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The Quiet Man - Anything but a Quiet Movie

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Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.

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Cast

The Quiet Man

2 hrs. 9 mins Comedy, Drama, Romance 1952 7.7 stars

Director: John Ford

Cast: John Wayne - Sean Thornton

Maureen O’Hara - Mary Kate Danaher

Barry Fitzgerald - Michaleen Oge Flynn

Ward Bond - Father Peter Lonergan

Victor McLaglen - Squire “Red” Will Danaher

Mildred Natwick - The Widow Sarah Tillane

Francis Ford - Dan Tobin

Arthur Sheilds - Reverend Cyril Playfair

Eileen Crowe - Mrs. Elizabeth Playfair

James O’Hara - Father Paul

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

Train Station at Castletown

Everyone is eager to give Sean directions to Innisfree

Everyone is eager to give Sean directions to Innisfree

Synopsis I

The story opens with a man named Sean Thornton (played by John Wayne) at a train station in Castletown Ireland asking for directions to the town of Innishfree. He had just gotten off the train having ultimately travelled from America. In the comedic style of the movie, the station master, conductor, engineer and a passerby all argue about the way Sean should go to get to Innishfree. In short order a short man strides up and quietly loads Sean’s luggage onto his carriage and said, “Innishfree, this way”. Sean followed him, boarded the carriage and off they drove to Innishfree. The short man was named, Michaleen Oge Flynn (played by Barry Fitzgerald).

As they drove along Sean asks to stop on an old stone bridge. He gets out and sees a cottage in the distance; he does this because it is the very cottage which his mother often spoke of while he was growing up and in his younger years he lived there himself. The cottage is called “White-o-Morn”. Sean returns to the carriage and reveals to Michaleen that he was born in that cottage. What’s more, he introduces himself and even calls Michaleen by his name demonstrating that he remembered him from his childhood. Michaleen is delightfully flabbergasted. He remembers Sean, but only as a little boy before his mother took him off to America. When Sean mentions that he wants to buy the cottage Michaleen tells him that the cottage belongs to the Widow Tillane and he doubts she would sell it.

Along the way they happen upon the local priest, Father Lonergan (played by Ward Bond). He also says he remembers Sean’s family. While Michaleen is talking to Father Lonergan Sean gets off the carriage and strolls a while to give the other two some privacy. He sees a flock of sheep being herded by a shepherdess with whom he is instantly smitten. Her name is Mary Kate Danaher (played by Maureen O’Hara). After they exchange glances he climbs back up into the carriage and off they go to the pub.

The next scene has Sean in the church for Sunday Mass. Afterwards, outside the chapel, he scoops holy water in his cupped hands for Mary Kate to bless herself with. Michaleen is startled by this gesture and warns Sean to forget her. He explains that Mary Kate has a temper and emphasizes this point by saying, “Oh, that red hair’s no lie!”

Next we see Sean asking the Widow Tillane if he could purchase White-o-Morn. She is reluctant at first but during their discussion another man, a large man named Will Danaher, (often referred to as “Red” Will Danaher, played by Victor McLaglen) comes in and wants to buy White-o-Morn. He tells the Widow Tillane that he wanted property next to hers and hints at them being, “so close to an understanding”, meaning romantically. The Widow Tillane, aghast at Will’s forwardness, agrees to sell the property to Sean. Will is angry and promises vengeance on Sean, then warns him to stay away from his sister, Mary Kate.

Will goes home livid; Michaleen takes Sean to the pub to introduce him to the men of Innishfree, the oldest of who remember his family. He is welcomed as one of them. Afterwards he returns to White-o-Morn and finds that it has a fire started in the fireplace and has been swept clean. An intruder has spruced the place up, but is hiding somewhere in the house so Sean flushes out this mysterious maid. Of course it is none other than Mary Kate. Sean grabs her and kisses her, a very bold gesture to which he receives a big slap in the face. As she goes to leave, however, she kisses him back then darts out the door.

The next day as Sean is working on the house the Reverend and Mrs. Playfair arrive to greet him and welcome him to town. Reverend Playfair is the local vicar of the Church of Ireland. He has a very small congregation as the majority of Innishfree is Catholic.

Shortly afterwards, Michaleen shows up at Mary Kate’s house wearing a nice black suit and top hat. He is there as a matchmaker and he is there to arrange a courtship between Sean and Mary Kate, a custom Sean doesn’t understand. It’s Irish, not American. While there, Michaleen receives an accounting of what Mary Kate owns so that he can inform Sean about her dowry – again something Sean knows nothing about. It is something that he cares nothing about either, but it matters a lot to Mary Kate.

Sean Arrives at White-o-Morn

Sean arrives at White-o-Morn; notice the smoke from the chimney-somebody's cleaned the house.

Sean arrives at White-o-Morn; notice the smoke from the chimney-somebody's cleaned the house.

Synopsis II

Mary Kate agrees to commence the courtship, but first Michaleen needs to secure permission from Will, the man of the house. Will, who bears a grudge against Sean, refuses to permit the courtship much to the sadness of Sean and Mary Kate. What’s more perplexing to Sean is this permission requirement, this custom to which he’s unaccustomed. Michaleen suggests that they’ll try another time then tells Sean, “This is Ireland, not America”.

Several people in the town devise a scheme to get Will to change his mind. The schemers include Michaleen, Father Lonergan and Reverend Playfair. They spring their scheme at a horse racing event. They tell Will that he has not been able to proceed in his romance with the Widow Tillane because he already has a woman in his house, his sister Mary Kate. They suggest that if he were to marry her off the Widow would come around. Will pondered the idea and consented to the courtship of his sister and Sean.

After stumbling through the several stages of courtship that were customary and quite frankly, skipping most of them, Sean and Mary Kate were wed. Will, assuming that Michaleen played the matchmaker on his behalf made a grand announcement that he would soon wed the Widow Tillane. Again the Widow Tillane was flabbergasted as she had never been consulted about this at all!

Will’s joy turned to embarrassment and anger. He withheld Mary Kate’s dowry and punched Sean so hard as to knock him out. While Sean was unconscious he had a flashback to his past and we, the audience, learn for the first time that back in the States he was a boxer, a successful and well paid boxer. We see in his flashback that he killed a man in the ring. It was for that reason that he left boxing, left America and came home to Ireland as “a quiet peace-loving man come home to Ireland to forget his troubles”, as stated by Michaleen.

The not so happy newlyweds went home, but Mary Kate sternly proclaimed that without her possessions and her dowry he would have no part in her. Soon afterwards on a shopping trip to Castletown she urged Sean to approach Will to get her “fortune” from him. Sean refused because to him it’s unnecessary as he’s quite wealthy, but she insisted that he get it and fight for it. In her ire she drove off leaving him stranded. He walked back to Innishfree, a five mile walk, or as they say, “a good stretch of the legs”. He went directly to Reverend Playfair to talk to him about his dilemma. Being a lifelong sports enthusiast and former boxer himself the Reverend knows all about Sean’s past. The reverend understands Sean’s desire to avoid fighting as he had killed a man that way in the past. He understands Mary Kate’s side of the issue as well. She knows she doesn’t need the money, but what she does need is for her brother to relinquish it because it represents a hold he still has over her life. Because her brother will not relinquish it Sean will need to fight him for it. Sean’s refusal to do that brings shame upon Mary Kate so she leaves to go to Castletown to catch the train to Dublin. Later when Sean finds out that she left he goes after her (on a horse of course – it’s John Wayne after all.) He catches her before the train departs and walks her back the whole long way literally dragging her at times. He brings her to her brother and throws her at him saying, “No fortune; no marriage. It’s your custom not mine.” Red Will throws the money at him in paper currency. Mary Kate takes it and tosses it into a nearby furnace then saunters off to home saying that she’ll have supper ready and waiting.

Next begins what has been described as the biggest or longest fist fight in cinematic history. It moves from the fields to the town; they even take a break in the pub, a breather before resuming. In the next scene we see Sean and Will stumbling arm and arm to White-o-Morn cottage bruised, bloodied and drunk. Mary Kate has supper ready and the two men, brothers-in-law who are now friends. Sean has proven himself worthy to Will and has proven to Mary Kate that he’s not a coward.

Denouement: The movie ends in a curtain call scene in which each member of the cast is featured. A courtship has begun between Will Danaher and the Widow Tillane. Reverend Playfair’s bishop has come to town to inspect the congregation and greatly enjoyed the big fight. In a spirit of community unity Father Lonergan has his congregation line the streets and “shout like Protestants” to impress Reverend Playfair’s bishop.

All will be well in the peaceful little town of Innishfree.

Sean has Caught Mary Kate Cleaning His House

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara

Analysis

Though there is absolutely nothing in this story about St. Patrick’s Day it remains immensely popular in that mid-March season. Why? Simply because it’s so Irish. There’s the scenery, the customs, the accents, the lifestyles and the stereotypes. Back in the good old days before political correctness metastasized throughout our culture movies could depict stereotypical behaviors without being deplatformed and so this movie flourished in all its Irish charm. It’s a warm and inviting romantic comedy which invites the viewer to enjoy a different culture and different ways, quaint ways. There is a romance between Sean and Mary Kate indeed , but there is also the romance between the viewer and Ireland. Sean himself utters this notion early on when he says to Michaleen that from his mother’s stories “Innishfree has become another word for Heaven to me.”

The majority of the comedic scenes stem from cultural differences between Sean the American and Mary Kate the Irish lass who has caught his fancy. He cannot understand the notion of Mary Kate’s fortune. The idea of a dowry is something that he may have read about in a history book, but it wasn’t a present reality to him. To Mary Kate it was supremely important so much so that she will leave the marriage to run away if something wasn’t done to obtain it. The notion of a matchmaker was also foreign to Sean though he evidently knew to retain the services of Michaleen in this matter.

Michaleen is the key character in the movie; he is involved in every event and he is the glue that holds the story together. Michaleen makes this move happen. He personifies one of the main stereotypes in the movie, that of the Irish drinker. Michaleen has a strong affinity for the bottle and his pursuit of drink is another source of comedic delight. He also scores the most memorable lines, the most well-known of which are his lines, “Impetuous Homeric!” at the moment he sees the broken bed, and his thrice repeated warning, “No patty fingers!”

The stereotype of the fighting Irishman (not just an invention of Notre Dame) is a major theme in this movie. The plot centers on the community’s need to see a particular conflict resolved by fisticuffs. Because Red Will Danaher is angry (and likely threatened) at Sean Thornton due to Sean’s purchase of White-o-Morn right out from under him, there is animosity between the two from the start. The animosity is only increased when a romance buds between Will’s sister, Mary Kate and Sean. When, later, a conspiracy is launched to fool Will into consenting to Sean’s and Mary Kate’s courtship and marriage and when that conspiracy is revealed Will is livid. He withholds the payment of the fortune thus crippling the marriage. He’s by now well into itching for a fight. Sean wants to settle the conflict by peaceful means or disregard it all together, after all he is ‘the quiet man’. On top of that he doesn’t need the money; he’s a rich man.

The source of his wealth is not known to anyone at this point in the story, but it is absolutely crucial to what is fueling his thinking. We the audience will learn this fact in the ‘key scene’ of the movie, but more on that later. First it is important to note how Sean’s reluctance to fight is viewed by all the others. In a word, he’s seen to be a coward. Michaleen expresses disappointment by sitting down forlornly when learning that Sean won’t fight. Naturally Will sees Sean as a coward. Mary Kate also sees Sean this way and leaves him to run away. When she does that Michaleen conveys her message to Sean that she loves him too much to be married to a man she’s ashamed of. But they all don’t know the crucial fact in Sean’s decision; they don’t know the backstory.

One person in town, Reverend Playfair, does know the crucial fact however and talks to Sean about it and in so doing reveals it to us, the audience. This is the key scene in the movie, because it unlocks the reason as to why the main objective, the fight, is so long delayed. This scene occurs just over the three quarter mark in the movie. The decision to wait this long to have this key scene causes the audience to also wonder if Sean is a coward. The audience joins the characters in the same thoughts and feelings. In that they, sort of, participate in the story at least the emotion of it.

Another stereotype is that of the Irish diet of potatoes. In the scene where Mary Kate is feeding the field hands you will notice that she goes around the table serving potatoes.

One final stereotype is rendered – that of the gambling Irishman. This is one I’ve never heard of. During the great fight and during the horse race they prominently feature gambling on the outcome.

The movie does convey congeniality between the two churches. Father Lonergan’s church, Catholic, is attended by the vast majority of the townsfolk. Reverend Playfair’s church, Church of Ireland (think Anglican or Episcopal) has only two or three in attendance. Yet these two clergymen cooperate together on the scheme which causes Will to permit the courting and wedding between Sean and his sister. At the end of the movie Father Lonergan has his congregation line the road and cheer Reverend Playfair so the reverend’s bishop will see enthusiasm. It is known that the bishop’s visit is to determine the church’s viability there. Father Lonergan is friends with Reverend Playfair and doesn’t want to see him transferred so he says to his parishioners, “I want you all to cheer like Protestants.”

The Fight Scene

John Wayne socks Victor McLaglen

John Wayne socks Victor McLaglen

Tidbits

John Wayne, Mildred Natwick, Ward Bond were American. Victor McLaughlin was Scottish. Everyone else was native Irish. Maureen O’Hara was fluent in Irish Gaelic and was completely at home speaking it in the one scene with Ward Bond who could not speak the language.

From IMDB trivia:

At the film's conclusion, after the credits, we see Kate and Sean standing in their garden waving good-bye. Maureen O'Hara turns to John Wayne and whispers something in his ear, evoking a priceless reaction from Wayne. What was said was known only to O'Hara, Wayne and director John Ford. In exchange for saying this unscripted bit of text, O'Hara insisted that the exact line never be disclosed by any involved parties. In her memoirs she says that she refused to say the line at first as she "couldn't possibly say that to Duke", but Ford insisted, claiming he needed a genuine shock reaction from Wayne. The line remains a mystery to this day.

Barry Fitzgerald, who plays the character of the Roman Catholic Michaleen Oge Flynn, and Arthur Shields, who played the Protestant vicar Cyril 'Snuffy' Playfair, were brothers in real life. They also appeared together in director John Ford's The Long Voyage Home (1940). They were both Protestants born in Dublin, Ireland. Shields was the family name. The Oscar-winner Fitzgerald, who was nearly eight years older than his brother, was born William Joseph Shields.

Filmed in the town of Cong in County Mayo that is now a major Irish tourist attraction because of the movie. The local pub hosts daily re-runs of the film. And I might add: there is a restaurant in Dover New Jersey named “The Quiet Man” full of memorabilia from the movie.

In one scene Mary Kate talks to Father Lonergan in “the Irish”. This is one of the few Hollywood films in which Gaelic (Gaeilge) the native Irish language--is spoken.

Mary Kate and Father Lonergan Speaking In Irish

Ward Bond and Maureen O'Hara

Ward Bond and Maureen O'Hara

Movie Trailer

Sean Sees White-o-Morn

Sean Meets Mary Kate

Sean's New House is Cleaned - The Kiss Scene

The Matchmaker, Michaleen Comes to Mary Kate

Will Challenges Sean

Mary Kate and Father Lonergan Speak in Irish

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