Archive for March 7th, 2012

By Peter Lenihan

Finding Ford is a biweekly series on the films of John Ford. The next installment will be on The Iron Horse.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that as he was editing The Quiet Man, Ford told a friend that the film was getting better and better, and that perhaps even the Irish might like it. It’s a telling remark, highlighting not only the complex relationship between “Ireland” as a geographical and historical space and the “Ireland” of this very lovely film, but also candidly dealing with what is commonly viewed as a touristic component of the film (and indeed, so many of his films). It’s a broad charge, but it’s also almost undeniably there in The Quiet Man, which is (depending on who you ask) either a sentimental outside-of-time fairy tale or a product of condescending, sexist ideological imperialism. I don’t think it’s really necessary for me to point out that both those views are a bit reductive, but there’s a lot at stake here—both for those who wish to defend a certain narrative tradition and those who are only too aware of how national myths have come to shape their country’s history.

And at this point even its production history is the stuff of myth. Republic Pictures was a small, not particularly wealthy studio that specialized in B westerns, some of which are very well thought of today (Rio Grande & Johnny Guitar being two of the most obvious examples). Ford had bought the rights to The Quiet Man in the thirties, and one assumes Argosy lacked the bankroll to get it off the ground. Republic weren’t too keen on the idea of making it either, and forced Ford to make Rio Grande on the cheap in an attempt to recoup the presumed losses. To everyone’s surprise, The Quiet Man ended up being one of Republic’s and Ford’s biggest successes ever, and earned the director his fourth and final Oscar (the film lost the Best Picture trophy to The Greatest Show on Earth, of all things). It was, for all intents and purposes, the director’s final hit—although he continued to work through the fifties and sixties, his films were seen as archaic and unfashionable, and although various French critics (and, perhaps even more famously, Akira Kurosawa) praised much of his later work, he was patronizingly treated as a relic with consistently modest box office returns.

The story is, as is so often the case with Ford, astonishingly simple, and certainly contributes to its folk tale feel—Sean Thornton (John Wayne), a disgraced boxer, returns to Ireland to buy back his old home. He falls in love with a girl (Maureen O’Hara) there, marries her, and has to beat the shit out of her brother (Victor McLaglen) in order to gain her loyalty and love. Between these incidents (and indeed, The Quiet Man is, at 130 minutes, one of Ford’s longest productions), there’s a lot of drinking, a lot of singing, and a lot of Barry Fitzgerald. (more…)

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