The Quiet Man

He hit me and it felt like a kiss
Released:
1952

Director: John Ford

Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen

The Setup:

Man returns to Ireland to live. The people insist that he be an abusive bully in order to fit in.

Discussion:

So my friend is half Irish, and like seemingly all Irish people, is really, REALLY into the fact of being Irish. So he was going to bring this one over as his St. Patrick’s Day selection. I also had a St. Patrick’s Day selection: The Butcher Boy. My friend, who likes things a little more upbeat and optimistic, was rather horrified. And I was horrified and infuriated by this one. So we’re even!

So John Wayne as Sean Thornton comes back from America to Innisfree in Ireland. He’s not there but a minute before he spots this re-headed Irish lass who he takes a fancy to. He decides he wants to buy this little cottage because it used to belong to his daddy. For this he has to go to the Widow Tillane, who has refused to sell the very property to Will Danaher, who wants it for some less noble reason. She gives it to Sean, right in front of Will, which makes an enemy of Danaher. And wouldn’t you know, the ‘lil filly Sean saw was Mary-Kate, Danaher’s sister! Who still lives with her brother! And when Sean goes over to ask for her hand—which Danaher has to agree to—he refuses! This makes Sean even more determined.

Blah blah they find a way to convince Danaher to let them marry, and they do, but Danaher refuses to give Mary-Kate her furniture, and her dowry. She has a shit fit on their wedding night about not having her furniture, and will hear nothing about how it doesn’t matter, because they’re together. They end up sleeping in separate rooms. Isn't love all they need? No—she wants her furniture. The next morning she gets her furniture. Then she’s unhappy because she wants her dowry. They have brief moments of happiness, but for the most part she just keeps harping on not having her dowry—despite the fact that they don’t NEED the money—and still won’t sleep in the same bed with her husband. Danaher has made clear that he’d be ready to have a fistfight for the dowry, and is quite sure that he would win, but Sean refuses.

SPOILERS > > >
The reason Sean refuses is that he used to be a boxer in the US, and the reason is that he ended up killing a man in the ring, and vowed never to fight again. By killing the guy, he won the fight, and thus got the prize money, which is why he has his distant attitude toward money. Not that he bothers to tell his wife this—or that she cares to ask why he won’t fight. No, they’d just prefer to have a bunch of drama and fights and ill-will. At a certain point, Mary-Kate offers Sean a stick to beat her with. He refuses. Blah, blah, it goes on, both of them miserable, neither of them sleeping together, no one communicating, until finally Mary-Kate gives in, they have sex—and the next morning she is off at the train station, ready to leave town forever. Passive-aggressive!

So Sean goes into town and literally DRAGS his wife five miles back to town. The townspeople are terribly aflutter about all this, and a crowd follows him all the way to town and back. On the way back a woman offers him “a good stick to beat the lovely lady.” He drags her up to Danaher’s door, demands the dowry, and they have a huge fight, watched by the delighted crowd, which takes bets. At the end, Sean has won the respect of Danaher and the love and respect of his wife, and the Widow Tilane agrees to marry Danaher. The end.
< < < SPOILERS END

So as the film wore on I started to think “I hate Danaher,” which is easy enough, he’s the villain. But about halfway through, I thought “You know, I HATE Mary-Kate.” She’s so obsessed with her things and with her money, pays only the barest attention to her husband, and won’t listen or try to understand him unless he beats her. I started to hate the townspeople for encouraging the fight, encouraging Sean to beat Mary-Kate, and the whole nosy excitement they showed over the whole thing. And finally I began to hate Sean for not bothering to explain his position to anyone, and finally giving in without to what the mob wants without ever making any attempt to be true to himself. I hated everyone in this movie!

So I told my friend that I hated everyone in it and did not find it charming in the slightest, and thought the townspeople were really barbaric. I also do not find the Irish inherently enthralling, as I think one needs to do to really enjoy this movie. So he left, and throughout the night and the next day I found that the movie had made me REALLY ANGRY. Like, I had finished processing the movie, but it had REALLY riled me up. And upon a little more reflection, I had to admit that something must be said for a movie that can create such a powerful effect. It is about a man who has to bend himself to the will of a culture in order to fit into that culture, to overcome his own feelings about what is right for himself [which is a very American sense of freedom] and force himself to accept the long-standing traditions of this older culture, primitive as they may be. So I can kind of respect this movie, although I never, ever want to see it again.

Ultimately I think that if you find all things Irish charming—and for you, that includes alcoholism, superficial materialism and the beating of women—you are sure to find this movie charming. Apparently this is one of the quintessential Irish movies; the guy who owns the video store I go to said he couldn’t believe it went out some time other than St. Patrick’s Day. Personally, I should think the Irish would be trying to bury this film as much as possible, as it makes them all out to be little better than barnyard animals, but apparently I’m in the minority on this.

Should you watch it?

Ugh, if you must. It’s the kind of thing you watch while visiting your Grandma.

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