#273 The Quiet Man
(1952, John Ford)
[No quote for this review]
I’ve never made a secret of my dislike for John Wayne, which is a big part of my dislike for many classic Westerns in general. As an actor, he was very dry, very samey and generally dull to watch. I can never tell his characters apart, and his drawl is often so devoid of emotion that I can never get emotionally invested in them anyway. But perhaps things might change if we change the setting. Instead of a Western, The Quiet Man is a comedy drama set in Ireland.
Wayne plays Sean Thornton, an Irish-born American from Pennsylvania heading back to Ireland to reconnect with his “home”. There he buys his family’s old farm, attracting the ire of a local landowner, Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), who dislikes that this stranger has rolled up and bought land next to his. However, Thornton has more interest in Danaher’s sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara), and looks to marry her.
The Quiet Man is a movie that is absolutely in love with Ireland. It presents the country as a peaceful land of green fields and fresh air filled with quirky people with funny accents and oh my, isn’t it marvellous. It does so with impressive cinematography and a meticulous attention to detail designed to bring out the best in the country. But while a good advert for the Irish tourism board, this does little to make an interesting movie.
John Wayne is still a problem. As with all of his roles, I couldn’t tell him apart from his characters in The Searchers, Red River or…that other movie I saw him in. He was the same drawling Texan cowboy (despite being supposedly from Pennsylvania) and still had no emotion in his performance at all. About the only positive thing I can say is that at least he wasn’t trying to do an Irish accent.
But little else salvages the movie. The story is all over the place, setting up a conflict between Thornton and Danaher early on, then forgetting about it and pursuing an awkward love story before realising about halfway through that it had set up a conflict that it never delivered on. The conflict was slow, drawn-out and generally rather limp overall, and the love story side of things had no chemistry and also felt incredibly uncomfortable.
You see, The Quiet Man is an incredibly sexist movie. I generally let some degree of sexism in older movies slip because it was a different time with different values, but this movie just did not stop. Mary Kate is swept into an arranged marriage with Sean just because he felt like it, with absolutely nothing to indicate that she had any real interest in being married to him. Sean expects Mary Kate to have sex with him whenever he feels like it, and the movie seems to actively paint her in a negative light for it.
The fact she then bleats on about money and other material things she stands to gain in the marriage also seemed far too heavy-handed, and from the tone of the movie it seemed less like a criticism of her character but more a comment on what Sean should have expected marriage to be like because, huh, women! Amirite?!
I would also have accepted the ridiculously sexist aspects of Wayne’s character if the movie called them into question at any point, but it doesn’t. In fact, Sean is the most beloved man in the village from the moment he gets there, and it’s not made explicitly clear why. He rarely does anything to justify this unwavering affection from everyone, and it seems to happen simply because he’s the protagonist.
I didn’t like The Quiet Man. The title didn’t make a lot of sense, the overarching sexism made me uncomfortable and outside of that, it was painfully boring. In the spirit of the Irish, I only have one thing to say about this movie – feck it.
Starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond & Victor McLaglen
Written by Maurice Walsh (short story) and Frank S. Nugent
Produced by John Ford & Merian C. Cooper
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography by Winton Hoch
Edited by Jack Murray
Favourite Scene: I would say the end credits, but I seriously struggled to get to the end of this thing.
Scene That Bugged Me: Just…everything to do with that “romance”. Jesus Christ.
Watch it if: You wish to torture yourself
Avoid it if: You hate John Wayne movies
Posted on April 8, 2014, in 1950s, Drama and tagged barry fitzgerald, john ford, john wayne, maureen o'hara, merian c cooper, quiet man, victor mclaglen, ward bond. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.