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Re-Examining John Wayne and ‘The Quiet Man’

nullWhen I was growing up, St. Patrick’s Day was heralded by an
annual airing of The Quiet Man on New
York television. This year, Irish-Americans and film buffs alike have a new way
to celebrate with Olive Films’ release of an excellent feature-length
documentary called Dreaming the Quiet Man.
Bearing a 2012 copyright, produced by the Irish Film Board and directed by Sé
Merry Doyle, this entertaining film, narrated by Gabriel Byrne, follows three
streams: the tourist industry that has grown up around the village of Cong,
where the movie was shot in 1951, the making of the film (including rare color
home footage and the memories of some locals who participated), and a look at
the life and career of John Ford, for whom this marked a return to his ancestral
homeland. We even meet members of his Irish family; one of his cousins recalls
being recruited to translate some of the movie’s dialogue into Gaelic.

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Among the interviewees are leading lady Maureen O’Hara,
whose memories are sharp and candid, the always-eloquent Martin Scorsese, John
Wayne’s daughter Aissa, contemporary Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan, and Ford
scholars Peter Bogdanovich and Joseph McBride, who draw on their lifelong
interest in the director. Rutgers University professor William Dowling offers a
perceptive and passionate interpretation of the film.

I will admit
that I approached this documentary with some skepticism, having produced a half-hour
video piece about the movie some twenty years ago. To my pleasant surprise, I
not only enjoyed it but learned things I didn’t know before. In particular, the
film deepened my understanding of the Irish traditions embodied in the story,
written by Maurice Walsh and adapted for the screen by Frank S. Nugent. (Stephen
Walsh is credited with writing this documentary, and I can’t help wonder if
he’s any relation to Maurice.) The production team left no stone unturned, not
only showing us the beauty of the Irish countryside where the movie was shot
but traveling to Monument Valley and Ford’s home town of Portland, Maine.

The footage of
fans visiting Cong and its Quiet Man-related
tourist attractions is quite amusing; one especially funny shopkeeper says she
feels like movie fans come there to have the locals tell them lies they want to
hear.

It’s also
worth watching the bonus material on the disc, which includes vignettes and
sidebars that didn’t make it into the documentary itself: you’ll learn how a
local seamstress created authentic clothing for the stars and meet a horseman
who helped in the filming of the race scene by the ocean.

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On a personal
note, I find it ironic that when my partner Mark Lamberti, my wife Alice and I
produced our documentary for Republic Pictures Home Video in 1992 we were able
to interview John Wayne’s son Michael and daughter Toni, who were on location
with their father in Ireland, and Andrew McLaglen, who served as second
assistant director with Ford. The one person we couldn’t get was Maureen
O’Hara. All of our interviewees have passed away, and with them their
first-hand experiences of making The
Quiet Man;
the one key survivor who’s here to tell the tale is Miss O’Hara.

Do yourself a
favor and check out Dreaming The Quiet
Man
from Olive Films.

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