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John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man (Blu-ray Review)

23 Mar, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Street 3/24/15
$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Featuring Maureen O’Hara, Martin Scorsese, Joseph McBride, Peter Bogdanovich.

I’ve heard of cottage industries, but there’s a shopkeeper in the Irish village of Cong whose main GNP at least seems to be built around Quiet Man memorabilia and stories spun to tourist fans who want to hear inside stuff about John Ford’s durably popular (though these days, politically incorrect) love story — half or so of which was filmed on location there in 1951 for the following year’s theatrical release. Amazingly (or maybe not), a lot of the landmarks still look exactly like they do in the film, sights that are standout delights of a documentary I didn’t even know existed until Olive Films announced its release not long ago.

Leonard Maltin did a nifty featurette more than two decades back for this bonafide classic’s first release in the home market, but he wasn’t able to land Maureen O’Hara for interview purposes. Here in director Sé Merry Doyle’s full-length feature, she’s all over the place and still lucid as, among other things, she relates what a sometimes s.o.b. Ford was — something that’s no longer news after brilliant Ford biographies by Joseph McBride and Scott Eyman, to name the two pacesetters of several. Their subject was so sadistic that even John Wayne — or, make that especially John Wayne — had a rough go of it under the director’s thumb (and alcoholism). Yet almost every member of the director’s famed stock company returned again and again because the results did so much for their legacies and perhaps pride.

As with Alan LeMay’s original novel of Ford and Quiet Man scripter Frank Nugent’s The Searchers later on, the Maurice Walsh short story that inspired the latter was first published in The Saturday Evening Post, and it became a dream project for which Ford (for the better part of two decades) could not get financing. Then Wayne, who spent much of the 1940s being lowly Republic Pictures’ sole ‘A’-lister (its ‘B’-cowboy superstars were in another caste system) suggested that Republic might be coerced into carving out a deal. Unfortunately, Republic’s chief was crass vulgarian Herbert Yates, who impressively managed to be someone that studio stablemates Wayne, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers all disliked. After voicing the opinion that the movie destined to become far and away the biggest in studio history wouldn’t make a dime, Yates agreed to put up the money if Wayne, Ford and O’Hara would first film Rio Grande in black-and-white — a good deal all around because, as it turned out, that Cavalry Western still looks like one of the better releases of 1950. Though not mentioned here, Yates wanted to film Man’s Irish vistas in catsup-ish Trucolor instead of the Technicolor that eventually helped win it the Oscar for cinematography. And not liking the title, he wanted to substitute one that would have automatically killed the surprise plot twist on which the story’s central conflict turns.

So the whole crew went over to Ireland, where Maine transplant Ford still had a slew of relatives. One of the joys here is seeing kin who were kids when the movie was being shot now spinning anecdotes as old folks at home — and hearing the aforementioned shopkeeper adding her own two cents as she opens scrapbooks and photo galleries while her inevitable pet cat walks around owning the place. We also see that the film’s favorite watering hole (Cohan’s) is still around, but we learn that it wasn’t really a bar at the time when its exterior was used to convey one – but has since come to be in an attempt by tourist-hungry locals to (borrowing parlance from Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) “print the legend.”

During my pre-adolescence in the 1950s, The Searchers and The Quiet Man were my two favorite movies (I even saw them for the first time in the same neighborhood theater), and I still think that accusations that this picture is sexist only makes sense if you remove every ounce of context from the story. John Wayne’s dragging of wife Maureen O’Hara across the countryside isn’t shocking in the way that, say, that James Broderick’s popping of Pat Quinn is in Alice’s Restaurant, also a new Blu-ray release; Wayne’s character would never hit a woman with his fists, though O’Hara does take swings at him on two occasions. Ford’s film is a fairy tale (though rooted in a true-blue milieu); O’Hara’s character is from a rough-and-tumble family and community routinely raised to give as good as they get; and she spends the entire second half of the movie ashamed and humiliated that she has apparently married a wussy who won’t lose his temper in public. Fortunately, author McBride (who comes by the name honestly) is around on this documentary to expound on Irish Catholic customs 101 just as Arthur Shields’ character does in the movie.

Unlike a lot of Olive releases, this one has a robust collection of local-color featurettes or outtakes, though it’s too bad there’s no Oscarcast footage of Ford’s face when The Greatest Show on Earth upset The Quiet Man for best picture minutes after Ford won for director (he didn’t attend the ceremony). In a year when Singin’ in the Rain wasn’t even nominated, this really was a folly — though, frankly, I’m not one of the million Earth bashers, a popular stand to take these days. Better it than Crash or The King’s Speech or Chariots of Fire or … well, you get the idea.

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