It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day.
For some that means drinking Guinness and wearing green. For others the holiday is all about corned beef and cabbage, Irish music, green hats and jokes about leprechauns.
But for many others, St. Patrick’s Day mainly means that it’s time to watch “The Quiet Man” again.
For years now, cable television stations and movie revival houses have marked the 17th of March by screening the 1952 John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara classic — among other shamrock-flavored films (see sidebar). This year, thanks to Boulevard Cinemas’ popular Flashback series, Petaluma jumps aboard with two screenings of “The Quiet Man” on St. Patrick’s Day itself (followed by two more the following Wednesday).
The film’s indelible popularity makes sense.
The spirited comedy-romance, directed by John Ford, does still hold up, dramatically anyway, for its charming small town setting and magnificent all-through-the-town fist-fight-brawl at the end — if not so much for its eye-poppingly flippant misogyny and baffling political references. Often listed as one of the most romantic films ever made, “The Quiet Man,” featuring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and the green hills of Ireland, has also been called one of the most uncomfortable, sexist and insidiously creepy movies to ever be called “romantic.”
In the wake of the Me-Too movement, and the vast consciousness-raising conversations we’ve been having about Hollywood’s decades-long depictions of women as mere doormats and sex objects, watching “The Quiet Man” now is a very different experience than it was a mere ten years ago, when some of its scenes could at least be viewed through the lens of that-was-then/this-is-now.
So, is there still a place for “The Quiet Man” on St. Patrick’s Day, 2019?
Probably, but not quite the same place it’s held for the last 67 years.
Produced by Republic Pictures, better known for black-and-white westerns than for lush, colorful Irish romances, the film was reportedly only given the green light after Ford, Wayne and O’Hara all agreed to first make the low-budget cavalry-and-Indians picture “Rio Grande.” The trio literally flew directly from Utah, upon completing the western, to County Mayo, in Ireland, where a month of exterior shots were filmed before heading to Hollywood for the interior scenes. It turns out to have been a good deal for all involved.
“Rio Grande” did well at the box office, and “The Quiet Man” did even better, becoming Republic’s most successful film, and garnering the company its one and only best film Oscar award. Ford won Best Director for the film as well, and the movie itself was nominated for Best Picture. It lost, bafflingly, to Cecil B. Demille’s over-the-top circus epic “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Today, of course, there are no holidays in which millions of people watch “The Greatest Show on Earth,” so in one way “The Quiet Man” did win out after all.
The plot follows Shawn Thornton (Wayne), an American boxer who has sworn off fighting after a tragedy in the ring. He returns to the tiny Irish town of his birth, eager to settle down. After making an enemy of a local landowner, Squire Will Danaher, who he outbids in a sale of his former childhood home, Thornton promptly falls in love Danaher’s sister, the fiery and self-empowered Mary Kate (O’Hara). The romantic fireworks are mutual, setting up a series of conflicts between Thornton and Danaher, with Kate caught in the middle. And sometimes the battle is between the two Danahers, with Thornton in the middle. The chemistry between Wayne and O’Hara (who made a total of seven pictures together) is electrifying.
SIX ST. PADDY’S DAY ALTERNATIVES TO “THE QUIET MAN”
Looking for something other than the perennial John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara classic? Consider these alternatives.
“WAKING NED DEVINE” (1998)
In the tiny Irish village of Tullymore (population 52), the crotchety Ned Devine has just won the National lottery, earning him millions. Unfortunately, the shock killed him instantly. When a neighbor finds Ned dead in front of his television, the winning ticket clutched in his cold hand, a plot develops to convince the government that Ned is still alive – at least until the money is paid and split among the residents of Tullymore. Complications ensue, including a nosy lottery official, and a bitter tattletale, and the ending is one of the most satisfying comic conclusions you’re likely to see – on St. Patrick’s Day or any other time.
Written and directed by Kirk Jones, the film was initially envisioned as a 10-minute short. But as Jones began fleshing out the denizens of Tullymore, they more-or-less took over, inspiring him to expand the story, adding a series of delightful twists and turns. Though set in Ireland, it was filmed on the Isle of Man. There may not be any climactic fistfights, but with a well-timed car crash and a flying phone booth, “Waking Ned Devine” matches “The Quiet Man” laugh for laugh, and Irish tune for Irish tune.
This charming Dublin-set musical – which gave us the lovely Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” – tells of two musicians, with complex attachments, who fall in love, sort of, while learning to make music together. It’ll make you want to visit Dublin ASAP.
“DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE” (1959)
Crammed with leprechauns, invisible horses, screaming banshees and other icons of Irish mythology, “Darby O’Gill’ serves up in a dazzling, darker-than-usual Disney package – and one of the first-ever screen appearances by Sean Connery.
Speaking of leprechauns, this offbeat horror-comedy is hardly for the small ones, as it features a murderous, joke-cracking creature stalking people he believes have stolen his pot of gold. It stars Jennifer Aniston (in her first screen role), and the marvelous Warwick Davis, best known as Willow (in, um, “Willow”) and Professor Flitwick in the Harry Potter films.
“THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH” (1994)
Back to the family-friendly stuff, this gorgeous and mysterious masterpiece (written and directed by Indie king John Sayles) follows an Irish girl who believes her baby brother was stolen by the sea, and raised by magical sea creatures.
“SECRET OF KELLS” (2009)
Some truly remarkable hand-made artistry takes this epic animated adventure, a story of Irish artists who “illuminate” the pages of ancient texts, and transforms it into something beautiful and strange. It’ll restore your faith in reading - and in hand-drawn animation.