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The Quiet Man

#596 - The Quiet Man
John Ford, 1952

An American boxer travels to his Irish hometown, where his attempts to reclaim his family homestead and romance a local woman are challenged by her boorish brother.

In my experience, the combination of actor John Wayne and director John Ford has tended to be a fairly safe guarantee that any film the two of them made was of good quality. Though those particular films tended to involve the genre most famously associated with both men, that of the Western, The Quiet Man takes a very different tack in that it sees the Johns travel away from Monument Valley and head for the Emerald Isle itself. Wayne (wisely choosing not to temper his trademark drawl with any kind of regional brogue) stars as an Irish-American boxer who, having lived most of his life in Pittsburgh, suddenly arrives back in the small Irish village where he was born. He seems intent on staying in town, even going so far as to buy up the land on which his family's old home is situated. This causes a bit of a stir with a local landowner (Victor McLaglen) who proceeds to antagonise Wayne over the situation. Things are only further complicated when Wayne also happens to fall for a red-haired local lass (Maureen O'Hara), who happens to be McLaglen's sister. Thus begins a drawn-out conflict between Wayne and McLaglen as they both struggle to achieve their desired goals - Wayne wants a quiet country life with O'Hara that is free of disturbances, while McLaglen wants nothing more than to "win" over Wayne by any means necessary.

With The Quiet Man, Ford works to mythologise his ancestral homeland in much the same way that he famously mythologised the Wild West with films like My Darling Clementine. This film doesn't feature too much in the way of his later cynicism on this front either, nor does it slide into unchecked misanthropy (especially late in the film, where one scene involving Wayne and O'Hara did make me think "Ah, this isn't going to play out like the ending of McClintock!, is it?" - spoiler alert, it didn't). It does go into exploring Wayne's troubled past and his real reason for returning to Ireland (which is captured in a manner that feels especially striking for 1952), plus the belligerent romantic tension that plays out between him and O'Hara feels believable and occasionally yields a stand-out moment (such as one scene where they are caught in the rain). The cast of characters are solid enough underneath some extremely thick accents - McLaglen certainly makes for a difficult enough antagonist without being too annoying, while O'Hara's turn as a fiercely independent woman is appropriately complicated by her feelings for Wayne and her deference to certain social customs. While it's naturally difficult to see Wayne as anyone other than Wayne, he manages to be rather convincing underneath his signature affectation and swaggering gait.

If you're going to make an idealised vision of a world that may never have existed, then you might as well go all the way and render it as vividly as you possibly can. Ford definitely does this as he collaborates with cinematographer Winton C. Hoch to capture the extremely verdant scenery as best they can. The same capacity for evoking the best of the landscape does translate to more grandiose or intimate settings; look no further than the film's iconic climax or the aforementioned rain scene. If nothing else, The Quiet Man is worth watching for that astonishingly lush imagery alone. Your appreciation for the music will definitely depend upon your tolerance of traditional-sounding Irish folk songs with bagpipes galore. Though I may not feel quite as impressed by the end result as I thought I'd be, I think The Quiet Man definitely has room to grow on me. The vision of 1920s Ireland depicted in the film is fanciful enough so as to border on fantasy, but that doesn't mean that the resulting film is any less enjoyable as a piece of nostalgic wonder.