Tag Archives: Barry Fitzgerald

Revisiting The Quiet Man (1952) – Six Random Observations

4366009_origEven people who don’t usually watch old movies know of The Quiet Man, one of those classics of the classics and it was one of the classic films I grew up with. But as seems to happen with all the movies that I grew up watching, I didn’t watch it for years and years and since 2015 seems to be the year for revisiting old favorites, I recently watched it again. But since it had been so long, it almost felt like a new movie, which is always fun to see an old favorite with fresh eyes. It was a complete delight and I was reminded of why the movie has a special charm.

Here are six things I noticed for the first time – or perhaps I should say – actually thought about when I saw them.

1) No men go to Mass! When Sean Thornton (John Wayne) returns to Ireland and runs into Father Lonergan (Ward Bond), the priest asks him if he will see him at Mass. This puts Sean Thornton on the spot, but he does go. But Mass is by no means packed and the only other people in attendance are women and one old man. Michealeen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) sits outside the church and smokes his pipe and the rest of the men are at the pub. Of course, one good thing comes of Sean Thornton’s attending Mass. He is able to see Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), who appears to be one of the devout women who presumably attend regularly, and “play patty fingers with the Holy Water” (in the words of Michaeleen Oge Flynn).

Father Lonergan and Michaeleen Oge FLynn

Father Lonergan and Michaeleen Oge Flynn

2) The British are entirely negligible, isolated and out of touch. There’re not exactly a lot of English people running around in The Quiet Man – this is purely an Irish tale, with some talk of “treason” and the IRA, mostly talked by men in the pub to their fellow inebriates. However, during the big fight scene at the end when all the patrons rush out to watch Sean Thornton and Squire Danaher (Victor McLaglen) duke it out, there is one man still sitting in the pub. He’s called General and he looks rather like your stereotypical English officer. I can’t think of anything more funny or ironic than in how this man (I’m assuming he is an Englishman) continues sitting, unaware, unmoved, uninterested and isolated from the entire Irish community.

3) When Mary Kate and Sean Thornton go out courting together and give the matchmaker, Michaelean Oge Flynn, the slip they run into a field and she takes off her stockings so that she can run through a stream. While Sean Thornton tosses his hat and gloves away into the field, I was amused to note that despite running through fields and streams, getting soaked and rained on and making out with Thornton, there she is at the end of the day, still hanging on tightly to those stockings. Of course, they’re probably her best, and probably her only, pair of silk stockings, so this makes sense.

4) Mary Kate Danaher was a spinster. That little nuance totally missed me as a child. A spinster is someone who is an established old maid, with no prospects or expectation of ever marrying. She’s called a spinster several times by Michaeleen Oge Flynn and no one seems to think of her as a marriageable women. It seems rather incredible, considering how absolutely gorgeous she is, but Mary Kate is taken for granted in Inisfree. Michaeleen Oge says it’s because of her temper and lack of fortune. Apparently, people can’t see beyond that and, truly, there appears to be no man worthy of her anyway (they’re all in the pub, drinking), until Sean Thornton arrives. He sees her and it is love at first sight and seems to be for her, as well.

Mary Kate Danaher, Squire Danaher, Sean Thornton and Michaeleen Oge Flynn

Mary Kate Danaher, Squire Danaher, Sean Thornton and Michaeleen Oge Flynn

But as a spinster, it meant that she was destined to live with her brother her whole life and cook and clean and serve him and his hired hands, with no home or possessions of her own.

5) And this brings me to my fifth observation. I finally understood Mary Kate’s perspective. As a child, I didn’t quite get the fuss about her dowry. I recognized that it was Ireland and they did things differently, but it still didn’t make sense to me. So what about the dowry; all you need is love, right?

But I think her being a spinster is important. After her brother denies them her dowry, she says she’s not truly married to Thornton and refuses to let him into the bedroom. She says she’ll wash and cook for him, just like she did for her brother all those years, but she’s still a servant just like she always was.

This is illuminating. It’s more than just the money and her furniture, as Mary Kate says several times, and even more than just the fact that she’s afraid that she married a coward. It’s partially a matter of pride and independence. She wants to come to the marriage with something of her own – her own furniture and her own money. She doesn’t want to play the beggar maid. As long as her brother is withholding money, he’s got something on them and she’s still not quite independent of him. She’s not quite her own woman and, in her view, Sean Thornton’s not quite his own man.

the-quiet-man-john-wayne-maureen-o-hara-1952He doesn’t get this, though.This is a classic example of people talking over each other’s head. He speaks and she speaks and they do not understand each other. This is partially his fault, though. She might have understood if he’d told her about his boxing past and how he’d killed a man in the ring and that after that money never mattered to him. But he can’t blame her for not understanding something she knows nothing about. He says to the Reverend Mr. Playfair, “maybe she doesn’t love me enough.” But love is not just blindly assuming that someone’s private reasons for something are good ones. Perhaps I’m being too modern in this critique. I don’t know if they ever do fully understand each other’s perspectives, though.

6) I always wanted to know what Mary Kate was saying in Irish to Father Lonergan. She’s obviously talking about how she made her husband sleep in a sleeping bag instead of his own bed. I read on IMDB of someone who says they know Gaelic and that she’s asking Father Lonergan if it’s a sin. I suspect Father Longergan said it was a sin. Anyway, later she and Thornton are sitting by the fire looking forlorn. But the next morning, Sean Thornton is walking out of his bedroom looking extremely happy with the world at large, only to discover that she’s left him. This is what finally gets him angry enough to fight. It’s not just because she left him; he thought everything was finally all right and for her it wasn’t. In a way, by finally living as man and wife, she fulfills her part of the marriage contract and goads him into fulfilling his part (as she sees it) of getting her dowry. And by the end of the movie they are truly married.


Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Drama, Romance


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Bringing Up Baby

1938 – Directed by Howard Hawks – Written by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde – Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, May Robson, Charles Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald, Skippy, Nissa

Bringing_up_baby_film_still[1]The first time I saw Bringing Up Baby I didn’t quite like it. It was too much for me, somehow; too hectic or breathless, and Katharine Hepburn got on my nerves with how she seemed to persecute poor Cary Grant. Why couldn’t she just leave the guy alone?

I watched it again, however, and enjoyed it thoroughly. In fact, I found it rather irresistible. I don’t know what it was; if it was the leopard, or I was just in a better mood or if it was my grandmother’s description of Katharine Hepburn’s character as a dingbat that gave me some perspective on the story.

One thing that reconciled me to it was realizing that David (Cary Grant) was ripe, as it were, to have his life disrupted. He’s engaged to be married at the beginning, and looking forward to his honeymoon, but his fiancé doesn’t want a honeymoon or anything to distract from his work…but he sounds like he wants a little distraction.

David is a paleontologist who has spent the last four years of his life putting together a skeletal brontosaurus. While trying to get funding for his museum he runs into Susan (Katharine Hepburn), who falls hard for him and pursues him for the remainder of the film until he finally gives up and realizes that he loves her, too.

Grant_Hepburn_Bringing_up_baby[1]Of course, he has to be driven nearly out of his mind first. She lures him to her house in Connecticut (in old movies, people are always going to their country homes in Connecticut; I suppose because it’s close to New York City) by getting him to help her with a leopard named Baby that her brother sent from Brazil. Once there, she steals his clothes, the dog steals his dinosaur bone that he needs to complete his brontosaurs, they chase the dog everywhere and dig up old, buried shoes, the leopard escapes, her family thinks he’s having a nervous breakdown (he kind of is, really) and they run around singing loudly “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” (by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields) to try and lure Baby off of roofs and out of forests. The film starts out funny, but it just seems to keep building, until you are doing nothing but laughing.

And I guess the reason I forgave Katharine Hepburn’s character this time around is because she really does play a dingbat. The Heritage Dictionary defines dingbat as “an empty-headed or silly person,” which describes her pretty well in this movie. Perhaps that’s slightly unfair. She seems empty-headed because of her single-minded focus on getting him, and it’s hard to blame her for pursuing Cary Grant. I guess I appreciated that she wanted David for himself and not his career and was willing to do anything – including spending days digging around in the dirt for his lost dinosaur bone – to win him.

Bringing-Up-Baby[2]There are also some wonderful performances by May Robson, Susan’s Aunt Elizabeth, who thinks both David and Susan are quite frankly nuts, but has a weakness for stories about hunting. Charles Ruggles is the game hunter who is usually telling Aunt Elizabeth his stories, as well as demonstrating the difference between a loon’s call and a leopard’s call. And Barry Fitzgerald is the drunken gardener who keeps seeing a leopard wandering around Connecticut.

Bringing Up Baby was Katharine Hepburn’s first real comedy. It’s been said that the director Howard Hawks had seen the way she interacted with John Ford while Ford directed her in Mary of Scotland (1936) and wanted to capture that rapport in the film, with Cary Grant playing the rather serious, completely befuddled man at the end of her teasing. Cary Grant was a year after his huge success in another screwball comedy that had made him a huge star and defined his image,  The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne.

The movie is not a particularly romantic film; there’s too much turmoil for there to be any moments of repose (romance usually requires at least a few quiet moments). Studio heads wanted Hawks to add more romance and to get rid of Grant’s glasses and to tone down the screwball elements (pratfalls, outrageous behavior, wild misunderstandings), but he refused. I’ve read screwball comedies described as being anarchic, which seems a fair description and Bringing Up Baby is often viewed as being the quintessential screwball comedy.

bringing-up-babyleopard[1]It wasn’t quite as well regarded when it was released. It was only afterwards that it has acquired its reputation as one of the finest examples of that genre. If you’re curious about screwball comedies, I read a very nice article about screwball comedies on, which summed up screwball comedies as “sophisticates gone silly.”

thEEF3N18ONotes: The dog who steals the bone is played by Skippy, a terrier who also featured as Asta in The Thin Man and After the Thin Man, as well as Mr. Smith in The Awful Truth.

The leopard’s name is Nissa and she apparently got along very well with Katharine Hepburn, though many of the scenes with both the leopard and the actors employed split screens and trick photography.

As usual, TCM has several interesting articles about the making of the movie:

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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Movies


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