John Ford: Dreaming the Quiet Man


Directed by Sé Merry Doyle PG cert, limited release, 90 min

HOLY MARY, mother of Jesus. God be with the days when we were all a little embarrassed by The Quiet Man. Sure, didn’t we think it was a terrible aul’ bit of paddywhackery and no mistake? May the good Lord strike me down if I tell a lie!

Well, we have all moved on a bit. Over the past few decades, objections to John Ford’s irresistible romance have steadily died down. It has become accepted that the director’s idealisation of Ireland is no more troubling than his idealisation of frontier America in his great Westerns. As the film’s diamond jubilee arrives, the time has, perhaps, come for a reassessment of the reassessment.

You won’t hear many dissenting voices in Sé Merry Doyle’s very enjoyable documentary on the picture. Martin Scorsese, as warm and enthusiastic as ever, seems slightly offended that – despite featuring endless scenes of John Wayne manhandling Maureen O’Hara – the picture could be accused of misogyny. The notion of Ford’s Ireland as a twinkly John Hinde dreamscape is only addressed in one fairly brief snippet.

No matter. This remains a diverting watch for anybody with even a passing interest in classical Hollywood cinema. Doyle gathers together an impressive selection of professionals. Scorsese lights up the screen. Peter Bogdanovich is predictably dry. Maureen O’Hara remains impressively sharp.

The most enjoyable sections, however, are those where Doyle returns to the film’s location in Co Mayo. A local shopkeeper, the star of the piece, displays both charm and sly awareness of commercial mechanics.

“They come here to have the Irish tell them lies,” she says of the American tourists. Her comment also communicates some truths about Ford’s film.

Unfortunately, the clips from The Quiet Man are so grainy that, when projected in a cinema, they prove useless as illustrations of any points being made about the lush cinematography. Still, this is a diverting piece that demands a place on any future DVD reissue of Ford’s flawed classic.