I’ve often imagined the fun John Ford, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and their families must have had making the movie “The Quiet Man” that summer of 1951 in the green, rocky hills of County Mayo and County Galway.
A few others must have wondered the same thing. “Connemara Days,” a film to be shot this summer [Update: It's delayed to 2011.] on the same locations, will tell the story of making “The Quiet Man.” And “Connemara” will have its own fictional love story, between Ford’s assistant director and a local Irish woman.
Stacy Keach will play John Ford. The rest of the cast is yet to be named (but former James Bond actor Roger Moore is producing the film and may have a small screen role). Cast and crew will be going to Cong, Ireland -- Ford’s big screen Inisfree.
Parallel story. Meanwhile, a new novel, “The Dead Republic” by Roddy Doyle, tells a parallel story about filming “The Quiet Man.” In this story, Henry Smart, a character in two earlier Doyle books, goes to Ireland with Ford to advise him on the IRA aspects of the movie. (Ford actually had such a consultant, Ernie O'Malley.)
It’s a remarkable coincidence that a new motion picture and a new unrelated novel are examining Ford’s “Quiet Man” summer in Ireland. I hope at least one of them handles the subject well.
Except for the romance between John Ford’s aide and the Irish woman, I know nothing of the plot of “Connemara Days.” The first reviews of “The Dead Republic” suggest its story line might make an even better movie than the “Connemara” concept.
In “The Dead Republic,” according to the reviews, Ford initially leads Henry Smart to believe “The Quiet Man” will be a film about Smart’s violent role in the Irish Republican Army. Once production begins in Ireland, this story goes, Ford transforms the movie into a romantic comedy.
‘Quiet Man’ dark side. “The Dead Republic” looks at the dark side of “The Quiet Man” script -- the references to IRA violence, the hit lists, the Australian penal colony where Sean Thornton’s grandfather was sent, and the Irish pride that inspires Mary Kate to call husband Sean a coward for failing to collect her dowry from her brother.
These are cruel things, and it’s a marvel that they found their way into one of the most heartwarming motion pictures of all time. As a big fan of “The Quiet Man” (and its music), I’ve wanted to know exactly how that happened.
“The Dead Republic” attempts to answer my curious questions. The novel explains that Irish-American Ford did indeed intend “The Quiet Man” to be a political statement, but he rewrote it in Ireland because it was his one chance to depict the peaceful, pastoral Isle of his imagination.
Ultimately, in the Ireland of “The Quiet Man,” the IRA becomes an anachronism, the Protestant-Catholic Troubles long gone, Will Danaher’s “book” of hit lists an empty joke, the penal colonies a dim memory. The Irish pride remains, but it repeatedly is swallowed with good humor – even after Sean’s big fight with Will.
Political to personal. It is well documented that “The Quiet Man” did begin as a somber tale. It was a fictional story of a former IRA member, Paddy Brown Enright (the name was Shawn Kelvin in author Maurice Walsh’s first version), who was tormented by horrible things the Black and Tans, the British security forces, did to his Irish Catholic family.
Ford considered hiring actor Robert Ryan, who had a rather cheerless presence, to play Enright.
The story changed after John Ford signed Wayne and O’Hara for the leading roles. Paddy Brown Enright became Sean Thornton, named for Ford’s cousins, the Thorntons of Spiddal, County Galway, who were real-life victims of the Troubles, having had their home burned to the ground in 1921.
The final script by Frank S. Nugent played up the love angle, probably because Wayne and O’Hara looked so good together in Ford’s 1950 Western “Rio Grande.” The politics nearly disappeared. Sean Thornton wasn’t haunted by the Black and Tans; he was haunted by his own killing of a fellow American in an American boxing ring.
The censored toast. Last-minute editing of “The Quiet Man” also removed the script’s last hint of a political statement. As Maureen O’Hara recently revealed, censors insisted that the movie’s wedding toast, “May they live in peace and national freedom” be trimmed to say “May they live in peace and … freedom.” (The sound gap remains on the film.)
So yes, “The Quiet Man” script evolved significantly from the time Ford bought the story in 1936 to the actual filming in 1951. “The Dead Republic” offers an alternate explanation, a scenario worthy of its own fiction movie.
But let’s hope “Connemara Days” is so good that filming “The Dead Republic” won’t be necessary. Then again, if this movie is good, some of us might demand to see yet another angle.
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