Artisan // 1952 // 129 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // March 14th, 2000
A man returns to his Irish roots, meeting the clash of culture and courtship.
The Quiet Man, like fine wine, gets even better with age. Each year more people become exposed to this fine classic and its charm. I myself have become enchanted and delighted by this film; with its beautiful scenery, great performances and direction, and memorable moments. Filmed in Technicolor, its colors explode off the screen. This sentimental film, Ford's first romantic comedy, received a total of seven Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor -- Victor McLaglen, Best Screenplay -- Frank Nugent, Best Art Direction, and Best Sound) and won two Oscars: Best Cinematography -- Winton Hoch and Archie Stout, and Ford won his fourth and final Best Director Oscar, establishing a record which is still unbeaten. Artisan has brought this classic (number 226 of AFI's top 250) to DVD, though a transfer of uneven quality mars an otherwise exemplary release.
John Ford is widely regarded as the best director of Westerns, many of which featured his good friend John Wayne. During a career that spanned from 1917 through 1966, Ford directed over 100 films of various genres, but he will be remembered primarily for Westerns such as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Searchers (another disc I'm now reminded to review soon). The Academy awarded Ford four Best Director Oscars, though ironically none were for Westerns. The films were 1935's The Informer, 1940s The Grapes of Wrath, 1941's How Green Was My Valley (which also won Best Picture, beating Citizen Kane), and one of the filmmaker's most beloved efforts, 1952's The Quiet Man.
It seems everytime I research the background of a film I come across a story of how this film almost didn't get made. It makes me wonder how anything ever gets done in Hollywood. In the case of The Quiet Man this is especially true. This was a picture he had been trying to make for fifteen years, ever since paying ten dollars (though promising more if the film ever got made) for the film rights to the story "Green Rushes," written by Maurice Walsh and published in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1930s. Ford, born Sean O'Feeny, felt deeply about this Irish story and never stopped trying. Unfortunately Ford didn't have a relationship with the studios like Frank Capra had with Columbia. Both Ford and Capra were highly regarded directors who had won 3 Oscars each, but Capra was able to get his films made whereas Ford was unable to convince anyone to back this story, which was considered too artsy. Ultimately it was John Wayne who made it happen, because of his contract with Republic Pictures, the studio responsible for B Westerns. Herbert Yates, the head of Republic, was looking to better the studio's image, and a director like John Ford was just the ticket. Yates only allowed the film to be made in return for a 3 picture deal, and the first one had to be a Western that made money. So Ford, along with Maureen O'Hara and Victor McLaglen, who had starred in many of his pictures, made Rio Grande. All three were already cast for The Quiet Man. When Rio Grande proved to be a success, only then was the film ready to be done. But even then there was a budget battle. Yates insisted that the $1.75 million budget be trimmed, but Ford knew it couldn't be made for less. Only when John Wayne agreed to waive his percentage participation rights and take a flat $100,000 fee was the deal signed.
Unusual for the day, nearly all of the exteriors were shot on location in Ireland. The interiors, and a some close up shots of exteriors were made back in Hollywood. Winton Hoch (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, Mister Roberts) was hired to shoot the film. The film was shot in Technicolor, which beautifully shows off the green countryside of the Emerald Isle. Those shots, with lush green glens, babbling brooks, small rock walls, and quaint cottages were simply gorgeous. For his efforts, the cinematographer received his third Academy Award.
Another comparison between John Ford and Frank Capra, besides that they are both well renowned directors, is that both liked to use the same people over and over. In addition to Wayne and O'Hara, Ford brought along a number of his favorite character actors to The Quiet Man. No one appeared in more Ford films than veteran character actor Ward Bond, who plays Father Peter Lonergan. Father Peter is a likable character who seems to enjoy fishing and gambling more than sermonizing, though he has some pragmatic, down to earth advice for those who need it. Another of Ford's frequent choices was Victor McLaglen, who plays Red Will Danaher as the blustering brother to O'Hara's character Mary Kate. McLaglen, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Ford's 1935 picture, The Informer, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award for The Quiet Man. Another actor making a repeat appearance for Ford was Irish performer Barry Fitzgerald. An authentic Irish actor, Fitzgerald portrays Michaleen Flynn, the matchmaker and town bookie who arranges and supervises the courtship of Sean and Mary Kate. Fitzgerald, who can't seem to tell anyone something without cadging a drink from them first, adds a great deal of humor to the picture. All the performances were uniformly wonderful. Family was also included; John Wayne's children get small speaking parts and John Ford's brother plays a part as well. His scene where he jumps up from receiving the last rites on his deathbed to witness the exciting finale is well worth watching.
Some have referred to his work in The Quiet Man as John Wayne's greatest performance. And, while it's true that Wayne is more subdued and less plainly macho here than in many of his other films, he doesn't do a great deal to stretch his limited range. He remains essentially John Wayne, as he usually does. This isn't a bad thing; either in this film or in general. John Wayne has a presence that fills the screen in almost anything he is in, and so long as the story and his character are good being himself is more than enough. Wayne's character Sean Thornton is appealing and admirable, though a bit coarse for today's sensitivities. Maureen O'Hara's Mary Kate makes an effective foil for him, holds her own in every scene and even manages to steal one or two.
The Quiet Man is a delightful tale of a time gone by, set in 1933 Ireland. It is a romantically charged tale, but is very funny in many scenes. I found myself grinning and laughing throughout, something I don't experience often. The setting is almost idyllic, and barely brushes upon any mention of the political strife of the land. Religious tolerance is being practiced; though most of the village is Catholic they like and admire the Anglican vicar in the town. A couple members of the town are mentioned to be IRA, but they seem to be innocent dissenters rather than terrorists. Certainly everyone doesn't get along, but it is more the normal personality differences rather than from deep-seated belief.
I won't try to tell the story here. There is a great story to be sure, but what makes the film great are the characters, the feelings, and the moments. You have to see this picture at least once in your lives.
Though it's not all bad, I'll talk about the disc in this section. The biggest flaw is the video transfer. Even there, in many ways it looks gorgeous. The vivid colors: bright greens, reds, and blues; the white cottage and the thatched roofs are almost awe-inspiring. Unfortunately there is some color bleeding and oversaturation. It's only bad in a few spots, but very noticeable if you're looking. Another fairly consistent problem is with flesh tones, which are a shade too red. They don't look like Native Americans or anything, but it's noticeable. In a few scenes some halo effects, or very narrow color bands surround faces. Shadow detail is also not the best, being too dark in some scenes. Considering the great transfers Artisan did for other classics like High Noon, Rio Grande, It's a Wonderful Life, and Sands of Iwo Jima, this is just a shame. What could have made it much worse, this is a pan-and-scan transfer. I was recoiling in horror until I found out the original presentation was done in 1.37:1 rather than the 1.33:1 it is now, so the amount of information lost is minuscule. This once I'll forgive. Though I'm saddened by the transfer quality, I still have to recommend seeing the picture, and many people on direct view sets won't think it's bad at all.
The sound quality is more than adequate with Dolby Digital two-channel mono. Putting the mono signal onto the two front speakers instead of the center only makes for a more spacious sound. While music and dialogue is a bit thin, it's fine.
The extras are a bit light as well. A 30-minute feature "The Making of the Quiet Man," hosted by Leonard Maltin, is informative and interesting, with interviews from some of the crew and John Wayne's children who were part of the film as teens. Some nice footage and information showing the relationship between Ford and Wayne is also included. I would have liked for the feature to be longer and more detailed, but it's very nice. The theatrical trailer is actually part of the feature rather than a separate menu item. Production notes are included in the leaflet as well.
Lastly there are again no subtitles at all on the disc. That is shameful since the hard of hearing or deaf will not be able to fully enjoy the film now.
The film itself is not without fault. I mentioned above that some would-be exteriors were shot in the studios, and they show. Gone is the wonderful scenery and it is replaced by shots that don't match up very well, looking flat in comparison. This was a money problem, since the B-studios were always trying to cut corners any way they could. One of the best scenes of the film is done in such an "exterior" though, and it still works.
Some watching this will bemoan the treatment of women in the film. Certainly it isn't what we condone now but it was entirely fitting for the time and setting. And no actual violence toward women is done, not any the women wouldn't return in kind at least.
Despite some flaws with the video, I have to recommend this film. You might want to rent it before buying to determine if the problems are worse than you are willing to put up with. But I'll wager that you will want to see this film more than once, and at less than $20 online it's well worth being in my collection. It's one of my favorite films.
All involved with The Quiet Man except the money-grubbing Herbert Yates are commended. Yates is still acquitted for finally allowing the film to be made at all, after so many studios almost blew it and denied us such a great movie. Artisan is sentenced to death by firing squad for giving such a transfer. All right, sentence suspended, but they should still realize the magnitude of their error. And this court's patience is being tried by the lack of subtitles or captioning. This must change.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 1952
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Production Notes