Movie Night: The Quiet Man (1952)

[EDITOR’S NOTE: this post was supposed to run a few weeks ago, but somehow didn’t publish on schedule, so I am publishing it now]

I was a little late celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year, so I spent the weekend cooking corned beef ‘n cabbage and watching the one movie everyone should watch this time of year:  Darby O’Gill and the Little People.


“It’s different!”

No, not really.  Apologies to any fans of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but it’s not my cup of tea.  Not even the presence of Sean Connery could convince me to re-watch that film (and this is coming from someone who has seen Highlander 2 more than once).  In all honesty, I’d probably watch that miserable excuse for a movie again before I’d re-watch Darby O’Gill.  Hell… I’d likely even watch Leprechaun 3 before I’d watch Darby O’Gill.


He’s the leprechaun.

No, the one movie everyone should watch on St. Paddy’s Day is of course The Quiet Man, John Ford’s Irish classic starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara (who might get my vote for most beautiful actress of all time, but that’s just me).  Ford and Wayne made several films together, most of which were traditional westerns or war pics, so it’s safe to say this film was a bit of a departure for both.   Ford spent years dreaming of returning to his Irish roots and making this movie, but it wasn’t until he was asked to direct Rio Grande (also with Wayne and O’Hara) that Ford found the leverage to convince the studio to finance his pet project.

John_Wayne - the quiet man

“Some things a man doesn’t get over so easy.”

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I was a full-grown adult the first time I ever watched The Quiet Man.  Up until that point, all I knew of the film was the homage Stephen Spielberg paid to it in a scene from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.  It’s the moment where E.T. is hanging out at the house getting drunk, thereby getting Elliott equally drunk at school through their strange psychic connection, and subsequently inspires the inebriated Elliott to release the anesthetized frogs which were destined for dissection in his Biology class.  As E.T. sits on the couch in a flannel shirt, drinking Coors Banquet like it’s going out of style, he turns on the tv in time to catch the most iconic scene from The Quiet Man and inspires Elliott to pull the same move on the prettiest girl in school.  This is one of the wonderfully classic moments in all of American cinema, but I never fully realized that was in part because Spielberg was aping an even more classic moment in an arguably more classic film.  [Below is the scene from E.T.]

As I mentioned, I was an adult before I ever saw The Quiet Man.  What’s even more incredulous is that I was an adult before I ever saw a John Wayne film period, but I have a perfectly good reason.  You see, my mother hated westerns.  More accurately, she despised them.  There were two things my brother and I were forbidden from watching on television while growing up:  westerns and wrestling.  As I recall, those were the only things both her father and (many years later) her bartending boyfriend would watch on television, so she logically concluded that such entertainment had no redeemable merit and thus forbade us from ever watching them.  I can now freely fess up to having seen damn near every John Wayne western (not counting those reeeeeallly early films where his face is caked in lady makeup), and I have two people to thank for that.  I once worked with a woman who believed it was akin to a criminal offense for someone to have never watched a John Wayne movie, and she demanded I rectify that deficiency in my upbringing immediately.  So I started watching every John Wayne western I could get my hands on, and I quickly realized that while I may not have been a big fan of “The Duke” personally, I really did enjoy watching his movies–especially True Grit, which I had never actually seen even though I had read the book as a child.

I also worked with another woman whose favorite movie was The Quiet Man.  When she heard about my mission to catch up on John Wayne westerns, she insisted that I watch this film even though it wasn’t a western, telling me that she and her family loved it so much that they made it a point to screen the film once a year.  So watch it I did, and I was immediately appalled at the blatant sexism running rampant throughout the picture.

Ah, the good ol’ days… when pretty girls would come over to clean your house for you, and you could kiss them against their will.  A more refined age when if you liked a girl, all you had to do was grab her and make her submit to your manly wiles.  And if she didn’t cotton to your advances, you simply dragged her kicking and screaming all the way back to your place.  I remember reading an interview with Maureen O’Hara in which she described the scene where she is dragged through the countryside, and said the worst part about it was that it was filmed in actual grazing pastures, so by the time it was over, she was literally covered in sheep shit.  I’ve gotta admit that I am still taken aback by the treatment of the fairer sex in The Quiet Man, but honestly, once you get past its misogynistic undertones, it really is a charming film.  Seriously.

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