"Sean Thornton is in his late thirties, a big man with a light tread, an easy smile, and the gift of silence." So runs the working script's depiction of the main character in "The Quiet Man." Of all the films that John Wayne and director John Ford made together, it is this romantic comedy that stands out as the most endearing. With or without Ford, it is one of Wayne's most cherished films. It's a pleasure to see it available on DVD.
Based on a short story by Maurice Walsh, the movie is set in Ireland in 1933. It is an idealized Ireland that could never have really existed, filled with lovable old-country characters like Father Peter Lonergan, the Catholic priest, played by Ward Bond; Michaeleen Flynn, the bookmaker, played by Barry Fitzgerald; and the Reverend Cyril Playfair, the local vicar, played by Fitzgerald's real-life brother, Arthur Shields.
Wayne plays John Thornton, a heavyweight prizefighter born in Ireland but raised in America, who returns to the land of his birth after an accident in the ring forces him to retire. He wants nothing more than peace and quiet, buys his family's old cottage, and settles in to live out his days in the quaint, rural village of Inisfree. But then he meets Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara) and her brother, Red Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). He falls in love with the woman but incurs the wrath of the brother. The story explores Thornton's stormy relationship with both parties, culminating in the film's famous knock-down, drag-out fistfight-to-the-finish between Wayne and McLaglen.
Curmudgeons beware: The film is old fashioned and sentimental, as much a fairy tale as "Ever After." Ford surely scouted every location in and around Galway to find the number of picturesque scenes he includes. He creates a picture-postcard Ireland, one that resides largely in myth and imagination, suffused with Irish folk songs and ballads, and lots and lots of green. It must still do wonders for the Irish Tourist Bureau. The film probably doesn't sit well among those who cherish political correctness, either. Its macho-sexist attitudes will annoy feminists who take it too seriously. I can only suggest that if you haven't seen it already, you keep an open mind and a light heart about the whole affair.
Ford wanted to do the film for a long time, but even so prestigious a director as he had trouble finding a studio to back him. Too "artsy"; it didn't sound like saleable material. Finally, Republic Pictures, known mainly for making black-and-white cowboy movies on their back lot, offered to help; but Ford agreed only if he could shoot on location and in Technicolor. Republic agreed, and Ford made the most personal film of his career, one that not only became enormously popular but provided him a directorial Oscar.
The film's original theatrical screen size of 1.37:1 does not suffer from compression to the slightly smaller 1.33:1 TV screen, losing only a fraction of material from the edges. The Technicolor does not fare quite so well, however, at times being more than a tad over saturated. It is especially noticeable in flesh tones, which are often too dark, reddish, or orangish for realism. But there's no denying the colors of the Irish countryside stand out in vivid contrasts, the greens of the hills and trees wearing their finery like St. Patrick's Day banners. There is also some bleeding evident between colors, so images are not so clearly defined as they might have been on the big screen.
The sound is the typical monaural of its day, here rendered clearly and distinctly through Dolby Digital processing with a minimum of background noise.
In addition to the movie, Artisan have added a thirty-minute documentary called "The making of ‘The Quiet Man,'" hosted by film critic Leonard Maltin. It provides valuable and entertaining behind-the-scenes material. They also supply a generous thirty-six chapter scene selection menu and a trailer.
"The Quiet Man" is topflight filmmaking and clearly a labor of love. It's one of the few films that can be watched again and again and still bring a smile to your face. I hope my reservations about the DVD transfer don't put people off. This is still a great film.