Plot: Tall American Sean Thornton (John Wayne) arrives in Innisfree, a small, beautiful Irish village and meets Michaeleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), who drives him into town. Something of a busybody, Michaeleen is very curious, and is delighted to find that Sean was born in Innisfree, and that he has come back to buy back his family home and settle there. Over the objections of “Squire” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), a huge firey man, Sean buys the cottage, called White O’Morning, from the Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick), a wealthy woman who owns the adjoining property, and settles in.
Sean sees Will’s sister, Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) out in a field and is immediately struck by her. Sean finds her in his cottage, “being neighborly” by cleaning it for him, and he grabs her and kisses her. He sees her again at church. He approaches her as he would an American girl, but finds that the customs are different in Ireland, and that if he wants to court Mary Kate, he must do it according to quaint, old-fashioned rules, with the permission of her brother. Will’s objections to their courtship are overcome by Father Lonergan (Ward Bond) and others, who persuade Will that he must allow Mary Kate to marry in order to be able himself to marry the Widow Tillane. He grudgingly consents, and allows them to proceed under the eye of a chaperone, none other than Michaeleen, who reminds them that “The proprieties must be observed.” They drive off with Michaeleen, sitting on opposite sides of a wagon, but they get off the wagon and run away together, and as they are drenched by a sudden rainstorm, they cannot wait for “the proprieties” any longer, and they kiss.
At the wedding, Will finds that he has been tricked, and that the Widow Tillane does not want her acquiescence to marry him taken for granted. He is furious. He refuses to give Mary Kate her dowry or the fine furniture she inherited from her mother. Sean does not care, and cannot understand why it is important to Mary Kate. All he wants is her. But far from being reassured by this, Mary Kate is hurt. She feels that her things and her dowry are part of who she is and part of what she brings to the marriage, and that if Sean cared about her he would fight for them. They sleep apart.
The next morning, their friends arrive with the furniture. They have “persuaded” Will to give it to her. But he still won’t give her the dowry. Although they love each other deeply, Sean and Mary Kate cannot resolve that problem. Mary Kate is ashamed of herself and ashamed of Sean, and goes to the train station, planning to leave him. He follows her and drags her back to a confrontation with Will, telling Will that if he will not pay the dowry, he must take her back. Will gives them the money, and together, they burn it. Mary Kate smiles with delight and tells Sean she will go home and prepare supper for him.
Will and Sean then enter into an epic fistfight, that takes them all the way through the town, as crowds gather to watch, cheer, and bet on the outcome. Finally, bruised, drunk, and happy, they arrive at White O’Morning for supper, Will bawling happily, “Bless all in this house.”
Discussion: Some critics have claimed that this is an anti-feminist movie, but that is a very superficial perspective. The furniture and money are important to Mary Kate because she wants to enter the relationship as an equal. She believes that without them she will be to Sean what she was in Will’s house, just someone to do the work. She says, “Until I’ve got my dowry safe about me, I’m no married woman. I’m the servant I’ve always been, without anything of my own!” But it is just as important to Sean to let her know that what he cares about is his love for her, and that alone is enough to make her an equal partner. For this reason, burning the money, which might otherwise seem foolishly wasteful, was a way for them to each win a victory.
Sean also has to conquer his fear of fighting, which requires him to open up emotionally. As “Trouper Thorn,” a professional boxer in the U.S., he accidentally killed an opponent in the ring. This left him afraid to let go. In the fights with Will and Mary Kate he learns that he can let go physically and emotionally and strengthen his relationships. Notice how Sean and Mary Kate seem to affect even the weather as they fall in love. Gusty winds and torrential rain reflect the emotions they are feeling for each other.
Questions for Kids:
· Sean and Mary Kate loved each other very much, but had a hard time understanding each other. Why was Mary Kate’s dowry so important to her? How did Sean show he understood that?
· Why did they burn the money? Was that a good way to solve the problem of the dowry for both of them?
· How did Sean’s friends persuade Mary Kate’s brother to let Sean marry her? Was that fair?
· Why did Sean and Will like each other better after fighting each other?
Connections: One of the highlights of “E.T.” is the scene in which E.T. is in Eliot’s house alone, watching “The Quiet Man” on television. We see his connection to Eliot; E.T. sees Sean kiss Mary Kate as the wind rushes through the cottage, and Eliot, at school, grabs a classmate and gives her a kiss.
Maureen O’Hara, born in Ireland, was never more ravishing than here on her home ground, shot in magnificent technicolor. She and Wayne made four other films together, including “Rio Grande,” also directed by Ford. She also plays the mother in “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Parent Trap.” This was quite a family affair. Reverend Cyril Playfair is played by character actor Arthur Shields, in real life the brother of Barry Fitzgerald (Michaeleen). Francis Ford, who plays the man who gets off his deathbed to watch the fight, is the older brother of director John Ford. Wayne’s four children and two of O’Hara’s brothers also appear in the movie.
Ford won an Oscar for Best Direction.