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Archive for the ‘great pairings’ Category

Married!

Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would only be proper to devote today’s post to one of the most quintessentially Irish classics, John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952). While he’s most known for his influential westerns, The Quiet Man is one of my favorite Ford films (along with How Green is My Valley and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).

What I love most about it is the love story between Sean Thornton and Mary-Kate Danaher, which are beautifully played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. This would be their second teaming, following immediately on the heels of another Ford classic, Rio Grande (1950). The success of that film is what allowed The Quiet Man to be made. Oddly enough, no studio wanted to touch the film, feeling that it wasn’t commercial enough and therefore, wouldn’t make money (it’s always about money!). John Ford originally bought the short story for ten dollars in 1933, promising the author Maurice Walsh more money if it would ever go into production (according to IMDB, Walsh made a total of $6,260 for The Quiet Man). Finally, Republic, the little studio primarily known for their b-movie westerns, gave The Quiet Man it’s home, but only if Ford made Rio Grande first. Not only was that film successful, but it also teamed Wayne and O’Hara for the first time, a partnership that would last through four more films.

Love at first sight!Love at first sight?
It’s love at first sight for Sean. 

Mary-Kate peering ’round a fenceAnd it’s their chemistry that makes The Quiet Man such a wonderful film. From the moment Sean spots the beautiful Mary-Kate in a field of sheep, it’s love at first sight. And who can blame him? With her fiery red hair and ivory complexion, Technicolor was made for a woman like Maureen O’Hara. Set against the lush green backdrop, she’s absolutely stunning. Much of the technicolor equipment was shipped in from various London movie studios and a special schedule was set up, so Ford and the rest of his crew would know how long they could film in the summer months. It certainly pays off. The cinematography throughout is gorgeous, especially when the cast travels through the fields, streets and ponds of Ireland. Also adding to the local flavor is the use of the local townspeople in crowd scenes, as well as the casting of many actors from Dublin’s own Abbey Theater.

Irish CountrysideIrish Countrysideirishcountryside1.jpg
A star in its own right: the lush, beautiful Irish countryside 

Part of what makes The Quiet Man stand out from other romance films is the fact that a good portion was shot on location in Ireland–specifically Cong, County Mayo. In the post-WWII era, more and more studios realized that shooting on location was necessary, since backdrops and screens were becoming passe. Ford’s use of Ireland not only adds to the story, but gives it an authenticity. It’s magical to watch Wayne and O’Hara romp through the bright green fields of Ireland and allows the viewer to be transported as well. Instead of watching a movie, you do believe you’re watching two people fall in love. While I have no doubt that The Quiet Man would be wonderful no matter what the backdrop, the fact that it’s taking place in Ireland just makes it that more special.

intherain.jpgAs Mary-Kate, O’Hara turns in a wonderful performance. She’s an incredibly complex character–equal parts mystery and passion, with a good wallop of feistyness thrown in. While Mary-Kate is feminine, she’s no shrinking violet either. In their five films, many people say O’Hara was the perfect match for John Wayne’s towering presence and I have to agree. And speaking of John Wayne, this (along with 1943’s A Lady Takes a Chance, with the lovely Jean Arthur) is one of the few films that I find him really sexy in. While masculine, Wayne’s Sean Thornton also displays a vulnerable side, no doubt in part to his tragic boxing past that he keeps hidden from Mary-Kate. He’s head over heels in love with her and pursues her relentlessly. Even though her bullying brother, Red (a terrific performance by Victor McLaglen), refuses to give his sister the dowry she so deserves, Sean could care less, telling her that he’d be happy if she’d “come in the clothes on your back or without them for that matter.”

Fight!Dragging Mary-KateNo Fortune, No Marriage!
No fortune, no marriage: Sean wins Mary-Kate’s heart

But it’s that dowry that leads to The Quiet Man‘s final showdowns. First with Mary-Kate, where much to the amusement of the local townspeople, Sean drags her kicking and screaming across the Irish countryside in an attempt to show her just how much he cares about her. In one of my favorite scenes, Sean finally gets Mary-Kate her dowry, only to throw it away in a threshing machine. It’s such a fantastic moment on so many levels: the fact that Mary-Kate is finally free of the money burden as well as her newfound admiration for her husband. With a triumphant look and eyes filled with love, Mary-Kate turns away and announces that she’s going to go home and make his supper. This, of course, leads to the climatic and hilarious fist fight. To describe it here would do it no justice–it’s something you really have to see to believe.

The Men of “The Quiet Man”Since I’m not that knowledgeable about John Ford, I’ll refrain from delving any deeper into The Quiet Man.  But I will say that it’s one of the finest love stories I’ve ever watched. Not only is the story rich with characterizations, but it’s also filled with fine performances from Ford regulars like Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond and Mildred Natwick, as well as Ford’s own brother Francis. And while The Quiet Man may be the perfect film to watch on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s also perfect for any time when you’re in the mood for a top-notch love story that’s not too sappy. It’s what you could call, a perfect film.

Links: Here’s a site detailing tours and a museum devoted to The Quiet Man, while a fan recounts his love of the film, as well as his trip to Ireland.

Also, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, the mothering instinct in me would like to tell you that if you go out drinking tonight, please, please, please do it safely. And since I stopped drinking about two years ago, have a green beer for me. I am currently cooking a huge pot of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes and since my mother only taught me how to cook in huge quantities, I have enough food to feed a small army. If it were possible, I’d invite anyone reading this to come on over and have a plate–there’s even enough for seconds and thirds!

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woman of the year

Without Love (1945) was the first Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn movie I saw when I began my classic film phase and I loved it upon first viewing. Unlike a lot of the romantic comedies made today, I thought it was sophisticated and funny, with just enough drama to keep me wondering how it was going to all turn out. Of course the great supporting performances by Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn helped, but after Without Love, I was hooked on the Tracy/Hepburn pairing. Who wouldn’t be? They had incredible chemistry together. Even when their characters weren’t in love, they looked at each other with such love and adoration in their eyes. It’s hard to resist a pairing like that.

Like a lot of classic movie fans, I favor Tracy and Hepburn’s romantic comedies. Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike and Desk Set are my favorites, while the aforementioned Without Love and the rarely seen State of the Union follow closely behind. I’m not too big on their dramas, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is just okay. It’s depressing to see Tracy in his final film, and I’m not too big on social message pictures either.

One of the last Tracy/Hepburn movies I saw was oddly enough, their first pairing: Woman of the Year (1942). I was ecstatic to see it scheduled on TCM because I figured I would love it.

I was wrong.

Maybe I should correct myself: I loved it until that final scene where Tess Harding (Hepburn) makes a total and complete fool of herself in that kitchen. It’s absurd and infuriating that such a smart, brilliant woman would be a total disaster. I can understand Tess’s inability to cook, because I’ve encountered some people like that in my life. But when they close up on the scene of an overflowing waffle maker? Forget it. They lost me. Anyone would be smart enough to know that the batter was overflowing. But not Tess Harding! She’s absolutely incompetent! And boy, does George Stevens want you to know it.

The original ending was to be Tess and Sam Craig (Tracy) at a baseball game, where her enthusiasm for the game overpowers his. She begins yelling and screaming at the players on the field, overshouting Craig. Test audiences hated it. As the producer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz put it: “The average housewife was going to look up at this beautiful, brilliant accomplished goddess up there on the screen and well, hate her guts.” I’m not sure why they would, although perhaps housewives would feel threatened at seeing someone ‘have it all’. Thus, the new ending was written and filmed, causing test audiences to go nuts for the picture. Hepburn hated it. She hated seeing how the strong woman finally “got hers” and I have to agree. As someone who broke the mold and –gasp!– wore pants, Hepburn had to be dying inside at seeing her character made such a fool of. And it bothers me to see such a strong, confident woman being reduced to something that should be laughed at. How dare Tess become an enthusiastic baseball fan! Who does she think she is?

The whole ending shows you how different society was in those days. Nowadays, most guys I know love it if their girlfriends/wives are interested in sports. It’s sexy, not threatening. But in the 40’s, the woman’s place was in the home and kitchen and to have Tess become a sports fan whose love for the game overshadows her husbands? Well, that certainly wasn’t ladylike!

How times have changed.

So you don’t get me wrong (and I have to phrase this carefully, so it doesn’t come out sounding wrong), I have no problems in making a man happy. In my past relationships, I’ve always gotten a kick out of doing something good for a boyfriend. That’s part of the give and take in relationships. So maybe that’s why my perfect Tracy and Hepburn relationship is summed up in Pat and Mike (1952). Ten years later and now she’s the star athlete. The tide was already turning.

What I love about this movie is that Tracy doesn’t look down at Pat because she’s into sports. If anything, that’s what interests him–granted, it’s because he can make money off of her, but without the sports, Pat would just be another woman. It’s her domineering fiance, Collier, that makes her uncomfortable. Just one glance at him and Pat is suddenly losing at every single game, whether it be golf or tennis. I also find it interesting that while being an athlete, Hepburn’s Pat is much more feminine than many of her other characters–love is a big deal for her. She doesn’t give Collier any sort of big, feminist speeches–even when she jumps off the train, it’s more free-spirited than an act of major defiance.

The gender balance shifts when Pat beats up the thugs that are harassing Mike– while an entire audience watches, of course. It’s one thing to be a great female athlete, it’s another to turn the tables and have a woman defend the man. How humiliating!

Even in the jail scene (featuring a hilarious Charles “Buchinski” Bronson as one of the thugs), Pat’s vocal manner is soft and delicate, almost as though she’s describing a play she had just watched. Since Mike’s ego has been bruised, Pat now knows it’s up to her to make things right. And this is why I love the ending: Mike has to be her savior, her knight in shining armor, her man, just to make him feel better. It lets him know that she really does love and respect him and it’s really sweet. Hepburn’s Pat just wants to make him happy, just like Tess in Woman of the Year. Only this time she gets to keep her dignity intact.

I write this because Woman of the Year was playing on TCM this weekend and I tried to give it another chance, only to get all riled up at the ending. The best I can say about the infamous kitchen scene is that without it, the public probably wouldn’t have wanted to see anymore Tracy and Hepburn films. And that? Would have been a tragedy. Hepburn’s dignity was traded in for better stories, such as Adam’s Rib and Desk Set, which allowed her to be smart and succumb to Tracy’s masculine charms. Sure, the public loved to see Tracy stick out his big bear paw and smack Hepburn down. I like to see it too. That’s what made their films so charming. I just don’t like to see it at the expense of someone’s dignity, no matter how funny it may seem, that’s all.

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