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Pirate Chic? Maureen O’Hara Shows Us How

Why do I like the 1952 pirate film Against All Flags? It’s very simple. It’s the scarf. That scarf had me at hello.

And the boots.

In fact, if I have to be a pirate, if I was forced into it, if someone pointed a gun at me and told me I had to be a pirate, I would want her wardrobe. I’d even take the hat with the purple feathers and the pistol. I’d probably take it if I wasn’t a pirate.

Anthony Quinn is mildly surprised

Another reason to like the film is that it stars Maureen O’Hara and Errol Flynn. She is a pirate named Spitfire and he is a British Officer pretending to be a deserter so that he can infiltrate the pirate island stronghold and scupper their cannons so the British navy can clean the pirates out.

This is a  latter-day swashbuckler for Flynn, though a somewhat more harassed Flynn than the derring-do Flynn of the 1930s. He still derring-does, but frequently wears an expression of….well, harassment. He’s trying to do this job, but has run into Spitfire and rather inconveniently fallen in love, which ignites distinct hostility and jealousy from Anthony Quinn’s pirate captain. Not to mention the slightly loopy Indian princess he rescues from a fate worse than death, who keeps flinging herself on his neck, which ignites the jealousy of Spitfire. It’s difficult to get a job done with people either trying to kiss you or kill you.

Spitfire, on the other hand, is the only woman of any influence on the island and inherited her pirate ships from her father. She was raised to be an excellent markswoman, the better to defend her honor. She will even fight her own duels if necessary. She’s also not bad at fencing, though we are, alas, deprived of the pleasure of seeing her fight against Flynn. He gets to fight Quinn while she takes on some nondescript pirates. Phooey!

Though having lived as a pirate her whole life, she doesn’t have any particular loyalty to them. She is a woman who has learned of necessity how to get along in an aggressively male world and by the time she meets Flynn has decided that she is tired of constantly warding off the unwanted attention of other pirates. It’s exhausting to be in a perpetual state of fending off rapacious men. She wants to try out a different life, one with maybe more room for wearing dresses and letting her hair down, so to speak.

She does actually wear some dresses in the film, but it’s her pirate costumes that catch one’s eye.

The pirate ships look more like sets and Flynn seems to have a double for his fight scenes, but the film is lighthearted and O’Hara in particular seems to be having fun striding about the scenes and fencing…and wearing those awesome boots. I’d make that movie for the sake of wearing those boots. And the scarf. And the hat with the purple feathers. And nearly everything else about her attire. If you have to be a pirate, you might as well be a stylish one.

This is my contribution to the “Swashathon,” hosted by Movies Silently. Make sure to read all the other piratical postings, here!

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Movies

 

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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.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Drama, Romance

 

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Maureen O’Hara – As Singer

Classic-The-Parent-Trap-1961-classic-disney-25659872-768-862A little while ago I watched The Parent Trap again after many years and during the movie Maureen O’Hara briefly sings to Hayley Mills a song written by the Sherman Brothers called “For Now, For Always.” Since I am a suspicious person, and because she actually sang well, I wasn’t initially sure if that was truly her singing. Perhaps I should have realized – after all she did some singing in The Quiet Man, too – but I honestly had no idea that Maureen O’Hara was a singer as well as an actor. She just never starred in a musical, as far as I knew (though it turns out that very early in her career she did do a musical called They Met in Argentina, with a score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, that was supposed to cash in on Down Argentine Way). In her autobiography, she said that she loved singing even more than acting.

Not one of the Sherman Brothers’ (Robert B. and Richard M.) more celebrated or recognizable songs, “For Now, For Always” is still lovely song and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. This song, along with “Let’s Get Together” and the theme song, “The Parent Trap,” were the first songs they wrote for Disney and it allowed Maureen O’Hara to at least sing a little, though the movie still does not pass as a musical.

Maureen O’Hara also sang a few songs in The Quiet Man. Once again, I am embarrassed to say that all these years I have been assuming that it was not really her own voice I was hearing. So often, actors and actresses were dubbed during those years that unless I have some positive knowledge that the actor in question is a singer, I just assume it is not really them (perhaps an unfair assumption).

And what I did not know was that Maureen O’Hara almost got the part of Anna Leonowens in The King and I. Producer Darryl Zanuck wanted her for the role, since she could act, look beautiful and still sing beautifully. She sent Richard Rodgers a recording of her singing some of his songs and after he listened, he said that she did indeed have a nice voice, but that he would not have a pirate queen playing in his musical. Alas for Maureen O’Hara. The world never got to see her in a musical. I think Deborah Kerr did a wonderful job, had sizzling chemistry with Yul Brynner and that The King and I stands as the finest example of successful and believable dubbing (Marni Nixon dubbed for Kerr), but I now kind of wish I could have seen O’Hara in the role, too. After all, if you are making a musical, it always seems like the best thing is to get someone who can actually sing (though I would a thousand times prefer that you dub someone’s voice rather than allow an actor who can’t sing to unleash their sound upon the world).

In this tribute to O’Hara for her 90th birthday, the background vocals are sung by O”Hara herself, singing “Hello, Young Lovers” from “The King and I.”

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2015 in Musicals, Uncategorized

 

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