Sunday 13 April 2008

The Quiet Man (1952)

The only Republic film ever to be nominated for an Oscar, you'd think teaming up John Ford, John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond and Victor McLaglen would be a safe bet, but the studios didn't see it that way. Ford had tried to get this film made for a decade before the Duke persuaded Republic to bankroll it. Thank goodness he did because this one's as great as I was led to expect it was.

We're in rural Ireland, so Irish that as the train arrives at Castletown station, the station, the signs, the bridges and even the train carriages are green, let alone the lush countryside. On the train is Sean Thornton, and he's on his way to Innisfree where he was born with the aim of buying the cottage his family had lived in for generations. He's been Stateside for nigh on all his life and so doesn't have to pretend to be Irish which is a good job given that he's played by John Wayne.

That's a real plus for the film and another is that there are a slew of seriously good actors playing alongside him who are well suited to the material. There's Barry Fitzgerald, born and bred in Dublin and one of the greatest character actors of the era who could steal scenes from the best of them. There's Victor McLaglen, born in England of Scots blood but who had been playing Irishmen for decades including his other Oscar winning turn in The Informer. He's also one of the few actors of the day who could realistically get away with calling John Wayne 'Little Man', though at 6' 3" he was an inch shorter than the Duke. He had a heavier build though and was a carnival boxer, good enough to fight future world champions on occasion. There's Jack MacGowran, another Dubliner, so memorable in The Fearless Vampire Hunters and The Exorcist, but apparently best known for his work in plays by Samuel Bennett.

And then there's Maureen O'Hara, a fiery red headed Irishwoman who had the enviable talent of being able to look demure, beautiful and womanly when she chose, yet switch over at will to dangerous, physically imposing and full of powerful temper. She was playing opposite Wayne, a lifelong friend, for the second of five times and they were always a memorable couple, possibly never more so than here, especially as the central point of the film is a love story between the two.

In front of, behind and all around that love story is a comedy of Irish manners. Sean Thornton wants to marry Mary Kate Danaher and she wants to marry him, but they are prohibited by custom and law because her brother, the head of the house, Squire 'Red' Will Danaher won't allow it. However there's another traditional Irish custom of shenanigans and Irish tempers allow for some serious shenanigans to be going on. Needless to say Barry Fitzgerald is at the heart of all of it and he has a field day with the role. Luckily so does everyone else.

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