My Irish heritage cringed a bit while watching this technicolor film. The fighting, drinking Irish were well-represented, plus physical abuse of women seemed a natural thing to do. Most people have now come to realize that these stereotypes are not always factual, or at least not confined to one nationality. Much of what was contained in the film would not be allowed to pass muster these days.
“The Quiet Man” was originally a short story in the Saturday Evening Post, written by Maurice Walsh. It was directed by John Ford who won an Academy Award for his efforts. The film also garnered another Academy Award for Best Cinematography, a well-deserved award.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
John Wayne - Wikimedia
The talented cast was a big draw in my watching this film. John Wayne portrayed an Irish-born ex-boxer (Sean Thornton) who left Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to settle down in his original home town of Innisfree, Ireland. Back in Pittsburgh, Sean had killed a man in the ring accidentally, which caused him to discontinue his boxing career. His moniker had been “Trooper Thorn” and he had been successful in his boxing career in addition to working in the steel mills in Pittsburgh. Sean’s goal in Ireland was to purchase the home in which he was born.
Sean Purchases His Family Home
The home, which was called White O’Morn, was now owned by the widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick), the wealthiest lady in Innisfree. Sean offered her a tidy sum for the property, but was thwarted by another offer from Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) who wanted the property for rental purposes. Sean won out when he offered the widow a whopping 1000 pounds for the humble cottage. Will had been hoping to marry the widow Tillane, but so far she had shown no interest in the match.
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Maureen O'Hara - Wikimedia
Sean Notices Mary Kate
In surveying the nearby countryside, Sean spotted a beautiful red-headed lass herding some sheep on the hilly grass near Innisfree. He inquired and learned that Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) was the spinster sister of Will Danaher, who kept house for her single brother.
Sean Hires a Matchmaker
Sean moved very quickly, I thought, in engaging the local matchmaker, Michaleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) to help him to court Mary Kate, who seemed to resist the idea initially. The matchmaker spent a great deal of time at the local pub, Pat Cohan’s Bar, and so he was able to conspire with several townspeople, including the Catholic priest, Father Lonergan (Ward Bond), to convince Will Danaher that the widow Tillane would be open to his proposal if only Mary Kate would leave the premises. Two women in the same kitchen is never a good idea.
Sean obviously overstepped his bounds at church on Sunday when he scooped up some holy water from the font and held it up for Mary Kate to take. Neighbors noticed that Sean had taken liberties with Mary Kate. Apparently, that exercise is confined to those who have already made promises to one another. Mary Kate went to Sean’s home to clean it for him voluntarily. His kiss when he found her there was also unwarranted due to their lack of promise to each other.
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Barry Fitzgerald - Wikimedia
A Village Custom
It was a custom in the village for the men to vie for the ladies’ bonnets which would indicate which lady they wanted to court and marry. The men rode on horseback up to the posts where the bonnets were displayed and would be grabbed as the men rode off with them. Sean’s horse was the first one up to the posts, but surprisingly he grabbed the widow Tillane’s bonnet instead of Mary Kate’s, embarrassing Mary Kate in front of the crowd. Sean offered the bonnet to Will who believed that he could then extract a positive response from the widow that she would marry him.
Sean and Mary Kate Marry
On Sean and Mary Kate’s wedding day, Will, who did not care for the Yank, especially since he been tricked into thinking he had a chance with the widow, refused to give up Mary Kate’s dowry which consisted of the furniture, dishes and cutlery which had been her mother’s, plus 350 pounds. The dowry provided Mary Kate with independence, confidence, and pride, and was needed to validate her marriage. In Ireland, the dowry was a sacred necessity for sealing the bond of marriage.
Sean and Mary Kate Quarrel on Their Wedding Night
Sean cared nothing for the dowry as he appeared to be independently wealthy, and refused to confront Will to turn over the belongings to Mary Kate, who then called him a coward, and they spent their wedding night in separate rooms, with Sean sleeping in the living room of White O’Morn in his sleeping bag. The next morning, the neighbors brought over the furniture and other articles to their rightful owner, but informed them that Will would not give up the 350 pounds.
Sean’s History Comes to Light
Only one other person in the village knew about Sean’s boxing background and his reasons for ending his career. That was the Protestant minister, Reverend Playfair (Arthur Shields), who himself had been a lightweight boxing champion in his younger days. The viewer may be interested to know that Arthur Shields is the blood brother of Barry Fitzgerald, who plays the matchmaker in this film.
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Mildred Natwick - Wikimedia
Mary Kate Leaves Sean
Mary Kate, with her Irish temper which she had acknowledged, left Sean the next morning and headed for a train to Dublin. He arrived just before the train was ready to depart and dragged her unceremoniously from the train. He forced her to walk the five miles back to Innisfree, grabbing and pulling her in a most ungentlemanly way. They stopped at Will’s house, where Sean demanded that Will give Mary Kate her dowry. When Will refused, Sean countered that the marriage was null in that case, so Will was forced to hand over the 350 pounds. Sean threw the money into a nearby furnace, which Mary Kate accepted. She returned to White O’Morn after announcing that she would get Sean’s supper ready.
Sean and Will have a Fist Fight
Sean and Will then engaged in a long fist fight which included several rests between punches while the two returned to Pat Cohan’s Bar for increased resources. Meanwhile, the matchmaker, Michaleen Flynn, who was apparently the town bookmaker as well, received bets from the townsmen on who would win the fight. Each fighter had his followers who put up quite a bit of money on the fight.
After brawling and drinking and brawling again, the game ceased without an identifiable winner, and the two men, with newly gained respect for each other, headed for the supper which Mary Kate was preparing. Happily, Will was successful in convincing the widow Tillane that he was a fine man, and they were married also.
Arthur Shields - Wikimedia
Some Positives About the Film
I do agree that “The Quiet Man” was a delightful story, but the portrayal of the stereotypical bad habits of the Irish still grates on me. Still, there was much to be said that is positive about the film. The scenes of the Irish countryside were breathtaking, and the lack of swearing and erotic episodes was definitely a plus. Victor Young’s music, playing Irish songs in the background throughout the film set the tone and was so appealing. It is always pleasant to experience nostalgia by watching the heroes I worshipped in my younger days.
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