Friday, March 15, 2013

Far and Away to the Emerald Isle

Sure and begorra, it’s time once again for the wearin’ of the green. Not that I’m Irish, except in the way that we’re all a wee bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. My parents were hardly fans of John Wayne , but they adored Wayne in the one John Ford movie set in the pristine Irish countryside. It is of course The Quiet Man (1952), in which Wayne woos a feisty lass played by Maureen O’Hara. To this day, the film’s County Mayo locations still attract tourists with a yen for movie history.

 If The Quiet Man has charm, David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970) offers high drama. Though I consider it a big-budget weepie, there’s no question that this story of a tragic love affair is gorgeous to look at. Set in the backwaters of County Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula, it won an Oscar for its wide-screen cinematography. Freddie Young, having brilliantly photographed the Sahara Desert (Lawrence of Arabia) and the steppes of Russia (Doctor Zhivago), brought a sense of stark passion to Western Ireland’s jagged cliffs and wave-swept beaches. More recent Irish films have included political thrillers like In the Name of the Father (1993) and whimsical comedies like Waking Ned Devine (1998). The latter, though thoroughly Irish in spirit, was actually shot on the Isle of Man. But it’s fitting to salute the very Irish David Kelly, who died last year, for his unforgettable role as the buck-naked old geezer on the motorbike.

Ron Howard has loved Ireland since 1958, when he flew to Vienna with his parents to play a featured role in The Journey. Crossing the Atlantic in a prop-jet was a frightening ordeal for a four-year-old. As the sun rose on the lush green fields of Ireland, little Ronny felt vastly relieved. The plane set down at Shannon Airport for a welcome refueling stop. Ronny got out to stretch his legs, and a workman ruffled his red hair in friendly fashion. “You look like you belong here,” he said. “Maybe you should stay behind.”

Flash-forward to the 1980s, when Howard attended a Chieftains concert. A traditional ballad about lovers saying farewell because one was bound for America inspired him to blend a romantic Irish saga with a landmark event in his own ancestral history, the 1893 Oklahoma Land Race. The result was Far and Away (1992), which – after he signed Tom Cruise and new wife Nicole Kidman for the leading roles -- somehow swelled from an intimate romantic comedy into an overblown epic. (To capture the wide open spaces in the Land Race sequence, Howard was persuaded by cinematographer Mikael Salomon to shoot the first 70mm film since Ryan’s Daughter two decades before.)

I consider Far and Away overly sentimental, one of Howard’s weaker efforts. But stunt actor Carl Ciarfalio, who pummels Tom Cruise in a bare-knuckles boxing scene, remembers it fondly: “I've had some outstanding opportunities in my career, but this one is way at the top! Ron was very kind and open when directing, and even took a suggestion from me and used it in the scene. He also introduced me at the red-carpet premiere, which was a big thing for a stuntman.” Years later, when filming Mission Impossible 3, Carl reminisced with Cruise: “I told him that I had gotten a lot of mileage out of our scene and that it was the only fight that I had ever won in 30 years. He told me it was the only one he had lost! Then he laughed that big Cruise laugh.”

May the luck of the Irish be with Carl – and you!

A tip of the hat to Beth Phillips, who loves all things Irish.


  1. Great post about the home of the Blarney Stone and the films set there. I love a lot of Irish movies - including most of the ones you mention. I am not that big a fan of Far and Away, mainly due to the miscasting - say no more. But what a great anecdote from Mr. Ciarfalio! Love the punchline from M:I 3!

    I do hope we get the sequel post to this - with the Roger Corman connection front and center!

  2. Thanks, Mr. Craig. I was somewhat surprised to discover that many young women LOVE Far and Away, because they consider it so romantic. Regarding Roger Corman and Ireland, I suspect that post will wait until NEXT St. Patrick's Day. Hope you can wait that long!

  3. What exactly does begorra mean?

  4. You know, I looked it up, just to make sure. And I discovered it's a contraction of the exclamation, "By God!" (Better, for sure, than the equally archaic English expression, "Zounds," meaning "By his wounds!") Thanks for asking!

  5. Hey, Just wanted to say you picked two of my favorite movies, especially the Quiet Man with Maureen O'Hara. Wasn't she fabulous? I recently saw a version of her in one of the Star Trek episodes (the series w/captain picard).

  6. Glad I picked up on your favorites, Sharon. Aside from The Quiet Man, what is your second favorite movie in my post? Maureen O'Hara was -- and is -- indeed fabulous, with a face just made for Technicolor. Thanks for writing!