Action… excitement… romance!
It’s hard to think of a more quintessentially American filmmaker than John Ford. His filmography is a fascination collection of movies that examine the complicated moral landscape of the American west (The Searchers), films that pay tribute to the heroism of the American military (including a number of training films made during WWII), adaptations of great American novels (The Grapes of Wrath) and biopics of great American men (Young Mr. Lincoln).
As such, The Quiet Man stands out amidst Ford’s impressive filmography. Not only does it center on a character who turns his back on America to spend the rest of his life in Ireland, but it (mostly) rejects the violence that plays a crucial role in so many of Ford’s films. Likewise, it stands out amidst the filmography of actor John Wayne, who played so many characters who can hardly be described as quiet men. Even so, it represents a highlight in the careers of both men: a charming, big-hearted movie overflowing with warmth and playfulness.
Wayne plays Sean Thornton, who travels to the small town of Inisfree, Ireland to reclaim the family farm where he was born. In the process, he falls in love with spirited redhead Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara, Miracle on 34th Street), the younger sister of irritable land baron Squire “Red” Will Danaher. Alas, it just so happens that Red had been making plans to claim Sean’s farm, and is immensely irritated that this entitled American would swoop in and take it away from him. So, Red refuses to grant permission for his sister to wed Sean, leading to a bit of romantic angst and a whole lot of scheming. Local townsfolk like Father Lonergan (Ward Bond, The Searchers) want to see Sean and Mary Kate find happiness together, and begin working on a plot to trick Red into granting permission for the two of them to marry. Naturally, this leads to further complications.
It must be admitted that The Quiet Man is built almost entirely out of Irish stereotypes: it’s a town of loud, hot-tempered alcoholics, which makes the cool, calm Sean Thornton seem even quieter than he might have in America. Likewise, the portrait of 1920s Ireland isn’t exactly historically sound, ignoring the larger problems of the era in favor of serving up a world that feels thoroughly romanticized. Still, both the stereotypes and the world of the film are presented with such affection that one finds it hard to complain about such things. It’s Ford’s love letter to Ireland, and like a lot of love letters, it exaggerates for the sake of expressing its feelings.
Wayne and O’Hara are wonderful together, offering a near-perfect example of the sort of volatile love/hate chemistry that has fueled so many romantic comedies over the years. There’s a gentle quality to Wayne’s work here that’s immensely appealing, and O’Hara turns in what may be her definitive “red-headed spitfire” role (a part she was asked to play quite frequently over the course of her career). Ford’s direction is both energetic and lyrical, and the tender romantic moments shine as brightly as the big, boisterous ones (including that delightfully ridiculous climactic brawl). The film’s tone is largely cheerful and silly, but it still infuses its more dramatic material – including an unforgettable reveal in the film’s second half – with real power.
The Quiet Man (Blu-ray) has received an excellent 1080p/full frame transfer from Olive Films, giving the film’s rich full-color cinematography the sort of lavish treatment it deserves. Colors are robust and full, detail is exceptional throughout and the film’s natural grain structure has been left intact. The DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio track is crisp and clean, giving Victor Young’s score a lot of strength and presenting the dialogue with clarity. Supplements are generous: an audio commentary with Ford biographer Joseph McBride, several featurettes (“The Old Man: Peter Bogdanovich Remembers John Ford,” “The Making of The Quiet Man,” “Free Republic: The Story of Herbert J. Yates and Republic Pictures,” “Don’t You Remember It, Seanin?” and “A Tribute to Maureen O’Hara”) and a booklet featuring some illustrations.
The Quiet Man is a top-shelf John Ford flick and a thoroughly charming entertainment. This new Blu-ray release is excellent.