The Quiet Man – A Marmite Movie?

The eagle-eyed among you will note that this website is called and the John Wayne fans will acknowledge that The Quiet Man movie isn’t actually a Western.

The Quiet Man – A Western Movie

I wanted to write about it because, after The Searchers, this is probably the second most popular cinematic outing for the Wayne / John Ford partnership and, let’s be honest, it actually really is a Western. It doesn’t have any of the usual iconographic elements that one finds in a cowboy film, but it does have the biggest Western icon of all in it – John Wayne himself.

This had been a cherished project of John Ford for a long time but the only way he could get the financing off the ground was to make a Western Movie for Republic studio head Herbert Yates. Ford delivered Rio Grande – paring Wayne with his future Quiet Man co-star Maureen O’Hara for the first time – and Yates delivered the money.

The Quiet Man A Quick Movie Overview

The film is very loosely based around a series of short stories written by Irish author Maurice Walsh and published together in a book originally called The Green Rushes. One of the stories, entitled The Quiet Man, revolves around Paddy Bawn Enright, who leaves for America at the age of 17 and boxes under the name of Tiger Enright for a few years before returning to Ireland at the age of 32.

He joins the IRA Flying Column under the leadership of Mickeen Og Flynn, before romancing and marrying the red-haired Ellen Roe O’Danaher, younger sister of local thug Red Will O’Danaher, the man who had filched Enright’s family home whilst Enright was in the States.

Red Will denies his sister’s dowry of one hundred pounds to Enright, forcing the retired boxer to eventually confront his brother-in-law in front of a large crowd of local villagers for payment of the money owed. O’Danaher refuses so Enright tells him he can take his by-now pregnant sister back.

An embarrassed O’Danaher throws a bunch of crumpled notes at Enright who, in collusion with Ellen, promptly burns the money in the furnace of O’Danaher’s harvesting machine. A fistfight ensues from which Enright emerges victorious, his honour and reputation unsullied.

From this material Ford and scriptwriter Frank Nugent forged the screen story of The Quiet Man, with Paddy Brawn rechristened as Sean ‘Trooper’ Thornton, and Ellen Roe as Mary Kate – some Ford scholars maintain Mary was in reference to Ford’s wife and Kate after Katherine Hepburn with whom the director was rumoured to have had an affair.

The end result turned out to be a Hollywood perennial classic that plays on tv on a regular basis and was one of Ford’s biggest box-office hits in his 50-year directing career. On top of that it garnered the director his fourth best directing Oscar, a feat still unbeaten by any other film maker.

I’m not going to recount the story of the film here as I’m assuming you’ll know the movie backwards, particularly if you’re a Ford or Wayne fan. Suffice to say that Duke acquits himself well, successfully capturing the angst of an ex-boxer who has accidentally killed a man in the ring back in America, and just happy to live a quiet life as a quiet man in the country of his birth.

The cowboy elements are numerous; the much-anticipated fist fight between Wayne and Victor ‘Red Will’ McLaglen as climactic as any gun-fighting face-off from any Western you’d care to name. The payoff produces the well-worn path towards domestication that all cowboys – Ethan Edwards being the notable exception –are secretly hankering for, finally getting themselves a wife before raising lots of kids and cattle, though not necessarily in that order.

I’ll be honest and say that it’s not my favourite John Ford film – I think I much prefer the Western Movies he did with Wayne if I were pushed – but it still stands up as a perfect example of what Hollywood does best when it comes to producing popular movies for a mass audience.

Over the years The Quiet Man has become a bit of a ‘marmite’ movie – people seem to either love it or hate it. Checking out some of the comments on the film in general on various websites I’m struck by how polarising this film can be.

A quick trawl on Google reveals comments such as ‘sentimental nonsense’ and a review of the film that asserts Ford must have ‘fallen into a vat of treacle’, to the downright vitriolic sentiments of Malachy McCourt, the brother of Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt, who, upon the occasion of Maureen O’Hara’s passing damned The Quiet Man as one of the ‘most idiotic stupid anti-Irish films ever made’.

Connemara coastline

Whilst I consider some aspects of the film to be outdated, particularly as regards its attitude towards women and the stereotypical nature of a lot of the supporting characters, it doesn’t detract from the power of the story nor the breath-taking beauty of the Irish country-side, the exterior sequences having been shot on location in and around the village of Cong in County Mayo. Add to that the ‘illegally beautiful’ Maureen O’Hara and you have yourself a cinematic offering that only the most cynical viewer would not enjoy. To my mind the film is the closest that Ford ever came to making a full-blown musical, an Irish Brigadoon if you like.

Everyone in the film seems to want to exercise their tonsils at the drop of a hat, with renditions of classic Irish evergreens such as ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’, ‘Galway Bay’ and ‘The Humour is on Me Now’ scattered throughout the movie – there was an ill-fated attempt to stage a Broadway musical version in 1961 called Donnybrook but it closed after 69 performances.

The film itself is a Hollywood depiction of Ireland that’s so ‘Oirish’ you half expect to see a leprechaun emerge from behind the scenery at any given moment – then Barry Fitzgerald appears and if he isn’t a leprechaun in spirit as well as demeanour I’ll eat my green St. Patrick’s Guinness hat.

Much to John Ford’s eternal disappointment he wasn’t actually born in Ireland, although his parents originally hailed from the village of Spiddal in Galway. I believe this is his love letter to the country of his forefathers so Ireland is bound to be viewed through rose-tinted glasses as opposed to the reality of some of the more poverty-stricken aspects of the country as depicted in the aforementioned Angela’s Ashes.

You just have to ask yourself one simple question.

On a typically rainy Sunday afternoon, what would you prefer to watch on tv from the comfort of your armchair? The Quiet Man or Alan Parker’s version of Frank McCourt’s misery memoir?

I know which one I’d want to see. In fact I’m going to treat myself to the 60th anniversary blu-ray version and watch it at the weekend. So, Mr Malachy McCourt, stick that one in your clay dudeen and smoke it.

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Steve is a film scholar of note, gaining both an MA in film studies and a Ph.D. for his thesis on the silent films of John Ford. Steve, a scriptwriter and published novelist, provides much of the content you see here and is a dedicated aficionado and longtime fan of John Wayne, John Ford and Western films in general.

4 thoughts on “The Quiet Man – A Marmite Movie?”

  1. Reading this, it suddenly strikes me that it can be a ‘marmite movie’ even within one lifetime! When I was in my twenties and thirties I was ‘WAAAY too sophisticated to admit that I liked this film. Just far too cool to ever admit that I got an immense charge out of it.

    Then something odd happened as time pushed on. Even though I would be very far from being a John Wayne fan (sorry about that) I realised that any time it came on the box, well, if I caught the first five minutes then — a bit like ‘Casablanca’ — I would end up watching the whole damned thing again. And loving every minute of it. Even scenes that are now considered questionable – and what isn’t, at the moment? – such as offering a stick to beat the lady with, seem harmless. Especially since Maureen O’Hara looks as if she would be well up to taking the stick off you and giving YOU the bloody hiding.

    There is just a charming innocence to it, it seems to me now. And as the world gets more and more cynical, that no longer seems a bad thing; nor even a corny thing. AND it speaks of honour; and of regrets at deeds of the past; of mistakes made; of trying to do the right thing; and of love and friendship and finding a common ground with those we thought of as enemies and…look, I’m not going to read into it more than was intended, I’ll just say that I feel differently towards it than I did twenty-odd years ago.

    And how apt to bring ‘Angela’s Ashes’ into it. I know which one I would prefer to see again, also!

    • Charley
      Sounds like your feelings towards The Quiet Man reflect my own as well. My initial reaction to the film has evolved over the years into something akin to admiration, something I wouldn’t have admitted to a few years back.

      I look forward to more of your perceptive and constructive comments as you make your way through the articles on our website

  2. May I second you suggestion for Mr.M.McCourt. Angela’s Ashes entered my home in book form and departed in ashes……………Regards, Luke G. Lanigan.
    PS. I look forward to reading Connemara Days.


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