In America, Sean Thornton (John Wayne) was a boxer, but he retired from this career after accidentally killing a man in the ring. Now he has returned to his Irish home town of Innisfree – a place, he hopes, where he can finally be at peace.
Sean’s first move is to buy the cottage in which he was born. This alienates the town bully, Squire ‘Red’ Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), who wanted that land for his own use.
Sean then meets and falls for Danaher’s sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara), a red-haired colleen with a fiery will and a passionate heart.
Filmed in County Galway (from where director John Ford’s family had emigrated to the United States), The Quiet Man features plenty of action in the Ford style, with the fitting epic climax being ex-boxer Sean’s fistfight with Squire Danaher over his refusal to grant Mary’s hand in marriage to the American.
The battle ends with both men getting too drunk (during pauses in the action) to continue. They end as friends and, ultimately, family after Will agrees to the marriage.
Yet the film is not really about masculine values. Mary is much more than the simple object of their contention. Though she wants Sean, Mary refuses to go against her brother to marry him. Marrying Sean under these circumstances would be an insult to her.
At first Sean will not fight and Mary thinks that he does not love her enough to risk the struggle with her brother. A plot is hatched by others in the village to trick Danaher into granting his permission, and the couple is married.
But the brother soon discovers the deceit and withholds her dowry. Mary refuses to sleep with Sean before the dowry, which represents her independent worth, is paid.
The concluding boxing match settles both questions, however, and the couple is thereby reconciled.
Under John Ford’s astute (and Oscar-winning) direction, The Quiet Man plays off the conventional quaintness of the village against the beautiful natural scenery, resulting in a film that is serious enough to be affecting, but enough of a fantasy to be uproariously funny.
Winton C Hoch and Archie Stout’s Technicolor photography deservedly won the film a second Oscar.
Mary Kate Danaher
“Red” Will Danaher
Father Peter Lonergan
Mrs Sarah Tillane
Mrs Elizabeth Playfair
Reverend Cyril Playfair