“That’s me there, walking — that tall, saintly-looking man.”
The Quiet Man was based on a short story by Maurice Walsh that first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post early in 1933. Director John Ford was drawn to the story and purchased the film rights, but it would be many years before he could actually make the film. Even though he had formed his own production company, Argosy Pictures, with Merian C. Cooper after the Second World War, there was still the question of raising enough up-front money to finance actual shooting. And the major Hollywood studios he approached weren’t interested. It was only when Herbert Yates, the head of Republic Pictures (the major B movie studio in Hollywood at that time), expressed interest in an arrangement with Argosy, that there was an actual possibility that The Quiet Man might get made. The deal was that Argosy would make three pictures for release by Republic. The first of these was to be a western that turned out to be 1950’s Rio Grande. The second would be The Quiet Man.
Exteriors were shot in Ireland over a six-week period in the summer of 1951, with much of the company billeted at Ashford Castle in County Mayo and the village of Cong used as the primary shooting location. Most of the interiors were later shot on the Republic lot in Hollywood. After extensive post-production, including arguments with Republic over the title and the film’s length, Ford finally had the film the way he wanted it and it was released in September 1952. The Quiet Man proved to be an enormous hit, even generating an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. It lost out to The Greatest Show on Earth, but awards did go to Ford as Best Director and to Winton Hoch and Archie Stout for Best Cinematography.
Artisan has previously released the film on DVD, but has now made available a new Collector’s Edition.
Sean Thornton is an American boxer who returns to the village of Innisfree in Ireland to settle down after accidentally killing another boxer in the ring. He manages to purchase “White O’Morning,” the house where he was born, but in doing so makes an enemy of Red Will Danaher, who had been trying to buy the property for years. Sean falls in love with Danaher’s beautiful sister, Mary Kate, and proceeds to court her under the tutelage of local matchmaker Michaeleen Flynn. Danaher reluctantly allows the courtship to go ahead and Sean and Mary Kate eventually are married, but Danaher refuses to pay over Mary Kate’s rightful dowry. Sean’s view is that it is not important, but for Mary Kate, it is a matter of what is right. When Sean at first seems indifferent to actually doing anything about the dowry, Mary Kate reacts by trying to run away to Dublin. This provokes Sean into action that results in a climactic fistfight between him and Danaher.
Even if Argosy Pictures was not proving to be as satisfactory an experience as he would have liked (the company always seemed to end up in litigation with its partners — RKO previously, and later Republic), John Ford was still riding high artistically at this stage of his career. He would have over a dozen films ahead of him, including The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Along with the former and a handful of others such as The Grapes of Wrath, it is The Quiet Man for which Ford will be best remembered.
The affection that John Ford harboured for this story over the many years before he was able to film it is the main thing that comes across on the screen. It’s evident in the beauty of the countryside that has been captured so faithfully by Hoch and Stout’s lush Technicolor cinematography. It’s evident in the story that has been thoughtfully expanded and deepened in context and background from the slim tale that is the basis for it. It’s evident in the tapestry of music that Victor Young has fashioned from well-known Irish songs. And it’s especially evident in a uniformly excellent cast whose members seem to be enjoying themselves immensely throughout the film.
In many ways, it’s a celebration of Ireland and Irish life. The film is at pains to emphasize a spirit of community — one that is an important theme of the story as well as evident through the character interaction on the screen, and that is quickly embraced by the audience as a result. That’s probably why the film has become so beloved over the half century since it first appeared. There’s no doubt that it’s all a rather quaint view of Ireland as seen through Hollywood glasses, but one can forgive that in view of the commitment of the cast, the vast majority of whom are either actors of Irish descent working in Hollywood or local Irish people employed as extras.
John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara as Sean and Mary Kate continue to show how well they worked together, building further on the chemistry that was first apparent in Rio Grande. The feistiness of their characters adds an interesting and entertaining dimension to their relationship. The greatest pleasure in the casting comes from the many members of the Ford stock company, people like Victor McLaglen as Will Danafer, Barry Fitzgerald as Michaeleen, Ward Bond as the Catholic priest Father Lonergan, Arthur Shields as the Protestant minister Mr. Playfair, Mildred Natwick as the widow Tillane, and Francis Ford as Dan Tobin. The film was also a grand opportunity for cast and crew to have members of their families involved, from John Wayne’s children to Maureen O’Hara’s brother, John Ford’s older brother, and Victor McLaglen’s son Andrew. Ford adds a nice touch in introducing many of the cast on screen at the film’s end.
Artisan new Collector’s Edition (which fails to recognize that it’s the film’s 50th anniversary — wake up, Artisan) advertises itself as offering a digitally remastered transfer. The first Artisan release was disappointing in this regard, and I’m sorry to report that I see no improvement in this new version, if in fact, it is new. The image frequently looks blurry with red blooming, uneven brightness, and some moiré effects. For a film that relies upon an accurate presentation of its Technicolor glories to do it full justice, this transfer does not deliver. A better transfer seems unlikely, however, until Artisan undertakes appropriate restoration of the original three-strip source material.
With regard to the audio, as with Artisan’s other new Collector’s editions of Rio Grande and High Noon, the original mono is offered along with an enhanced 3.1 version. The original mono is quite acceptable in terms of clarity and minimal age-related hiss. The enhanced audio is pleasing also as it offers a somewhat louder but also richer sound. No subtitles are provided, but the disc does offer closed captioning.
The supplement package is quite comprehensive. It retains the “Making of The Quiet Man” documentary hosted by Leonard Maltin that was part of Artisan’s first DVD release. This is still an effective piece, certainly superior to many of the puff pieces masquerading as making-of documentaries that adorn current DVDs. The production information provided on it is now nicely complemented by a new documentary “The Joy of Ireland” featuring Maureen O’Hara, Andrew McLaglen, and Michael Wayne. Even better is an audio commentary by Maureen O’Hara, who successfully communicates her love for the film. She uses the film’s events as prompts to reminisce about the people and places in an energetic and entertaining fashion. We also learn further interesting production details. For example, when Sean and Mary Kate meet outside the church for the first time, it turns out that the local Protestant church was used as a stand-in for the Catholic one, but with the actual Catholic holy water font placed outside it. A montage of scenes from the film under the title “Remembering The Quiet Man” is appealing but redundant given the other extras. The supplements conclude with some cast and crew information and DVD trailers for three Artisan collector’s editions, including one for The Quiet Man, but there is no original theatrical trailer.
The Quiet Man is one of those films that has aged well. It is a sentimental favourite for many and certainly one of John Ford’s best-remembered efforts. Unfortunately, it has never been seen in its full glory on any home video medium, including this latest DVD release. Those who love this film will want to have this latest edition, however, for its fine collection of extras and the fact that it is the best current video incarnation extant. But be prepared to leave room on your shelf in hopes of an improved version some day. Recommended.