Quiet Man, The (Blu-ray Review)28 Jan, 2013 By: Mike Clark
$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Stars John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond.
Thanks in part to Maureen O’Hara’s runaway redhead-ism and that lush on-location Irish greenery, Winton C. Hoch and Archie Stout took the ’52 Oscar for color cinematography to complement this all but unique take on domestic strife — an Academy nod to complement John Ford’s tandem win (his fourth, not counting wartime documentaries) for direction. But despite UCLA’s restoration efforts many years ago, home-viewing copies — even a laser disc version that I once charitably thought acceptable when it really wasn’t — have looked pretty shoddy for a movie so beloved for so many years (though perhaps no longer universally, due to shifting sexual politics).
I suspect you have to be Catholic or Irish Catholic to understand all the ins-and-outs of Frank Nugent’s romp of a screenplay, and one of the great movie experiences of my life was seeing a 35mm print of TQM on my 30th birthday with the two most Catholic women who’ve ever been friends of mine, including one who came close to becoming a nun. As for the politics, John Wayne does indeed drag spouse O’Hara over the countryside as a byproduct of his long-gestated feud-turned-fisticuffs with her dyspeptic brute of a brother (Oscar-nominated Victor McLaglen) over the latter’s withheld dowry. The last is the symbol of the independence she craves — and whatever else you want to say, O’Hara’s Mary Kate Danaher is one of the most strong-willed women seen on American screens in the first quarter-century of the talkies. And when it comes to physical violence, she gives as good as she gets (and, in fact, takes the first swing — or slap).
I first saw TQM in its 1957 re-issue in a not atypically gonzo double bill at my favorite neighborhood theater (with Walt Disney’s Secrets of Life). Starting with the release of the Republic Pictures library to television not long after, I saw it constantly throughout my adolescence and college years — including maybe six viewings of a gorgeous IB Technicolor 16mm print owned by the CBS affiliate that employed me starting in high school. Thus, I’m in a pretty fair position to know how the movie should look, and this 4K spiff-up from the original negative is somewhere in the 90-some percentage range of being full-octane — an exponential improvement on what home viewers have had to see for three-plus decades now. Extras here include a “making-of” documentary of significant visage that’s hosted by Leonard Maltin and carried over from previous releases — and also a healthy excerpt by Joseph McBride’s Searching for John Ford, which, if you’re going to read just one Ford bio (though Scott Eyman and Tag Gallagher have also penned must-reads as well), is the one.
It’s a disgrace that O’Hara didn’t get an Oscar nomination here (for years, I blindly assumed she had) and pretty close to one that Wayne, too, was ignored when he was beautifully playing a low-key pacifist (so much for career pigeonholing). There’s also Victor Young’s score — has any other musical backing done more for its movie? — plus a script that allows the voiceover narration to become almost a character in the movie instead of the usual crutch. Let us further note a final scene that, for the time it was filmed, was fairly radical (something that no one ever mentions to my knowledge). How many other films of the day do you know that ends with the romantic characters literally dropping everything and trotting toward the house for the expressed purpose of doing it? A fine sentiment, as one of Ford’s ubiquitous barroom rummies might say.