After retiring from boxing, American Sean Thornton returns to Ireland and buys the home where he was born. It’s a town so stereotypically Irish that you almost expect to see actual leprechauns singing at the pub. Sean makes an immediate impression upon the locals, but no one is more impressed than Mary Kate Danaher, a beautiful red head who lives up the lane. After a few sweetly awkward encounters, Mary demands that Sean ask her brother for permission to court her (as per tradition). Respectfully, Sean obliges, but when Red Danaher (Victor McLagen) says no, he sees it as a stupid formality…Mary sees it as the end of their future together. This is only the first in the long string of frustrations that make up The Quiet Man.
Eventually, Red permits Mary to marry Sean so that he’ll be able to marry The Widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick). Naturally he never mentioned this to Sarah, because no one ever tells anyone anything in this movie. When he announces his plans, he’s met with a lump on the head. Furious and vengeful, Red steals Mary’s dowry.
You’d think this would drive Mary right over the edge and make her realize what a petty, controlling clown she has for a brother, but instead she resorts to moping and declares her marriage ruined. She won’t sleep with Sean and keeps dropping loaded comments like, “I always pictured a home with MY OWN THINGS” or “I have nothing without MY OWN MONEY”. Meanwhile, Sean patiently explains that none of this is important to him and that they can start fresh together. In one especially adorable scene, he presents her with her own carriage, presumably to let her know that even without a dowry, she’s still going to have her own identity. She’s appreciative for about five seconds, then promptly calls Sean a coward for not confronting Red about the dowry. I’d suggest creating a drinking game around the film’s use of the word “dowry”, but I fear I’d be leading you down the path of alcohol poisoning.
Ultimately, Sean’s past as a boxer comes to light and plays a significant role in showing Red what’s what. Finally satisfied that everything is right and proper, Mary is able to settle into the happiness that should have began when she and Sean first fell in love. I guess it’s a happy ending, but it’s a bit lackluster watching someone overcome obstacles of their own making. O’Hara’s Mary often feels like a caricature with her random tantrums and exaggerated motions, almost spoiling the moments where she is lovely, playful, and smart. Wayne’s performance is more nuanced and consistent, with Sean’s “quiet” equating to gentle and good-humored but firm. One can only assume that the most charming part of their story takes place after the credits roll.
This beautifully remastered DVD includes audio commentary with John Ford biographer Joseph McBride, “A Tribute to Maureen” O’Hara with Haley Mills, Juliet Mills, and Ally Sheedy, a visual essay on The Quiet Man by John Ford expert Tag Gallagher, and featurettes on Republic Pictures, John Ford, and the making of The Quiet Man.