Friday, September 11, 2020

Making Noise About "The Quiet Man"

 During this pandemic, I'll gladly watch anything that removes me from our current miserable circumstances. Which is why I decided to check out a film my late parents had adored. I mean The Quiet Man, the romantic romp from 1952, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in a courtship ritual full of both kisses and kicks, set in the imaginary Irish country town of Innisfree. The film, shot by John Ford on location in County Mayo, is peopled by members of the Ford stock company, including Victor McLaglen as a powerful local squire, Ward Bond as the community's priest, and  Barry Fitzgerald as an imp of a factotum who makes sure that Innisfree doesn't deviate from age-old tradition. 

My parents, hardly lovers of John Wayne, had no special feelings for Ford's classic American westerns. But they loved The Quiet Man for its breezy comic approach to the battle of the sexes. I think they were delighted to see it as a fairytale with a happy ending. Not Irish themselves, they took in stride its depiction of the Auld Sod as a place rife with drinking, gambling, carousing, and the occasional donnybrook; they shrugged off the surprising moment when a local wife -- coming upon John Wayne dragging his stubborn new spouse through the fields -- counsels, "Here's a fine stick to beat the lovely lady."

Though I thoroughly enjoyed Ford's  expert filmmaking, I have found myself wondering how the Irish of today view the movie. The Internet of course uncovers a wealth of opinions. One contributor doesn't equivocate, calling The Quiet Man "a violent stereotypical travesty that has done our proud nation untold harm abroad." By contrast, a scholar named William C. Dowling has written at length as to how the film is less about cultural imperialism than the power of cultural myth. Labeling The Quiet Man as Ford's "struggle for artistic expression against the commercial imperatives of the Hollywood glamour empire," he puts it in the context of those  rowdy Shakespearean comedies in which the spirit of Saturnalia ultimately binds a community together. (I should add that Dowling, a Rutgers professor emeritus, is New Hampshire-born, so maybe his opinion doesn't count.) 

My friend and colleague Beth Phillips, a great lover of all things Irish, has sent me a quote from her mentor, Adrian Frazier, as published in his book, Hollywood Irish: "Ford's Irish movie is like a Christmas pudding made from an ancient recipe, stuffed with nuts and fruits and coins and candies of every description, then soaked in liquor." Her friend James Mullaney of County Mayo is slightly more positive, recognizing certain aspects of the film as true and saying that the film's characters, "like those on the American television show The Bevery Hillbillies, are exaggerated but, at the same time, recognisable--both to an Irish viewer and an international viewer. " As for poet Noel Duffy, he admits that his mother's generation generally liked the film, given the power of its stars and that fact that "it was pretty rare to see films based in Ireland back then." Today, however, "My strong sense is that my generation view The Quiet Man as the worst form of Paddy-whackery, but then the Irish [rebroadcast it] every St Patrick's Day so maybe your average punter might still like it. Anyone younger than me . . ., is probably not even aware of the film's existence."

 Sure, there's something rather disturbing about a headstrong young wife essentially demanding to be dominated by her new mate. Still, in some ways SHE wins the battle  And there's something quite lovely about that. 

 Deepest thanks to Beth Phillips, who ought to check out this movie for herself! 


No comments:

Post a Comment