All of my memories and associations of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara's tempestuous courtship amid the Emerald Isle are always colored by thoughts of my father. His fondness for the film - which ranks as one of his all-time favorites - has overtaken anything else that I associate with the film. I can remember him watching it when I was younger on a VHS copy that we owned. At that time I was intrigued by older films but not exactly enamored with them as I've since become and wondered what about this particular movie made my dad have such affection for it. I recently just wrote about the film in honor of Maureen O'Hara being awarded the Honorary Oscar in November, but was disappointed that I hadn't asked him to share his thoughts on it with me. When the film came up this week, I could think of no better time to actually ask my father to share his thoughts on The Quiet Man and have him pick his favorite shot from this much-loved classic:
"There is no doubt that John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara had roles that were perfect with each other. From their first movie together to the last one they starred in together, the two of them were completely believable as lovers and/or spouses. In each movie there was always banter, spats and misunderstanding, and conflicts that real couples experience in the course of their relationships. But, like real couples' experiences, often, but not always, there is a reconciliation that occurs when the couple finally realize that the conflict doesn't override the deep love that they share. In all 5 of the movies starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara that is the basic plot, but with them, the story always seems real and believable, and their relationship just plain works.
In "The Quiet Man", the chemistry between ALL the characters is prominent throughout the film from beginning to end. When in Ireland, one expects the Irish to behave as they do in "The Quiet Man". Whether it is actual, I couldn't say, but there is a certain cleverness in relating their view of everyday life. Sarcasm with undertones of truth. As far as a favorite scene, that would be too difficult to ask me to pinpoint. I can, however, narrow it to a few scenes that touched me or made me chuckle.
A scene that depicts a view of an "Irish truth" is when Sean Thornton rejoins Michael O'Flynn after Mass and his first conversation, although one-sided, with Mary Kate Danaher. O'Flynn lets Sean know it's a sin to be "playing pattyfingers in the Holy Water", which is an Irish Catholic truth. Another "Irish truth" is in the same scene when Sean asks if Mary Kate is married. O'Flynn responds as a big brother relating his experiences of fiery redheads to caution his younger, inexperienced brother with, "that is no joke Sean... with those freckles and red hair".
Watch the movie more than once to catch the clever innuendos between the characters... and, it is between every one of the characters. Their sarcasm is always quick and sharp and makes me smile at nearly every scene.
My Father's Best Shot
Maybe the most poignant scene for me is, after dragging Mary Kate "the whole long way" to confront her brother, Sean suggests that the marriage is over because her brother refuses to honor the age-old tradition of providing a dowry with the bride. It can be seen in her eyes at that very minute when she realizes that Sean is the man she was hoping for even though she had doubts. Just after her wedding she asks one of the characters, "What sort of a man is it that I have married?" And the reply was, "A much better man than you think Mary Kate." When Mary Kate opens the furnace door to assist Sean, she is ridding themselves of the burden of the dowry, that is when she has a new found respect for and sees Sean, her husband, clearly. Mary Kate knows what has to be done... the fight!
So, the story takes the same path as expected... the meeting, banter, spats and misunderstanding, conflict, and finally, reconciliation. John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara have a natural relationship that is evident in their movies. They interact beautifully as a loving couple rather than actors simply reciting lines. The Irish countryside is beautiful, the characters are fun, the story is believable, and, I just enjoy a story with a happy ending."
What I love most about the shot that my father has chosen is the intensity that the two actors have with each other. (O'Hara becomes so overtaken in the moment that her chin briefly begins to quiver with unbridled emotion.) You can almost see the electricity shooting between their stares, so much communicated between them without a single word uttered. And the none-too-subtle blaze between them certainly helps illustrate their fiery relationship. But I've always found the preceding event (Mary Kate being dragged across the fields) and the fight that follows to be problematic and the biggest hurdles in my ultimate enjoyment of the film. (Sorry, Dad...) For my own Best Shot, I chose another moment that captures the passionate nature of Maureen O'Hara's Mary Kate, while also celebrating her wild spirit. The moment that Sean sees her for the first time:
My Best Shot
O'Hara has said that they spent a lot of time on this scene, the first instance that we the audience and Wayne's Sean Thornton first encounter Mary Kate. She knew that if we didn't buy that Sean was drawn to her right from the start that the rest of the film wouldn't hold our attention. But O'Hara announces her arrival on screen with an air of mystery and intrigue. There's something almost mystical about Mary Kate's first appearance, the bucolic setting, the other-worldly glow around her as if she's a forest spirit that has stepped out of Celtic folklore. And it affects Sean so deeply that later in the film he tells her, "Some things a man doesn't get over so easy... Like the sight of a girl coming through the fields with the sun on her hair." And we as the audience don't forget it so easily either. But what I love most about this shot is how the film sets Mary Kate up to be this unattainable, soft-lit ideal, and then proceeds to give us a real, earth-bound woman full of contradictions, opinions, and fight.
My father might be the first thing I think of in regards to The Quiet Man, but it's Maureen O'Hara (and her movie star entrance) that make it watchable for me. Whenever she's onscreen, I begin to see glimmers of what my father sees in it and why he loves it as much as he does. Instead of drinking green beers on St. Patrick's Day, perhaps the new tradition for the holiday should be be father/son bonding over Maureen O'Hara and The Quiet Man.