The lush and beautiful countryside of Ireland provides the setting for this engaging tale of an Irishman, raised in America, going back home to escape a past he'd just as soon forget. In `The Quiet Man,' director John Ford returns to his own roots, going on location to tell the story of Sean Thornton (John Wayne), a man troubled by an incident that changed his life, and now doing what he can to forget about it and just move on. And toward that end, Sean travels to the place he knows so well from the stories told him by his mother, to Innisfree, intending to buy the cottage in which he was born, White O'Morn, where he can make a fresh start and build a new life for himself. There's a problem, however; the land and the cottage is owned by the widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick), and borders the estate of one Red Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), who not only fancies the widow herself, but wants to buy her land. Squire Danaher (as he's known) is not the only one Sean must deal with, though, as other matters arise upon his arrival in the small hamlet of his birth. And her name is Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara)-- who just happens to be Squire Danaher's sister. But Danaher or no, it makes no difference to Sean, who as soon as he lays eyes on Mary Kate determines to make her his wife.
Sean soon learns that in Ireland, however, such things are pursued quite differently than in America. To win the hand of Mary Kate he must employ the services of Michaleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) a kind of matchmaker/chaperone/marriage broker, who will help him secure the consent of Squire Danaher, without which the marriage cannot and will not take place. So Sean has no choice but to acquiesce to the local traditions and customs, and Michaleen forthwith commences the appropriate overtures. In the meantime, he awaits the decision of the widow Tillane as to the purchase of White O'Morn, which he is determined to have at any cost.
John Ford directed more than 140 motion pictures, going back to the days of silent films, and his favorite star, with whom he worked in at least a dozen of his feature films, was John Wayne. And when you think of the John Ford/John Wayne collaborations, it's the Western that instantly comes to mind: `Stagecoach,' `She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,' `Fort Apache,' `Rio Grande' or `The Searchers,' (to name a few). Yet, `The Quiet Man' is perhaps their most memorable effort, and remains a favorite among fans to this day. Ford (who received an Oscar for Best Director for it) presents the story on a very personal level, and in Sean and Mary Kate gives the audience characters to whom they can relate; and it's that personal connection he affords the viewer that may suggest the main reason behind this particular film's popularity. That, plus the fact that at the core of this story there is an honesty and genuine sincerity that rings so true-to-life. Ford also successfully captures the essence of all that is good and positive about Ireland, from the richness of all of his characters to the lavish cinematography that brings the country so vividly to life. It's quite simply a wonderful, uplifting film, impeccably crafted and delivered by Ford and his superb cast.
Too often, John Wayne's work gets a bad rap; no matter what role he takes on, you're liable to hear `John Wayne is always John Wayne, the only difference is the character's name.' And, as he proves with his portrayal of Sean Thornton, it's not only a false statement, it's so unfair to an actor who brought so much to so many, in his craft as well as in his personal life. The Oscar he finally received for 1969's `True Grit' was way overdue, especially when you consider his performances in such films as `The Searchers,' `Red River' and, of course, this one. Is he the best actor of all time? Of course not; but he is good at what he does, much better than he is usually given credit for. And he (and his films) can always-- always-- be counted on to provide good, solid entertainment. Together, he and Ford have provided some of the most memorable moments in the history of the movies, and his pairing with Maureen O'Hara was a stroke of genius. There's real chemistry between them, which enables them to play so well off of one another. They made five films together between 1950 (`Rio Grande') and 1971 (`Big Jake'), and there is always that spark of magic between them, but never better than in this film.
A gifted actor, Maureen O'Hara is also, without question, one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen. It's easy to understand how Sean Thornton can fall instantly in love with her when he first sees her walking through the fields of Innisfree. It's entirely believable. And when you get to know the woman behind the beauty-- who Mary Kate is down deep-- it's even more understandable. Perfectly cast, O'Hara, like Ford, returned to her roots to make this film (she was born in Milltown, Ireland, near Dublin), and apparently it agreed with her, because her performance is nothing less than natural and inspired. Mary Kate Danaher, in fact, is arguably one of her-- if not `the'-- most memorable roles of her career.
The supporting cast, topped by Fitzgerald (who is absolutely unforgettable as Michaleen) also includes Ward Bond (Father Lonergan), Francis Ford (Dan Tobin), Arthur Shields (Reverend Playfair) and Jack MacGowran (Feeney). A delightful and endearing motion picture, `The Quiet Man' is, of all of John Ford's achievements, one of his best. And Sean, Mary Kate, Michaleen and all the people of Innisfree are ones you'll remember and want to visit again. It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.
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