Quiet Man, TheReviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 07/09/04 00:18:49
John Ford. Pioneer, visionary and all-round genius. Has anyone ever felt and documented America's past so deeply? Has anyone ever shown us the past so vividly? Probably not, so it's a shame that when showing us Ye Olde Ireland he layered on the cliches, syrupy and thick. While it's an entertaining piece of fun, all 'The Quiet Man' needs is a leprachaun, the blarney stone and the Corrs doing an acoustic set in the local pub and you'd have 'Cliched Ireland 101'.Sean Thornton (John Wayne) is returning to the Irish village in Galway where he was born in the 1920's. He's also leaving behind a secret that he doesn't want brought into his new life back in his ancestral home. What he does want is his old family cottage back which brings him into conflict with the bullish local squire Red Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). This conflict is intensified when he settles his eye on Will's ravishing but hot-tempered sister Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara), who he aims to marry with the help of local drunkard and bookmaker Michaeleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald).
If John Ford is renowned as one of the great visualists of cinema, then 'The Quiet Man' should be exhibit A, right behind 'The Searchers'. Never before has Ireland looked so stunningly gorgeous. No grass has ever been greener, no sky bluer, no water so sparkling. Even the storms look beautiful. It's a delight to behold and would just seem to be down the road from the Emerald City of Oz. But this is also part of the films problem - everything is just such a cliche. No-one works in the village, everyone spends all day in the pub, horses (beautiful looking obviously) wander the streets, the priest fishes happily in the river, harps quiver happily in the background - this is clearly an Ireland that never had the potato famine.
You can't blame Ford for using his greatest gift, but he's probably not the director you'd want for a romantic wallow in Ireland. The romance between Sean and Mary Kate is dull and really drags the pace of the film down. When it should be ripe with family tension, it just meanders along. In a very pretty way though. It's quite telling that despite being in Ireland, Ford also manages to fit in a horse race along the beaches. It's a sequence that shows as well making things beautiful, he also had a great eye for an action sequence.
This eye also shows in the films most talked sequence - the final fist-fight between Sean and Will. Probably the best fist-fight in film history, it's played for laughs as it rolls from one end of town to the next and it's the only time that Ford's direction really springs to life.
What saves 'The Quiet Man' from being just a gorgeous sight-seeing trip with one great fight, is some joyous performances. I've never cared for John Wayne much - particularly not the man- and as an actor, he's iconic but limited, with only a few truly great performances to his name. 'The Quiet Man' may not be one but it's close, as he gives the role a great deal of charm but just hinting at something else in his past. He's well matched by the feisty O'Hara and there's a genuine sparky chemistry between them. McLaglen fits his role as the town bully well, but Fitzgerald steals the whole film as the perma-drunk Michaeleen. He's hysterical despite being possibly the most cliched Irishman you could ever see in film.Steeped in a dewy-eyed romanticism, it's impossible to dislike 'The Quiet Man', simply because it looks so ravishing and there's some great comic performances to enjoy here. However it breaks the cardinal rule of a romance by feeling far too long for its slight story. Perhaps too gentle, and certainly too cliched for its own good, you can't help but feel that Ford had one eye on his next western when he made this.
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