You’ve heard of “The Quiet Man,” right? The 1952 John Ford film starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara as Sean Thornton and Mary Kaye Danaher of the idyllic, imagined town of Innisfree, is now viewed as an Irish classic and a nostalgic portal to the past, though it does of course also have its detractors, such as author Malachy McCourt, who once called it an idiotic, stupid, anti-Irish film.” As it turns out, back when “The Quiet Man” was released, some Irish officials feared that the movie would provoke such strong distaste among Irish Americans that it could lead to protests.
Why? They were concerned the film would be taken at face-value and that audiences would believe it portrayed what life was really like in Ireland.
After attending a preview of the film in April 1952, Joseph D. Brennan, a counselor at the Irish Embassy in Washington, wrote to Department of External Affairs official Conor Cruise O’Brien about his qualms. Their exchanges on the matter are among a volume of documents on Irish Foreign Policy dating from 1951-1957 being published this week.
Brennan noted: “The color is beautiful. The scenery is delightful. But – the theme is not likely to be well received here.”
He asked what reactions to the movie had been like in Ireland and requested a reply at the earliest possible date, which wasn’t until “The Quiet Man” premiered in Ireland in June of that year.
Following up on his concerns in a July letter, Brennan expressed fear that there could be protests from Irish American viewers:
“If it were to be taken completely at its face value it would be accepted as a rollicking farce and no harm done but I fear it will be regarded by the Irish-American element here as purporting to portray actual life in Ireland. We may then have protests.”
However, The Quiet Man opened in the US in August 1952 to positive reviews and even went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture, and won for Best Director and Best Cinematography.
The New York Times even praised its apparent authenticity in their review at the time:
“It is obvious that in ‘The Quiet Man,’ [John Ford] actually went to the Emerald Isle with some of his veteran players, then enlisted some Abbey Theatre stalwarts before turning his Technicolor cameras on those fine bhoyos and colleens, a rollicking tale and the green, dewy countryside to come up with as darlin' a picture as we've seen this year.”
Interestingly, just last year, following the death of Maureen O’Hara, the writer Malachy McCourt took to his Facebook page to express some of the sentiments the Irish diplomats were so concerned about.
“Wife beating, priest-ridden, blather talking gombeen men getting drunk standing around gossiping and then erupting into stereotypical Irish behavior violent fighting.”
McCourt held nothing back.
“John (Right Wing) Wayne could never qualify as an Irishman (too much of an ass---e) even if he kept his maiden name, Marion Morrison. No true Irish person takes pride in that low-class insult ("The Quiet Man") to Ireland and I hope Maureen O'Hara is not in a place where she has to watch it and I hope Wayne is.”
How do you feel about “The Quiet Man?” Is it a nostalgic classic? A ridiculous, anti-Irish film? Somewhere in between? Let us know in the comment section.
H/T: The Irish Times