Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Quiet Man (1952)
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Background

The Quiet Man (1952) is director John Ford's epic romantic comedy - a loving, sentimental, nostalgic tribute to his Irish ancestry and homeland. A rich, beautifully-textured Technicolor presentation deserving of its Color Cinematography award, it was filmed mostly on location in Ireland, although some backdrops and background studio shots were obviously intermixed. Its screenplay was based on Frank Nugent's adaptation of Maurice Walsh's Saturday Evening Post 1933 short story Green Rushes. Ford considered the rollicking, comedy love story one of his favorite films.

[The memorable plot, about the collision course between an anti-materialistic, Irish-American boxer nicknamed 'Trooper Thornton' (Wayne) in the town of Innisfree in the land of his Irish birthplace and a local, mean bully (McLaglen) - further entangled when he falls in love with the man's fiesty, red-haired, materialistic sister (O'Hara) who refuses to consummate her marriage without her dowry (350 Irish pounds in gold), was inspired by a Celtic myth about a monumental battle between two sacred kings (gods) who annually fought for the affections of a queen (or goddess).]

The famous director of westerns had already won Best Director Academy Award Oscars for three previous non-Western films - The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and How Green Was My Valley (1941). This sentimental film, Ford's first 'romantic love story,' received a total of seven Academy Awards nominations (including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor - Victor McLaglen, Best Screenplay - Frank Nugent, Best Art Direction, and Best Sound) and won two Oscars: Best Cinematography - Winton Hoch and Archie Stout, and Ford (at 57 years of age) won his fourth and final Best Director Oscar, establishing a record that is still unbeaten.

Because the film was an ambitious, personal pet project and not one of Ford's typical westerns, he was unable to find financial backing from the major Hollywood studios, so he turned to Republic Pictures, a smaller studio regarded as the studio for B-pictures and low-budget westerns. After the financial and critical success of Rio Grande (1950) for the studio, the third of Ford's 'cavalry trilogy,' he convinced Republic Pictures to support him for his next riskier film - an Irish "Taming of the Shrew" tale that was remarkably similar in plot. He brought the same stock company of actors from his western - John Wayne, Victor McLaglen, and Maureen O'Hara - to Ireland to film his humorous, epic romance. In the seventeen years of Republic's existence, it was the first film for the studio that was nominated for Best Picture.

It has been said that John Wayne represented John Ford on-screen as a younger 'alter-ego' of the famous American film director. [Ford was born Sean Aloysius Feeney/O'Fearna in 1895 in Maine, the youngest son of an Irish immigrant who had 13 children.] It is probably not just coincidence that Maureen O'Hara's character name is Mary (Ford's wife's name) Kate (the name of his unrealized love - Katharine Hepburn). Ford also cast his brother Francis (a silent film actor and director) in a cameo role as patriarch Dan Tobin - an ailing, white-bearded elderly man who refuses to die before witnessing the donnybrook fist fight in the finale.

The Story

The idyllic, romanticized film opens, after a credits sequence with warm, sun-drenched tones and music, with the central character, an Irish-American, arriving by steam locomotive at the train station in the Irish hamlet of Castletown. The action is narrated, in flashback, by an offscreen character, the local Catholic Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond), the priest of the parish who is also a devoted fisherman, as he clears his throat:

Now, I'll begin at the beginnin'. A fine soft day [Irish for 'it's raining or misting'] in the spring it was when the train pulled into Castletown three hours late as usual, and himself got off. He didn't have the look of an American tourist at all about him. Not a camera on him. And what was worse, not even a fishing rod.

As he steps from the dark green train, Sean Thornton (John Wayne) inquires about the whereabouts of the quaint, simple town of Innisfree [a name symbolically representing freedom and a return to an innocent past] from an assortment of loveable Irish characters - the train conductor, engineer and other stereotypical townsfolk. He is led from the train into an ancestral past - to an open, single horse drawn carriage by a spritely, derby-hatted, pipe-smoking, elfin Michaeleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), the local taxi-cab driver, book-maker, and match-maker. [The suffix 'een' denotes little and is often used affectionately.]

They ride under a train bridge after the train pulls out of the station - the 20th century vehicle passes over them as they enter the lush green countryside of Sean's past life. Michaeleen learns that the 'six-foot four and a half' American is from "Pittsburgh." At a little stone bridge crossing a stream, Sean pauses, looks toward a small thatched cottage in the distance, and listens in his mind to his deceased mother's gentle voice reminiscing to him as a child about her memories of her past life in the village - the location of his birth and youth where she grew roses:

Don't you remember Seannie and how it was? The road led up past the chapel and it wound and it wound. And there was the field where Dan Tobin's bullock chased you. It was a lovely little house, Seaneen. And the roses! Well, your father used to tease me about them. But he was that proud of them too.

The coachman quips: "That's nothin' but a wee, humble cottage." Sean asks about the owner of the small cottage: "That little place across the brook, that humble cottage - who owns it now?" After being told that the widow Mrs. Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick) owns but doesn't live in the cottage, he firmly intends to remain in the foreign land - his new 'home' and place of refuge - and purchase the "wee humble cottage" of his birth, forsaking the harsh blast furnaces of his American industrial homeland (with "steel and pig iron furnaces so hot a man forgets his fear of hell"). Michaeleen is one of the few Irish townsfolk who knew Sean in his childhood:

Sean: Do you think she'd sell it?
Michaeleen: I doubt it.
Sean: Don't bet on it, 'cause I'm buyin' it.
Michaeleen: Now why would a, why would a Yankee from Pittsburgh want to buy it?
Sean: I'll tell you why Michaeleen Oge Flynn, young small Michael Flynn who used to wipe my runny nose when I was a kid. Because I'm Sean Thornton and I was born in that little cottage over there. And I've come home, and home I'm gonna stay. Now does that answer your questions once and for all, you nosy little man?
Michaeleen: Seanin Thornton! And look at you now...What do they feed you, all you men who are in Pittsburgh?
Sean: Steel...Steel and pig iron furnaces so hot a man forgets his fear of hell. When you're hard enough, tough enough, other things, other things Michaeleen.

Father Lonergan, who is afoot on the winding road and meets them, narrates: "Now then, here comes myself. That's me there, walking, that tall saintly looking man. Peter Lonergan, parish priest." It is a homecoming for Sean who is "home from America" where his widowed, hard-working, immigrant mother died in America when he was only twelve. Father Lonergan remembers Sean's Irish ancestors (his parents and grandparents), and then invites him to the next morning's Catholic mass:

Father Lonergan: Ah yes, I knew your people, Sean. Your grandfather - he died in Australia in a penal colony. And your father, he was a good man too. Bad accident that. And your mother?
Sean: She's dead. America, when I was twelve.
Father Lonergan: (piously) I'll remember her in the mass tomorrow, Sean. (sternly) You'll be there, seven o'clock.
Sean: Sure I will.

In one of the film's most fanciful, breathtaking, painterly scenes of the picturesque, pastoral Irish countryside (and the entrance scene for the film's star actress), Sean walks to an emerald-green grassy area of foliage where black-faced sheep are herded by a collie. As he lights a cigarette within a grove of tall trees, he turns and has a transcendent, romanticized vision of a red-haired, blue-bloused, scarlet-skirted, bare-footed lass (Maureen O'Hara as Mary Kate Danaher) tending the flock of sheep in the meadow. In the scene common in storybooks and legends of the past, Sean is transfixed by the ravishingly beautiful, auburn-haired Irish woman in the lush, emerald surroundings - she is equally interested in him and gives him a lengthy glance. Although her presence becomes a second reason to make Ireland his new home, the American is so awed and dazzled by her beauty that he doesn't trust the fairy-tale he has seen:

Sean: (rhetorically to Michaeleen about his distorted perceptions) Hey, is that real? She couldn't be.
Michaeleen: Oh nonsense, man. It's only a mirage brought on by your terrible thirst.

To put an end to the imagined mirage, Michaeleen drives them to Innisfree's local pub/bar, run by publican Pat Cohan.

Early the next morning, Sean kneels in the Catholic church. A floor-level camera angle frames the colorful stained-glass windows at the end of the nave and above the altar. Sean exits down the nave toward the camera, passing the sheepherder lass kneeling in another pew - she looks after him. [Later, Sean tells her that her face was "like a saint."] Following the Catholic mass, Sean waits outside at the back of the stone chapel where the red-haired woman follows. No longer in doubt about her, he removes his hat, abruptly scoops up ecclesiastical holy water in his palm, and greets her: "Good morning." Without a word, she dips her fingers in the water in his hand, makes the sign of the cross with the water, and hurries off - it is a formal, spiritual encounter.

Down the path, she turns back for two wary but interested glances, and remains half-hidden behind a gate as Thornton is scolded for his impropriety. Contrary to what Sean thinks of his fantasy female goddess, the impish, leprechaun-like matchmaker divulges her name, her eligibility as a shrew, her hot-headed temper, and the lack of a dowry ('fortune'):

Michaeleen: None of that now, none of that. It's a bold sinful man you are, Sean Thornton. And who taught ya to be playing patty fingers in the Holy Water?
Sean: Just bein' polite, that's all.
Michaeleen: Maybe you don't know it's a privilege for courtin' couples and then only when the banns has been read. And Mary Kate Danaher dippin' her fingers in as neat as you please.
Sean: What did you say her name was?
Michaeleen: Mary Kate Danaher. Now don't be gettin' any notions in your head...Forget it, Sean, forget it. Put it out of your mind entirely.
Sean: Why, what's the matter? She isn't married or anything, is she?
Michaeleen:...No...and her with her freckles and her temper. Oh that red head of hers is no lie. Still, a man might put up with that, but not with her lack of a fortune.

"The wealthiest woman in Innisfree was the Widow Tillane. She had neither chick nor child poor soul, but she was well-respected and good to the poor." Escorted by Michaeleen to the widow, Sean negotiates to purchase his mother's cottage to recapture his own childhood - his own birthplace: "All the Thorntons were born there. Seven generations of them." The widow chides him for wanting to turn the thatched cottage, termed White O' Mornin', into "a national shrine, perhaps charge tuppence a visit for a guided tour through the little thatched cottage where all the Thorntons were born. Are you a man of such eminence then?" Pittsburgh-raised in a steel town, Sean assures her that his idealized intentions are pure - Innisfree has been his equivalent of "heaven," his Shangri-La salvation from the "hell" of Pittsburgh, his paradise, his idealized vision of his mother's memories:

Look, Mrs. Tillane. I'm not talkin' about memorials or monuments. It's just that ever since I was a kid livin' in the shack near the slag heaps, my mother's told me about Innisfree and White O'Mornin'. Innisfree has become another word for heaven to me. When I quit the...when I decided to come here, it was with one thought in mind.

The bullying, boorish, Squire Red Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) is immediately brought at odds against Sean Thornton - both Danaher and Thornton bid against each other for the widow's property. [Smitten by the wealthy widow, Danaher had wished for many years to purchase her adjoining property and become her neighbor.] Because Danaher had gossiped in the pub and confidently insisted that she would marry him, the widow spitefully decided instead to sell the adjacent property to the newcomer - thereby alienating Danaher and Thornton from the start:

Danaher: Is it true...that behind me back the White O'Mornin' right from under me nose?
Tillane: And what concern of yours is this, Will Danaher?
Danaher: Concern? Concern enough. Haven't I made you a good fair offer for that same piece of land? And mine, lying right next to yours.
Tillane: You may keep your offers.
Danaher: Oh, so it's true. You've sold it.
Tillane: No, I have not.
Danaher: (after a boisterous laugh) I knew it was a dirty lie the very minute I heard it. Sure. I said to him, 'Paggy McFarland, you'll never make me believe that Sarah Tillane will be selling White O'Mornin'. Why, it would be like building a fence between your end and mine for a stranger to move in,' says I. 'And what would she be doin' that for? And us so close to an understanding,' you might say.
Tillane: So you told him all that, did you?
Danaher: That I did.
Tillane: Down at the pub, I suppose, in front of all those big ears with pints in their fists and pipes in their mouths. You may have the land, Mr. Thornton, for six hundred pounds.
Michaeleen: Done!...

Outbid, the dismayed and angered Danaher vows that Thornton will be his enemy: "I've got you down in my book."

Barging into the Danaher household after being outsmarted in the sale of White O'Mornin', Will bosses his workers to return to their work, and then reaches for a bottle of alcohol. Mary Kate, his 'spinster' sister, gleefully thinks he has finally received his come-uppance, and stands up to her formidable brother:

Mary Kate: Good for Widow Tillane...After all, he's [Sean Thornton] got more right to that land than you have.
Danaher: He'll regret it till his dying day, if he lives that long.

In the pub, Sean samples one of the "black beers," and offers to buy a round of drinks for everyone. But his generous offer of kinship is met with cold silence and suspicious stares - until the 'tall man' is befriended by long white-bearded old-timer Dan Tobin (Francis Ford, director John Ford's estranged brother). The bartender removes his hat in an awed response to a recitation of Thornton's lineage. The patriarch remembers his father Michael and grand-father Sean: "Bless his memory. So it's himself you're named after. Well now, that being the case, it is a pleasant evening and we will have a drink." He pounds his walking stick on the bar, as Dermot Fahy (Ken Curtis) starts playing an Irish ballad - "The Wild Colonial Boy" on his accordion for all to sing.

There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Dugan was his name.
He was born and bred in Ireland, in a town called Castlemagne
He was his father's only son, his mother's pride and joy
And dearly did his parents love this wild colonial boy.

In another room next to the bar, Michaeleen describes the strange Yank with a poor man's bed-roll:

He's a nice, quiet, peace-lovin' man come home to Ireland to forget his troubles...Sure, yes, yes, he's a millionaire, you know, like all the Yanks. But he's eccentric. Oh, he is eccentric. What till I show ya...His bag to sleep in, a sleeping bag, he calls it.

The song, equating Sean Thornton (or his grandfather who 'died in Australia...in a penal colony') with the wild colonial boy Jack Dugan, continues:

At the early age of sixteen years, he left his native home.
And to Australia's sunny shores, he was inclined to roam.
He robbed a wealthy squireen, all arms he did destroy.
A terror to Australia was this wild colonial boy.

The hulking Will Danaher strides into the bar, ironically just as the words: "He robbed a wealthy squireen" are being sung. Dan Tobin welcomes Thornton into the inner circle of Innisfree citizens: "Sean Thornton - the men of Innisfree bid you welcome home." Landowner Danaher remains bitter about losing the widow's property to Thornton and begrudges him the right to his own birthplace: "I'm a man from Innisfree. And the best man. And I bid no welcome to any man fool enough to pay a thousand pounds for a bit of land that isn't worth two hundred...What right has he to land that he's never worked?" The tyrannical brute also forbids the American intruder from expressing any interest in his sister:

Thornton: The point is, it's already done. I own the property now, and as long as we're gonna be neighbors...
Danaher: Neighbors? Oh, neighbors. NEVER! And if I so much as catch you putting your wet foot on my property...and oh, another thing, you keep away from my sister Mary Kate. She's not for the likes of you.
Thornton: Where I come from, we don't talk about our women folk in saloons. You sort of make a habit of it.

Their conversation turns ugly in the pub when the cantankerous Danaher is called a liar for suspecting that Thornton "took liberties that he shouldn't have" at the back of the chapel - Sean's "Good Morning" wasn't genuine - according to Danaher: "it was Good Night" that he had on his mind. The two are commanded by Father Lonergan to shake hands - their extended handshake turns into a combative, iron grip as they painfully squeeze each other's hands as tightly as possible. They both wince during their first physical display of competitive manhood.


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