It’s March, which means one of my favorite days is coming up – Saint Patrick’s Day. But not, as you might think, for the same reason that many others enjoy it. Oh don’t get me wrong, I’ll be getting my drink on but unlike many I shun crowded bars filled with outrageously clad people drinking green beer. No, my day will be filled with lots of Guinness, traditional Irish music, lamb stew and end as it always does, with a screening of the John Ford classic The Quiet Man.
Released in 1952, The Quiet Man stars John Wayne in an uncommon non-western or non-military role. The film was such a departure for Wayne and Ford in fact that Republic Pictures only agreed to back the film if they (along with co-star Maureen O’Hara) agreed to do a Western for the company first – Rio Grande. Another departure from the norm at the time was that the film was shot on location in Ireland and used locals in supporting roles. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning Best Director for Ford and Best Cinematography.
Red retaliates by “putting him in his book” (kind of an old Irish version of being on someone’s shit list) and proclaims that Sean will “regret it till his dying day. If ever he should live that long”.
The film tells the story of Sean Thornton, a man born in the Irish town of Innisfree who moves to America as a small child with his mother. After his mother passes away (and an event happens to him that I won’t spoil for those who have not seen the movie) he decides to return to Ireland to live out his life in the peace and beauty he remembers. Well it wouldn’t be much of a movie if that happened now would it? Sean soon comes to odds with ‘Red’ Will Danaher, “a man of Innisfree, and the best man” when Sean outbids him for the right to purchase the land that Sean’s family once owned. Red retaliates by “putting him in his book” (kind of an old Irish version of being on someone’s shit list) and proclaims that Sean will “regret it till his dying day. If ever he should live that long”. Sean’s attempts to find peace are complicated further when he falls for Red’s sister Mary Kate (O’Hara) with whom he attempts to enter in to an official courtship with the assistance of the town character and “match maker” Michaleen Og Flynn (brilliantly played by Barry Fitzgerald). When Red refuses to let Sean court his sister the movie swings into a series of comical plots and adventures from the locals in the town in an attempt to change Red’s mind. Tensions continue to build until Sean has had enough, dragging Mary Kate across the Irish country side to finally have it out face-to-face with Red. A confrontation which culminates into one of the most classic fight scenes ever filmed.
Cinematographers Winton Hoch and Archie Stout are nothing short of brilliant in taking advantage of the movie’s location for the exterior scenes. Sprawling green (it was the only film Republic Pictures filmed in Technicolor) country sides with stone walls and buildings weave seamlessly with village scenes shot at Ashford and Thoor Ballylee Castles. All of which are tied together by Victor Young’s stirring sound track which references such lovely melodies as “The Ilse of Innisfree”, “Kerry Dance” and “The Rakes of Mallow” (Fighting Irish fans will recognize this as the Notre Dame fight song) along with traditional songs “Wild Colonial Boy” and “Galway Bay”.
I love The Quiet Man because it paints a picture of a simpler life. When a man would work hard all day, and then retire to the local public house, there to enjoy some company, a pipe, and a beer. And beer figures prominently in the film. In one scene, after Sean re-introduces himself to the men of Innisfree, he buys a round for everyone in the pub. First time watchers might miss the funny moment during the scene where Flynn continues to steal pints of porter from the bar as Sean passes them around to the men.
The scene concludes with Flynn having downed several pints, and Sean standing perplexed with an empty glass in his hand.
The scene concludes with Flynn having downed several pints, and Sean standing perplexed with an empty glass in his hand. And yes you read that sentence correctly; the beer that takes center stage in the movie is porter – not stout. John Ford must have know that the beer most associated with Ireland, stout, actually got it’s name by the shortening of “stout porter”. Or indeed, one of the locals may have told him, no one seems to know. The use of the term in the movie is unusual however because in the time frame that the film takes place the term stout was already widely used. Maybe it’s simply a matter that Ford thought the word porter sounds better rolling off the tongue of the Irish locals than stout does. This is not the only reference you’ll find to stout’s roots in Irish media. In the traditional drinking song “Drink It Up Men”, there’s a line that states, “It’s Guinness’ porter that has me this way.”
Anyway, if you find yourself with nothing to do on St Paddy’s day get yourself a copy of The Quiet Man. Whether you love the lush Irish countryside, enjoy the humorous characters or are just a John Wayne fan, you won’t be sorry. Oh, and don’t forget the Guinness (Murphy’s or Beamish can be substituted if you wish) of course. I usually make sure I have 6 to 8 handy. But your mileage may vary.
Time for another beer.
Coming Up : Everyone needs a drink for the next post as the purpose of the song I’ll discuss is to consume one whole drink. I’d recommend a pint of Guinness or such.