The Quiet Man (1952)
Director: John Ford
Writer: Frank S. Nugent
Cinematographer: Winton Hoch
by Jon Cvack
A friend of mine randomly posted on Facebook that The Quiet Man reminded him of his father who always played it as a kid. I really liked this description since it reminded me of my grandparents and a film that they might have put on after we ate dinner and were enjoying some ice cream.
The movies is indubitably one of the most offensive movies I’ve seen from the period. Not only does John Wayne come in and boss his wife around, but by the end of the film he’s literally dragging her across the ground to teach her a lesson. This is film is very much - pretty much only - about John Ford’s love of Ireland. I suppose it would have been better if Netflix didn’t tell me he was a former boxer since we don’t learn about this until about halfway through the film. I kept thinking that Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) from Pulp Fiction had to have been inspired by this character. They both killed someone and planned to escape, in which case Butch Coolidge would go to Ireland after getting out of LA. In fact their names are strangely similar in syllabic structure - Butch Coolidge and Sean Thorton. That’s probably a stretch, but I would still push that there’s something there.
Any way - Sean pushes and/or forces himself to marry Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), who finally capitulates, except she has to trick her brother Squire (Victor McLaglen) for approval. He then finds out and refuses to pay Mary Kate her dowry. She goes on a tirade, asserting that her independence depends on receiving the dowry, but Sean doesn’t really care. I don’t really care.
The story is much more a slice of life than anything else. Like most of the pictures from the period, the guy falls in love and is willing to spend his entire life with a woman he’s only seen once and never talked to. I still don’t understand this and love how movies have preserved that this was once a thing. I just wish it wasn’t so offensive. That’s John Ford for you, though. The guy became a Republican in his later years, although his favorite presidents were Lincoln and FDR. He supported the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon, and it’s not that those ideas are synonymous with misogyny, but it at least provides some clue as to why such an old fashioned approach to women was committed to celluloid. To think that because Mary Kate saw the dowry as a reflection of her independence and freedom that Sean would drag her across town and dump her at her brother’s feet is something that speaks loudly to yesteryear's gender dynamics. Sean doesn’t care about her freedom and wants her to be the good housewife that he imagined she could be. In those days it seems like it wasn’t about companionship and encouragement. For some men, it was about having a servant to wait at your every need and meet your expectations of what makes for a good wife. We can admire Mary Kate for trying. We can fault Ford for allowing her to fail.
BELOW: An extremely and hilariously long fight sequence, on par with They Live! (still offensive)
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