Friday, July 21, 2017

The Duke in Ireland

"He'll regret it 'til his dying day if ever he lives that long."

"Red Will" Danaher (Victor McLaglen)

When most people think of John Wayne, they probably think of cowboy movies or war movies — or, in the case of "The Alamo," I suppose, both, even though I guess the cowboys in "The Alamo" were really frontiersmen.

And I will admit that, if someone mentions John Wayne to me, my first thought will be of "The Searchers," which is my favorite John Wayne movie.

I wrote a year ago that I thought his performance in John Ford's "The Searchers" was his defining role, and I still feel that way. But a close second would have to be a movie in which he played neither a cowboy nor a soldier — another Ford–directed movie called "The Quiet Man," which premiered on this day in 1952.

Ford won his fourth and final Best Director Oscar for "The Quiet Man." His previous Oscar was for "How Green Was My Valley," which took place in Wales and also starred Maureen O'Hara (Wayne's love interest in "The Quiet Man"). Among movie fans "How Green Was My Valley" is remembered for being the movie that beat "Citizen Kane" for Best Picture. (Perhaps it was compensation for that injustice that "The Quiet Man," clearly the superior movie, was beaten for Best Picture by "The Greatest Show on Earth" — although "High Noon" was the betting favorite in that category.)

("Of all my films," O'Hara said, "'The Quiet Man' is my favorite, and John Wayne, who became a dear friend, was my favorite leading man.")

Wayne played an American boxer returning to the village in Ireland where he had been born. He had been traumatized by having killed a man in the ring so he had returned to reclaim the family farm and start a new life.

When he met O'Hara, she became part of his plan for that new life.

But there was one big obstacle — O'Hara's bullying brother played by Victor McLaglen. He had wanted that farm for himself. When the owner, a wealthy widow played by Mildred Natwick, didn't sell it to him, he declined to give his sister his consent. Then, on their wedding day, he refused to give her her dowry. Wayne's character cared nothing about the dowry, not realizing what it meant in Irish culture — and simultaneously creating a rift between them.

In those cowboy and soldier movies, the climactic moment typically had Wayne in some sort of gunfight; in "The Quiet Man," it was a fistfight as Wayne, the supposedly reformed boxer, took on McLaglen in a memorable fistfight that ended with the two of them expressing grudging admiration for each other.

Barry Fitzgerald played a curmudgeonly sort of character, the kind of part he was born to play. I doubt he ever did it better than he did in "The Quiet Man."

"The Quiet Man" received seven Oscar nominations and won two awards. Ford took home Best Director, and Winton Hoch and Archie Stout won the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography.

Really, with all that gorgeous Irish countryside to work with (Ford, certainly one of the most influential filmmakers of his generation, was known for his frequent use of on–location filming), how could they miss?