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The Quiet Man (1952)

Wayne heeded the call of John Ford again and went to Ireland to film The Quiet Man , his one straight love story. Paired again with Maureen O'Hara, their romance is the entire subject of the film without the kind of dramatic relief afforded by the Indians in Rio Grande (1950) although a massive fistfight between Wayne and Victor McLaglen has a fully justified place in the film.

Here it is Irish tradition that puts O'Hara at her usual disadvantage as Mary Kate Dannaher, while Wayne, as Sean Thornton, is burdened by his prize-fighting past in which he has accidentally killed a man in the ring. He returns to the land of his father to start a new life and first spots Mary Kate as a barefoot shepherdess in the woods, unable to stop herself staring at the handsome stranger - a mixture of shyness and sensuality, her mouth moving hungrily before she turns and disappears from frame. Her wild red hair, her refreshingly natural good looks, her strong features and exciting firm body make an image (stunningly well photographed, like the rest of the film, by Winton Hoch and Archie Stout) that enables us instantly to understand the effect she has on the watching Wayne, thoughtfully blowing out a stream of cigarette smoke. She looks like some wild but beautiful forest creature, momentarily transfixed before flight, and Wayne is the big white hunter who has invaded her territory, sizing her up and noting her for future pursuit. "Only a mirage brought on by your terrible thirst!" comments Wayne's driver Michaeleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), eyes set on the nearest pub; but Ford's handling of this scene does make Mary Kate such a vision of ripe loveliness that mirage is almost the word for it.

The image of a frightened animal is maintained when, after she has eyed Wayne in church and he has waited for her outside, cupping holy water in his hands for her to cross herself, she scurries off wordlessly only to look back at him from the concealment and distance of a gate. Wayne moves into the old cottage that is his birthplace and catches her there putting the place in order for his arrival. He frightens her out of hiding by yelling. As the frightened girl rushes for the door, Wayne seizes her and swings her back into the room. He draws her close for a kiss and she swings a slap at his face, then gives him a quick kiss of encouragement before running off. After this moment of vivid, primitive passion, their romance takes more orderly lines. She watches with interest from afar the arrival of the double bed Wayne buys for the cottage and, when Michaeleen comes to read the formal proposal of marriage, she listens eagerly taking momentary umbrage at Wayne's lack of concern over her dowry but smiling while her back is turned on her visitor before saying that she "goes for the idea."

But earlier Wayne has upset her brother, the massive Red Will Dannaher (Victor McLaglen), by outbidding him for the cottage. Subsequently, he has bested Will in a handshake which becomes a trial of strength that has Will's face screwed up in pain. Now, observing the formalities of Irish courtship, he accompanies Michaeleen, acting as his marriage broker, to put the proposal to Red Will, Wayne seen praying for patience as the long-winded Michaeleen gets underway. There is Red Will's inevitable opposition which totally blocks the marriage and a sharp little scene follows when Wayne and Mary Kate accidentally run across each other and he speaks a few words, his voice hard with bitterness, his brow stiffening before he goes on his way.

The locals, led by the mischievous Michaeleen, work out a plot to persuade Red Will to agree to the marriage by telling him that he will land the wealthy widow woman he fancies if only he can get Mary Kate out of the house. So Red Will softens and Wayne is subjected to the next stage of formal courtship. This is the chaperoned outing with he and Mary Kate seated back to back and Michaeleen driving, Wayne's arms crossed in resignation until the pair can escape on a tandem bicycle to the hills. Here the motif of hunter and hunted reasserts itself with Mary Kate slipping a few steps ahead and turning to throw away her bonnet, then Wayne similarly abandoning his gloves and bowler to run and catch up with her . They shelter from a rainstorm in a graveyard, their rainsoaked embrace reviving the passion of their early encounter in the cottage.

No sooner have they completed the marriage ceremony than Red Will discovers the deception and he takes out his anger on Wayne, who has not been a party to the scheme, by knocking him to the floor. At this point as Wayne lies dazed, John Ford inserts an expressionistic montage of Wayne's past as a boxer with one unforgettable close-up of his sweat-stained features staring down in wide-eyed horror at the body of the man he has killed, conveying more than adequately the nightmare quality of the experience that has driven him so far to a new life and makes him so reluctant to fight Red Will. With Mary Kate losing the dowry she sets such store by (although Wayne dismisses it as unimportant) and lacking the personal possessions from her old home, she doesn't consider herself properly married and bolts the door to the bedroom to keep him out. Wayne angrily kicks his way in, seizes her by the hair and kisses her, bringing her to the point of submission. He then flings her on the bed which breaks under the impact, and storms out to settle down in a sleeping bag. This scene cleverly maintains the Wayne image by allowing him to choose the outcome and, in backing down, to show his customary respect for the other sex. This latter point is also seen in the way he covers up the situation in front of their visitors the next morning, with Michaeleen impressed by the ardor implicit in the broken bed.

Their life continues in a friendly enough fashion, Wayne applying a jovial slap to Mary Kate's rump as she clambers over a wall to fetch her shoes for a walk. But, for her, the absence of a dowry is still humiliating and at one point she almost strikes Wayne with a horse whip for not taking it up with her brother. Wayne is soon venting his frustration by kicking stones and flinging boulders across the countryside. Then Mary Kate brings matters to a head when she runs off to catch a train to Dublin. Wayne turns up at the station and drags her off the train, ducking a haymaker and kneeing her in the rump to speed her progress on the five-mile walk back. The driver deserts his train to follow (trains are always running late anyway in Ford films) and, along with an ever increasing crowd of locals, falls in behind the pair. A woman hands Wayne a switch to use on Mary Kate, expressing popular sympathy with his tough action, leaving her to glower helplessly. Wayne brings her to Red Will, working in a field, and throws her back as an unsuitable wife for lack of a dowry. Red Will peels off some money and hands it over to Wayne who puts it into a boiler nearby with Mary Kate enthusiastically opening the door. The dowry disposed of, the stage is set for Wayne and Red Will to fight it out with Mary Kate setting off jauntily for home. A spectacularly exaggerated brawl takes place. Buckets of water are applied to revive the two contestants and there is a break for a spot of refreshment in the pub after which the fight is concluded by Wayne knocking Red Will clear through the entrance door. The two men now have respect and affection for each other and they stagger home for dinner with Mary Kate. It remains for a final scene to show Wayne and Mary Kate making up for lost time as she comes up to him sitting outside and whispers a suggestion in his ear, making off towards the house. He gets up and waits while she runs ahead and then pauses to look enticingly back at him as he catches up and takes her arm.

In the hands of an artist as sensitive and resourceful as John Ford, The Quiet Man is able to deal with sexual attraction in an honest yet indirect way without ever lapsing into bad taste. For Wayne, the part of Sean Thornton has its aggressive side in the final fight but otherwise calls for unusual restraint in the face of Irish customs and Red Will Dannaher (with resultant expressions of comic frustration). He can occasionally break out into a dark, repressed rage, but the film draws most on his gentlemanly reserve, allowing him enough decisive moments to affirm his masculine brute strength. The only contrived aspect of the characterization, if an essential one, is his withholding the secret of his past from Mary Kate. The film never raises this as an issue and so it is never made to seem a devious action on Wayne's part.

Although The Quiet Man was only indirectly a Republic picture (it was part-filmed on the studio's soundstages and released by the company, but made by Ford's Argosy Pictures), it was Wayne's final association with the organization whose boss, Herbert J. Yates, had incurred his displeasure by backing out of a deal for Wayne to film the story of the Alamo (Yates's only recorded - and happily frustrated - contribution to the making of The Quiet Man was to try and have its title changed to The Prizefighter and the Colleen). Had Wayne remained an occasional star of Republic Pictures, it would have probably kept the studio in business much longer than the six or seven years it managed with the loss of its major star. As it was, Wayne had now aligned himself with Warner Bros. under a comprehensive deal that allowed him to also produce pictures without starring in them.

This film was certainly a family affair. John Wayne's children Michael, Antonia, Patrick, and Melinda were some of the children in the racetrack scene. Maureen O'Hara's brother Charles FitzSimmons portrayed Forbes of the IRA. Director John Ford's brother Francis Ford portrayed Dan Tobin. Brothers Barry Fitzgerald and Arthur Shields portrayed Michaeleen Flynn and Rev. Playfair.


Sean Thornton John Wayne
Mary Kate Dannaher Maureen O'Hara
Red Will Dannaher Victor McLaglen
Michaeleen Flynn Barry Fitzgerald
Father Peter Lonegan Ward Bond
Mrs. Sarah Tillane Mildred Natwick
Dan Tobin Francis Ford
Rev. Cyril Playfair Arthur Shields
Owen Glynn Sean McClory
Forbes Charles FitzSimmons
Dermot Fahy Ken Curtis
Feeney Jack McGowran
Mrs. Elizabet Playfair Eileen Crowe
Pat Cohan Harry Tyler

Shooting from early June 1951 to end of August 1951.

Released August, 1952 (U.S.); July 21, 1952 (G.B.)

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