and O'Hara reconciling by the fireplace, it's such a tender scene.

Oneliner said...

Exactly! It's not just for St. Patrick's Day!