The Quiet Man is a Great film. A capital “G” great film that belongs in the canon of classic films. Released in 1952, it was added to the National Film Registry in 2013 and has become one of the most popular collaborations between John Ford and John Wayne. The film shines as an example of what happens when the direction, cinematography, score and casting of a film combine to make a beautiful picture.
The heart of the film lies in its Irish roots. Filmed on location, the Irish countryside becomes as much of a character as the protagonists themselves. Shot in glorious Technicolor, The Quiet Man captures the essence of what it means for a person to be part of the land that they love. As Scarlett O’Hara’s Irish father tells her in Gone With The Wind, “to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them, why the land they live on is like their mother.”
The story of a former American boxer returning home to his birthplace of Innisfree, the film offers a nostalgic look at a village stuck in the traditions of the past (much like Brigadoon, but without the time travel). John Wayne’s Sean Thornton is struck dumb at his first glance of Maureen O’Hara’s Mary Kate. The ultimate “feisty redhead,” Mary Kate is a “spinster” who lives with her older brother. They fall in love almost instantly, but, as in every good love story, there are multiple hurdles to overcome, the main one being winning the approval of her older brother. When Sean comes a’courtin’, their first “date” leads to one of the most iconic kisses ever captured on film. The two get married soon after, a sign of the old fashioned mentality of Mary Kate’s family. After a dispute over her dowry leads Mary Kate to deny her husband the more pleasurable aspects of married life, the entire film revolves around Sean’s efforts to get back the dowry. Of course, everything turns out all right in the end, with the film’s final shot implying that the two are going to make love the moment they walk through the door of their cottage.
As in most of his films, John Wayne plays a version of himself. One of Hollywood’s biggest stars in 1952, John Wayne’s screen presence offers a familiar and comforting performance. His Sean Thornton is a man of secrets and regret, searching for solace in a more innocent world than the fighting rings he left behind.
Maureen O’Hara steals the show, giving one of her finest performances. Beautifully costumed in bright reds, greens, and blues, she captures our attention at the same moment she captures John Wayne’s. She turns a character that could have been meek and annoying into a sort of heroine, chasing after what she wants and stubbornly refusing to give in no matter who stands in her way.
The two have an on-screen chemistry beyond that of many screen pairings. Her energy, paired with his quiet nature, creates a classic combination that elevates the story and turns the film into a joy to watch.
One of the most beautiful scenes in the film comes toward the end, when the “unhappy” couple returns home and reveals to each other that they both sought council from respected friends. As Sean pulls Mary Kate onto his lap, the light from the fire illuminates the pensive looks on their faces and gives a soft glow to the intimate image.
The Quiet Man has become a classic, and deservedly so. Though the plot has nothing to with Saint Patrick’s Day, its love of Ireland and idealized look at a nearly forgotten way of life has made it a film best viewed when in the mood for “something Irish.”