THE QUIET MAN - A personal project by John Ford
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Forgotten Gems from Great Directors
In 1933, John Ford read a short story in The Saturday Evening Post and promptly bought the film rights from its author, Maurice Walsh, for ten dollars ($200 today). Following the completion of his 1950 film Wagon Master, Ford was eager to leave behind the Western genre he so firmly defined and turn his attention to his personal passion project:
The Quiet Man.
However, Republic Pictures President,Herbert Yates, was wary of the film. He believed the script and overall narrative of The Quiet Man to be lacking and unappealing to the general public - especially coming from a B-Movie studio like Republic. In an effort to recoup the losses he expected The Quiet Man to bring in, Yates made Ford direct the Civil War set Rio Grande first. Following that film, nineteen years after he first bought the story (and three Best Director Oscars later), Ford would bring his long-gestating passion project to life in what would become 1952’s The Quiet Man; a dark-horse standout that should be counted among the finest in Ford’s towering filmography. While many cite the film as a departure for Ford and his close friend/collaborator/punching-bag John Wayne, that departure applies only in the literal sense of the word. Though the landscapes have changed, still present is the Ford hero humbled by nature and himself, trying to live up to the pure ideals of myth in a flawed, human world. Maureen O’Hara, a favorite of both Ford and Wayne (she’d make five films respectively with both men), gives a remarkably spirited and empathetic performance as Mary Kate Danaher. For the rest of her life,
O’Hara would cite The Quiet Man as her “personal favorite of all the pictures [she] made.” It’s said that both her and acclaimed filmmaker George A. Romero both listened to Victor Young’s score for the film in the hours before their respective deaths. Trading the mythic Monument Valley for the pastoral paradise of Ireland, Ford and cinematographer Winton C. Hoch capture what could quite possibly be the greenest landscape in film history (and that’s a compliment.) Each shot of the flourishing Irish countryside is rendered with passion; medieval cobblestone bridges connect idyllic cottages across storybook ponds, lit softly and tenderly. The landscape in The Quiet Man becomes a paradise through which the problems of humanity go to suffocate: How can one dwell on life’s hardships when they are in perpetual awe at nature’s beauty?
Therein lies the underlying goal Wayne’s character, American ex-boxer Sean Thornton, hopes to fulfill. Wayne’s performance ranks among his best for the reason it is so un- Wayne. Gone is the Wild West’s force of nature who tames the landscape and its denizens with ease. Here, Wayne is no longer a force of nature but rather is at the mercy of nature. He needs its beauty, its paradise, its larger-than-life Irish residents, to help him forget the misdeeds of his past.
The familiar heroic face is absent in the film and, instead, a hollow, worn portrait of masculine repression and guilt stands in its place. He’s running from something... and for the majority of the film, the viewer is kept in the dark as to what. When it comes, the revelation scene is unquestionably among the most powerful and finest in Ford’s career. Haunting. Stunningly sorrowful. One of those special scenes that re- contextualizes how we’ve thought of what we’ve seen thus far and- more importantly- how we’ll remember it afterwards.
Winning Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Director (Ford’s fourth), The Quiet Man is an essential, personal component to the Irish- American director’s filmography. And if ever there was an inspirational Hollywood ending... The Quiet Man wound up grossing 3.8 million dollars more than Yates’ “safeguard” Rio Grande: I guess there’s hope that in filmmaking, it pays to be personal.