An Irish-American, Sean Thornton, runs from his past and seeks a new beginning in the cottage of his mother in Ireland. He is mesmerized by the fiery-tempered, red-headed girl next door and wants to court her. However, her brother and guardian, “The Squire” Danaher, loathes the newcomer and refuses to give his permission. It’s up to Sean Thornton to literally fight for his love, though it means doing something he vowed he would never do again—fight. Only the local Reverend knows Thornton’s dark secret – he accidentally killed a man during a professional boxing match.
The film opens with Sean Thornton (John Wayne) as he arrives at the train station oozing optimism and surrounded by locals who can’t agree on directions to Innisfree. Rescued by Micheleen, he is driven by carriage through magnificent countryside to his ancestral home. When he first lays eyes on Mary Kate, her red hair shining in the sun as she herds sheep, the fireworks begin. First as a thought, then growing to a crescendo as the story builds. Only trickery by the Reverend and Priest gets the two lovers married.
But this isn’t just a love story. Sean Thornton has a no-nonsense exterior, but inside is a man riddled with guilt over the death of his boxing partner. He battles the images of the killer knock-out in the ring. He tries to block it out by retiring from boxing, fleeing America to start a new life, and vowing never to lift his fist to a man in anger again. This creates the ultimate inner conflict, should he stay true to his vow? Or should he break that vow in order to keep Mary Kate? The culture of his new homeland demands that he stand up to her brother to defend her dowry – a dowry he doesn’t even want. He steams along believing that his new wife is only interested in the money and has lost faith in him, that her brother will continue to bully them. Life is crashing in around him. Trouble has jumped across continents to follow him. If he doesn’t meet it head on now, once and for all, it will lick at his heels for the rest of his life. Once he makes the decision to put this issue to rest once and for all, the entire village rushes to see the outcome.
This is one of my favorite films. Though the implied violence against women and the smoking now stand out against modern sensibilities, the deep emotion and inner conflicts portrayed are completely compelling. And I’m always a sucker for a happy ending. This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.
The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.