St. Patrick’s Day graces a Saturday this year, which is a leprechaun blessing to emerald-clad celebrants everywhere.
In my case, it means I’ve got all day tomorrow to work in my annual cinematic reunion with John Ford’s Irish opus.
Star-studded and shot on location in Ireland, The Quiet Man is the film du jour every March 17. It’s the story of a Yankee boxer who returns to his Irish roots in the village of Innisfree, where he falls in love and is forced to confront not only cultural clashes, but also his beloved’s paternalistic and belligerent brother.
Released in 1952, the movie was a resounding success with popular audiences, critics and professional peers alike. It grossed well at the box office and garnered Academy Awards for cinematography and best director–crowning John Ford’s career with a still-record fourth Oscar.
In homage to Saturday’s holiday, here are some interesting and fascinating notes about The Quiet Man that you can enjoy, even if you don’t watch it (again).
A family affair
Ford had a well-known troupe that he used in all his movies, but when cast and crew packed up and headed to Ireland for the six-week shoot, many brought family along–and Ford worked most of them into the scenes as extras, and sometimes the script.
Brothers of Dubliner Maureen O’Hara, who played Mary Kate Danaher, both had roles in the movie (Father Paul and Hugh Forbes).
Ford’s brother, Francis, is the old man who leaps from his deathbed when he hears that the fight between Sean Thornton (John Wayne) and “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) is underway.
Wayne’s four children are grouped in the cart with Mary Kate during the horse race scene; the youngest two deliver a couple of lines.
Arthur Shields, who played the Reverend Playfair, is the younger brother of Barry Fitzgerald (Michaleen Flynn).
There is no real town of Innisfree in Ireland (the “Innisfree” of Yeats’ poem is an uninhabited island). The village portrayed as Innisfree is Cong, in County Mayo, home to around 1,000 Irish souls.
Many of the area landmarks visible in the movie remain virtually unchanged in nearly seven decades, including the beautiful stone bridges, Pat Cohan’s bar (it was a grocery store then) and the train station.
White O’Morn, however, lies in ruins along a sheep road not far from town. A replica of the thatch-roof Thornton cottage was built in Cong for tourists.
It’s rare to hear “Gaeilge”—the original Irish language—spoken on-screen in Hollywood films. Audiences get a small, lilting dose in The Quiet Man when Mary Kate confides in Father Lonergan (played by Ward Bond) at the fishing hole using her native tongue.
For those who aren’t fluent in “the Irish” and who might have wondered all these years what Mary Kate was saying, here’s the translation:
“I didn’t allow my husband into bed with me last night. I forced him to sleep in—oh, in a bag for sleeping! A bag for sleeping … My dowry, he didn’t fight for it. Is it a sin?”
Composer Victor Young earned an Oscar nomination for his work on the film, which incorporated a number of traditional Irish melodies, jigs and ballads in the soundtrack.
One of the signature tunes is “The Rakes of Mallow;” it’s the “dum da, dum da, dum da, diddle didda” reel hummed by Michaleen Flynn that also accompanies Sean’s dragging of Mary Kate from Castletown station.
A “rake” as referenced, incidentally, has nothing to do with a garden implement and instead describes a fashionable youth drenched in rowdy debaucheries.
In that dragging scene, Maureen O’Hara performed her own stunts as she was manhandled over hill and dale by John Wayne, leaving her bruised up from the filming.
In addition, the actors had been engaged in an ongoing dung duel, with Wayne and director Ford kicking sheep feces onto the hill where she was to be dragged (face down, no less) and O’Hara and her friends kicking it off.
The last kick—and laugh—went to the Duke.
In the final scene, after the credits, as Sean and Mary Kate are waving, she leans up and whispers something into his ear.
The immediate, resulting expression on John Wayne’s face is one of priceless, genuine spontaneity—Ford had previously instructed Maureen O’Hara to deliver the unscripted line precisely to achieve a shock reaction.
What did she say? We’ll never know.
The secret died with O’Hara in 2015. Ford and Wayne took it to the grave as well.
What we do know is that at first she balked, telling Ford she “couldn’t possibly say that to Duke,” presumably because of its risque or naughty nature.
But in the end, she said it, and Ford got the punctuation mark he wanted to wrap up his romantic Irish masterpiece.
Ford would write later that his time in Ireland took him to “the only place I have found peace.”
Most of us may never be lucky enough to visit the Emerald Isle, but thanks to The Quiet Man, we can sample and savor a wee bit of that same peace.