Thursday, September 17, 2009

'A perfect picture'

At the dinner legendary director John Ford held as he wrapped production on his classic film "The Quiet Man," he reportedly said that this movie would be his epitaph.

And, in a strange way, Ford was correct.

I know what you're thinking. Yes, Ford made movies for another 12 years. Yes, two of them ("The Searchers" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance") are considered classics.

But, "The Quiet Man" was Ford's dream, and as film historian Don Calhoun pointed out in our recent interview, Pappy was never quite the same after his dream made it to the big screen.

Ford bought the rights to the Maurice Walsh short story in "The Saturday Evening Post" for $10 in 1933. He tried for years to get a studio to back the film adaptation, but nobody would touch it, figuring a quaint Irish tale wouldn't make money at the box office.

Finally, he struck a deal with Republic Pictures chief Herbert J. Yates. Republic would finance "The Quiet Man" if Ford would agree to film a western starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara (the leads in "The Quiet Man") for Republic. That movie became "Rio Grande."

Much of "The Quiet Man" was filmed in Ford's native Ireland. It centers around the love affair between Sean Thornton (Wayne) and Mary Kate Danaher (O'Hara). It is an idealized portrayal of Ireland, but was shot in brilliant Technicolor (a victory for Ford over the studio, which wanted to use its awful TruColor process), so it captures that country's trademark green countryside in all its glory.

The film's most famous scene is the long, climactic fight between Thornton and Mary Kate's brother Will, played to the hilt by Victor McLaglen. It, and any scene featuring Ward Bond as the town priest, are the best parts of the movie.

"The Quiet Man" was a huge hit at the box office and a personal and professional triumph for John Ford. He won an Academy Award as Best Director for this film.

As Calhoun noted in our interview, Ford never really recovered, though. He made a series of stinkers ("Donovan's Reef" represents the nadir in his long association with John Wayne) and his final film, "Cheyenne Autumn," is meandering and unwatchable.

But, he brought his dream to the screen, and it remains a testament to the best of his moviemaking. As Calhoun put it, "This is a perfect picture. It isn't my favorite, but it's a perfect picture."

Read the print interview with Don Calhoun this week at Tomorrow, I'll wrap up this week-long look at westerns by naming my favorite B-Western stars.

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