Politics in “The Quiet Man”

The Quiet Man (1952) is the film director John Ford’s film portrait of an Ireland that he loved and understood. It is also one of my father’s favorite movies, and he would let us stay up late (into the wee hours) to see the American boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne) woo and win the hot-tempered Irish lass, Mary-Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara).

When I was younger, I enjoyed the love story and the rollicking, country wide fist fight between Thornton and Squire Will Danaher that is the climax of the film.

Lately, however, I have noticed the more political undertones of the film. Ford, who was awarded the Academy Award for Best Director, was obviously aware of the impact of the Easter Rising of 1916 on the Irish consciousness. Some of the dialogue from Frank S. Nugent (screenplay) is laced with political views of Ireland as independent, yet rurally cooperative as in the peaceful village of Inisfree.

When the film opens,  Sean Thornton arrives to reclaim the cottage his mother left to him:

Father Peter Lonergan, Narrator: Ah, yes… I knew your people, Sean. Your grandfather; he died in Australia, in a penal colony. And your father, he was a good man too.

The narrator-a Catholic priest- was making a reference to British policies Irish political prisoners were transported to Australia; 1200 sent in 1815-1840 and 279 in 1869. Many of the convicts were Fenians.

Left off at his family cottage on the first night, Sean Thornton says goodnight to his mentor, Michaeleen:

Michaleen Flynn: Well it’s a nice, soft night, so I think I’ll go and join me comrades and talk a little treason. G’night, Sean.
Thornton: G’night, Michaleen.

Those  same who regularly hang out at the pub to talk a little treason gather to watch Sean Thorton when he tries to “return” Mary Kate to her brother:

“Red Will” Danaher: So the I.R.A.’s in this too, huh?
Hugh Forbes: If it were, Red Will Danaher, not a scorched stone ‘o your fine house’d be standin’.
Michaleen Flynn: A beautiful sentiment!

John Ford’s film is scenic and the soundtrack by Victor Young is exceptional, combining lush themes and Irish melodies. The movie  is well worth watching, for any number of reasons.  Watch it for the politics…. or the fist fight (see below)…. or both…a great film for the Irish!


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