The Quiet Man (1952)

August 7, 2006

quiet.jpgDirected by the legendary John Ford, The Quiet Man is considered by many as a bonafide classic and has been recommended to me on more than one occasion. Thus, last night, I finally took the time to sit down and watch it. The cast is headlined by John Wayne in the role of Sean Thorton – a boxer who leaves America to return to his native Ireland after killing a man in the ring. Thorton wishes to lead a peaceful life and hopes to settle down with Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara – in a role subject to some of the most frequent mood swings in cinematic history). Unfortunately, her brother objects to the union, and Thorton must choose between fighting for the woman he loves and his hopes for a peaceful life.

This 1952 film was made at a time when studios were making big epics – sprawling movies showcasing such innovations as Cinescope and Technicolor. The Quiet Man resembles one of these films, with Ford using the lush, scenic countryside as a backdrop for his celebration of Irish culture. Unlike his later westerns (e.g., The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, The Searchers), Ford doesn’t narrow his focus and highlight a tightly-rendered storyline. Rather, he falls into a trap common at the time and allows his story to become as expansive and rambling as the scenery. Nowhere did this seem more evident than with the ending. The majority of the film carefully sets up several poignant themes – Thorton’s inner conflict, the counteracting restrictiveness and necessity of a culture’s traditions, etc. Yet, these themes are never satisfactorily resolved, but are instead simply trumped by a romping, jubilant melee through the streets of Innisfree. Ford seems to be saying that, despite all its problems, or maybe even because of them, Irish culture continues to flourish and to unite its people with its sense of hope and happiness. I found, however, that the film’s ending simply undermined its potential seiousness and left many important points oddly unresolved.

Although I was a little disappointed in Ford’s direction, I was impressed with Wayne’s performance. I think it’s easy for many people in my generation to underestimate John Wayne. Having not grown up with the man, our social conscience instead has adopted a certain popular image of him as a staggering, drawling behemoth of an actor who has an annoying tendancy to say “pilgrim” every other sentence. Only through witnessing some of these more nuanced performances are we able to shed this one-dimensional caricatured image and understand the true depth he can bring to the roles he plays.

Overall, I think The Quiet Man is a decent film, and there are, indeed, many people who would say it’s a great film. It’s a well acted film with beautiful scenery and some great moments of comic relief. I simply believe there are too many holes in the final product to really make it a first-rate classic. I’m glad I saw it once, but it’s probably not a film I plan to revisit often.