The Quiet Man is a low-key little Irish romance that sees John Wayne at his most gentle and likeable. (Don't worry, menfolk, he still has his unique sense of machismo that somehow makes it OK for him to drag a woman through the mud for about five miles.)
An Irish-born American returns to his home country, having made his fortune across the pond and now ready to settle down in the quaint village where he was born. He's also escaping a TERRIBLE SECRET, but more on that later.
The Ireland in this film is sort of like a snowglobe version of the county. It's all atmospheric pubs, whimsically eccentric locals, and fiery redheads. I half expected a leprechaun to pop out of nowhere and chase down the village children who stole his tiny marshmallows.
Of course they're after your lucky charms -- it's the only part of the cereal that didn't taste like cardboard dipped in wood shavings.
Anyway, pretty much as soon as he sets foot in Inisfree, he falls in live with a redheaded beauty called Mary Kate. The only problem is that she's the younger sister of Danaher, the one man in town he has somehow managed to make an enemy of. I spent probably an unnecessary amount of time trying to wrap my head around how Danaher and Mary Kate are supposed to be siblings.
Because that guy is in his mid-60s, and she's what? Late twenties? I don't see how it would have hurt the film to make him her father, or for that matter, just cast someone who was actually the appropriate age.
Eventually, John Wayne gets permission to go courting with Mary Kate. Yes, courting is a thing in this movie, even though he's like 45 years old and it's all kinds of ridiculous. Because apparently rural Ireland = The Duggars. Next thing you know they're going to be side-hugging. But since John Wayne is a MACHO RED BLOODED AMERICAN MALE, they sort of go on one chaperoned date and then run away and decide to get married. So the courting thing doesn't last for very long.
But they hit a snag, because Mary Kate's brother refuses to relinquish her dowry, which includes a bunch of furniture and about £300. John Wayne, being a wealthy man, does not really care about this. But Mary Kate is all kinds of pissed, and refuses to sleep with him until he gets her things back for her. She thinks he's a coward for not standing up to her brother.
Then we learn the truth about John Wayne. He's a retired prizefighter, only don't tell anyone because he's trying to keep it on the DL. Although why he thinks a bunch of Irish people wouldn't be impressed by the fact that he earns a living punching people is beyond me. I guess he's like grappling with his conscience because he accidentally killed a dude in the ring, but that seems like an occupational hazard to me.
Somewhat related to this fighting attitude is the presence of the Irish temper in this film, which I'm a little uncomfortable with. A lot of people point to the fact that because John Wayne didn't force himself on his wife after she made it clear she would not be having sex with him, he's some kind of hero. And it's like, yes, it was good of him not to rape his wife. He gets a trophy for doing exactly the bare minimum required of a human.
But I definitely don't love watching him drag Mary Kate over rough terrain on his way to the famous fight scene. And when I say dragging, I mean literally dragging:
What makes it even worse is that from the tone of the film, we're supposed to think this is fine and dandy. What's more, the implication is that Mary Kate enjoys it. Nope. Sorry. A woman may like her man to take charge and fight for her, but you cannot convince me that there is a woman alive who would thank her husband for physically dragging her around in front of the entire town just to humiliate her.
In the end, The Quiet Man is a pile of good things and bad things. I actually think that this is one of John Wayne's best performances - he has a level of subtlety here that he shows in very few of his films. Maureen O'Hara is incredibly likeable, even if her character is written a bit too simplistically for my taste. She was a very talented actress, and would have benefited from this role being a little more fleshed out so that she was more than just a proud Irish redhead with a temper.
Overall, The Quiet Man is a pretty decent film and an unusually low key love story -- it's just unfortunate that the inherent misogyny of 1952 gets in the way a little bit. OK, a lot.