John Ford had been trying to make The Quiet Man since he first bought the original story for $10 all the way back in 1933 with the promise of more if it would ever get made. Ford was the son of Irish immigrants so he always felt a kinship withe Irish and this was reflected in The Quiet Man and also notably in his earlier The Informer but he made over a half-dozen films that had Irish themes. Ford would also win two of his many Oscars for both The Informer and The Quiet Man as best director.
John Wayne in a rare non-western or war film performance plays Sean Thornton who is Irish-born but lived most of his life in America travels to Inisfree in Ireland to reclaim his ancestor’s farm and his birthplace. Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) owns the land and reluctantly accepts Thornton’s offer but Thornton falls in love with Danaher’s sister Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara) but refuses to give his permission to marry her. They eventually get hitched but Will won’t turn over Mary Hate’s dowry which despite the monetary value has more of a sentimental value. This naturally creates conflict and it all ends with one of the most iconic fight scenes in the history of cinema.
The performance John Wayne gives is undeniable one of the best of his career but only really his work with John Ford and also Howard Hawks showed the acting ability he certainly had but rarely displayed on-screen. Thornton was a boxer in the States and he killed his opponent so he has psychological torment over the incident which builds up to the big fisticuffs battle at the end. However it doesn’t have the psychological complexity of his performance in the later Ford/Wayne collaboration The Searchers.
Maureen O’Hara is certainly Wayne’s equal in many regards and they certainly had chemistry which can’t be said for most of the leading ladies Wayne worked with. Despite being a fairly fiery woman in the film, near the end there is a very problematic segment where Wayne literally drags his wife for miles after she tries to leave him. The rest of the cast is full of Ford regulars, family members and even just local Irish town folks.
The film’s real star however is the luscious oscar-winning cinematography of Winton Hoch which just pops over the screen with its use of emerald and crimson. According to Leonard Mailtin documentary on the disc the scenes shot in Ireland and scenes shot back in a Studio in Hollywood are seamless but it’s very obvious where stuff was shot. I’m personally a great fan of rear projection it doesn’t bother me at all and the engrossing story gets it off your mind. It might be overly sentimental and the depiction of the Irish as drunk fighters is a bit clichéd to say the least, it’s still a gorgeous film that has stood the test of time even if it’s not one of John Ford’s very best.