Blu-Ray Review: The Quiet Man

Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Frank S. Nugent
Based on a Story by: Maurice Walsh
Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen
Country: USA
Running Time: 129 min
Year: 1952
BBFC Certificate: U


John Ford is best known as a director of westerns, but none of the films that picked him up his impressive four best director Oscars are from the genre. Stagecoach got him a nomination, but it was The Informer, The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man that snagged him those golden statuettes. I haven’t seen nearly enough Ford films as it is (he’s directed an awful lot of well respected titles), but I’ve been working my way through the classics in my quest to watch more westerns and now find myself venturing into his non-westerns with this Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray release of 1952’s The Quiet Man.

The plot has a little bit of The Taming of the Shrew to it. Sean Thornton (John Wayne) travels from American to rural Ireland, where he was originally born. He’s an ex-boxer (a fact only hinted at in the first half of the film) and is looking to reclaim his family home and settle down. He quickly sets his eye on Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) as a wife to settle down with, only she won’t fall into his arms so easily (which is where The Taming of the Shrew comes into it). She’s strong-willed and stubborn which doesn’t help, but the biggest thing that stands in Sean’s way is her brother and guardian Squire ‘Red’ Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). According to strict Irish tradition, any man wanting to marry or even court Mary Kate must have Red’s permission and unfortunately Sean ruined his chances by buying up land (his aforementioned home) that Red desperately wanted. Thus begins a series of challenges faced by Sean, who refuses to resort to violence to resolve the problem, due to a tragedy in the ring during his old life back in America. This seeming unwillingness to ‘man up’ brings shame on Sean’s name, which further threatens his relationship with Mary Kate.

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Mamo 419: White Privilege

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Straight came Outta Compton like a box office rocket, so Mamo is on the scene to discuss the movie’s champions and critics, including (professional contrarian?) Armond White’s thoughts on the film and black activism in general. Plus we spend five or ten minutes with Fantastic Four, cuz it’s us.

2014 TCM Film Festival: How Green Was My Valley

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[Spoiler content: I describe a couple of comical vignettes in relative detail, and I mention vaguely the trajectory of Angharad’s plot thread.]

This timeslot was easily the toughest choice of the festival for me, with John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley in the El Capitan with Maureen O’Hara in attendance vying with a specially curated program of John and Faith Hubley animated shorts introduced by Leonard Maltin (among other tempting things, but those were the most tempting for me). Neither one is likely to be repeatable. I’m not usually a star-watcher and I rarely choose TCM Fest screenings based on the guests, but I finally decided that I’d regret missing the chance to see a 94-year-old Maureen O’Hara more and headed over to the El Capitan line super-early, because the buzz going around was that this was going to be a HOT ticket. And that was certainly true – I got there an hour early, and I was somewhere around number 260 in the passholder’s line. Every seat was full in the 1000-seat theatre.

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The love for O’Hara as soon as she came on the stage was just about overwhelming. I was up in the balcony, far from the stage, but looking at the press photos later, she looks pretty great at 94, eh? Robert Osborne started off asking her about John Ford; her response: “I thought I was here to talk about me.” Fabulous, and with a gorgeous Irish lilt. After that, Robert’s planned list of questions fell by the wayside as Maureen clearly had her thoughts on the end of life, the comfort of her faith, and the importance of joy, especially in later life. It wasn’t necessarily what you’d expect of a guest appearance, but the audience didn’t care. I felt privileged to have seen her at all, and heard what she wanted to talk about, and in a way it was refreshing to have that instead of yet another response to “what was it like to work with [insert director and actor].” It also set the mood well for the pleasures of How Green Was My Valley, which deals with the nostalgia, joy, simple pleasures, and hope of a Welsh coal mining community in the face of everyday danger and death.

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Blindspotting: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and The Grapes Of Wrath

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My last Blind Spot of 2013 (before picking my 2014 ones) – dedicated to the gents of MAMO.
 

As pre-WWII statements of America, Mr Smith Goes To Washington and The Grapes Of Wrath both warn against allowing the powerful elite control over the little common man – a call to arms often heard on the cinematic landscape and relevant to today’s political and economic climate as well. But even though they were filmed within a year of each other (1939 & 1940 respectively), they reach much different conclusions about the country via very different storytelling methods. Their biggest commonality might actually be that each film was a showcase for a blooming star – a 31 year-old Jimmy Stewart looking perfectly young and naive as a hick junior senator in Mr. Smith and Henry Fonda, still with boyish good looks at 35 and piercing eyes that illuminate the black and white landscapes of Grapes, bringing some more mature depth to the strength of Tom Joad. They had each been in the business for about 5 years, had each recently come off star-making lead roles for the first time (Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life and Fonda in Young Mister Lincoln) and then never really looked back. They became Hollywood staples now destined for big things, gorgeous starlet co-stars and future best-of lists.

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Looking at these films for the first time almost 3/4 of a century later, only one film stands out for me with a story that equals its message – John Ford’s The Grapes Of Wrath. A big reason is Fonda’s focused take on Joad, but it may be mostly to do with the film’s staged approach to releasing its message about the rights of workers. It’s not that it’s always subtle mind you, but the plight of these migrant farm workers builds throughout the story and allows you to feel more than just sympathy for these poor homeless people. Particularly since Tom becomes someone you can respect and even attempt to emulate as he learns different ways of disarming volatile situations. The junior senator Jefferson Smith, on the other hand, starts out naive as the day is long and – though his intentions are good and “wholesome” – seems to flail against whatever he can’t immediately break through. Early on after his move to Washington, the press make fun of his hick background and Smith reacts by going around and punching every writer in the face (including an old man getting into a car). This transition from friendly aw-shucks yokel to rage-filled vengeance seeker doesn’t really endear him to you, so when he gets frustrated that his lone idea and cause is threatened due to a bill allowing the creation of a dam (on the property earmarked for his boys camp project), you can’t help feel that the day long filibuster that results is mostly a temper tantrum. He ends up on the right path fighting corruption and greed, but he stumbles into it and needs help to navigate the terrain.

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Blindspotting #9 – The Searchers and Stagecoach

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I had already chosen The Searchers for my Blind Spot list (one of the first I picked last year actually) by the time it was slotted into the number 7 position in this year’s Sight And Sound Greatest Films of All Time Poll. It ended up being the only member of the S&S Top 10 list that I hadn’t yet seen, so it was nice to at least close off on that tiny milestone. I would have reached it sooner, though, if I had managed to get around my excuse for not having seen it yet (essentially the same one I previously had with Casablanca): I’ve read so much about it and seen so many clips that I felt I already knew the story. In the case of Casablanca, as soon as I realized how extraordinarily great it was, I probably should have discarded that excuse for any and all movies. Slowly, but surely, I’ll get there.

I had no excuse for avoiding Stagecoach, though, apart from some stupid thought in my head that a Western from the 30s would be slight and low on excitement. It’s funny how expectations can so easily be shattered, isn’t it? Stagecoach – John Ford’s kickstart to the Western genre from 1939 – is a wonderful blast of fresh air, moving at an entertaining clip while setting bars for action photography that would remain for years to come. Meanwhile The Searchers was both more and less than what I expected: a post-doc course on how to frame scenes and actors through scintillating visuals and with a cast that contains nary a single cliche or unflawed character, but also with a tendency to undercut its power with broad humour and acting choices.

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I should tread carefully here though – Ford’s flip of the standard conventions of a Western is deserving of its place in film history if only for its anti-hero Ethan Edwards. John Wayne’s portrayal of Ethan doesn’t allow for much warmth since his racist ideas don’t take much effort to tease out and short of a tender moment early on with his two young nieces (who shortly thereafter get kidnapped by Indians), Edwards’ only moments of happiness seem to be at the expense of others and its a wonder why we stay with him on his travels. In particular, as he journeys to find the girls, he never hesitates to remind his main companion Martin (who was taken in by Edwards’ brother and wife when young and who has some Indian blood in his heritage) about his dim wit and void of a personality. Of course, these are indeed traits that Martin seems to possess and it hurts the plausibility of each and every moment he has with the lovely Laurie. When additional bits of poorly constructed slapstick are thrown in, those scenes become downright difficult to watch. Add to that every utterance coming from the dopey and dense Mose Harper (one of the set of deputees a U.S. Marshall has in tow) and the film continuously gets pulled back from the dark waters it so clearly should be wading into deeper. For every time Ethan loses control (as when he shoots the eyes out of a dead Indian or fires randomly into a herd of buffalo to diminish the amount of food for the Indian tribes) or when they discover a body under one of the tombstone like rock formations in Monument Valley or when they must examine a burned out shell of a home, it feels like the film needs to follow that scene with an attempt to reassure the audience that there’s still some good old fashioned fun to be had in the Old West. For me, though, whenever this happens it reset Ethan’s despair, loneliness and anger as well my own feeling of where his quest was headed. Fortunately Wayne is able to stir Ethan’s intensity, determination and hate right back up in very little time as he delivers a commanding performance throughout. The film’s final image is justification enough for its standing: Edwards left alone, somewhat helpless and framed all in black, after his remaining family have re-entered their house to begin anew.

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DVD Review: The Iron Horse

Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Charles Kenyon & John Russell
Starring: George O’Brien, Madge Bellamy, Fred Kohler, Cyril Chadwick
Producer: William Fox
Country: USA
Running Time: 150 & 133 min
Year: 1924
BBFC Certification: PG

The Iron Horse was John Ford’s breakthrough film. At the tender age of 29 Ford had already directed around 50 films (most of which were shorts), but it was his involvement in this, one of the earliest blockbusters, that gave his name clout in Hollywood and set him on his way to becoming one of, if not the most famous and celebrated of American directors. I must admit, despite the pedigree I was a little hesitant to sit down and watch The Iron Horse. As open-minded as I am in my film-viewing, a two and a half hour silent film about building a railway sounded a bit dull. I was expecting to appreciate watching some big epic visuals but grow tired of a dated, slow narrative. In actual fact what I got was pretty much the opposite.

The film charts the construction of America’s first transcontinental railway from a mere dream to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the bill to start work, all the way to the last nail being hammered in as the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines meet in the middle. Of course, simply watching the rails getting laid wouldn’t make much of a movie though, so the massive achievement is used to frame a classic love story. Davy Brandon’s father dreams of the day East and West were linked and takes his son West to fulfil this, leaving behind the boy’s best friend Miriam Marsh. On the way Brandon senior is killed by a group of Cheyenne, led by a two-fingered white man, but Davy escapes. We jump forward several years to the start of work on the tracks where we follow a now grown up Miriam (Madge Bellamy) who lives with her father and fiancé, working on the Union Pacific line. Deroux (Fred Kohler), a nasty piece of work, wants to persuade Miriam’s father to take a longer route through land that he owns, which seems to be the case until Davy (George O’Brien) shows up out of the blue. Through his travels with his father he found a shortcut through the mountains. This of course causes problems for Deroux and Jesson (Cyril Chadwick), his right hand man and fiancé to Miriam. These two therefore plot out numerous ways put a stop to the righteous Davy.

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Cinecast Episode 225 – We Saw the Future

Thanks so much to Jandy Stone for dropping by to help talk movies this week. It would not have been much of a conversation without her. Hope you kicked arse for the lord with your trivia contest! At any rate, there’s surprisingly lots to dig into this week despite it being that odd time of year when not much is going on in the multi-plexes and people are spending their time tooling up for school and enjoying the beautiful weather. That of course, does not deter us from sitting indoors, ignoring the children and watching film. In limited release, we talk about Miranda July’s sophmore feature, The Future. Also on the platter is some British, sci-fi, humor action in Attack the Block and lastly Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle in The Guard. Grab some Pepsi for our discussion on the ins and outs and what have you’s of Kubrick’s Spartacus, Disney showing signs of life and film noir is still alive and kicking in the Netflix Instant realm. We remain relatively spoiler free throughout, so enjoy!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_11/episode_225.mp3

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Treasure Trove of Silent Films Uncovered

Stories like this warm my little film buff heart. A cache of 75 films from the silent era previously thought lost has just been uncovered in New Zealand, and are being preserved by the New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation, along with other American archives. Among the films are a 1927 John Ford film called Upstream, a Mabel Normand-directed short comedy, and a period drama starring Clara Bow. It’s estimated that all but 15% of Ford’s silent films are lost, so every one that’s found is a pretty big deal.

From Variety:

Also uncovered in the collection is a trailer for another lost Ford feature, 1929’s “Strong Boy” starring Victor McLaglen […] plus numerous Westerns, shorts, docus and newsreels. There’s even an industrial film about the making of Stetson hats. The earliest work dates to 1898.

The New Zealand find is an example of how state archives and private collections outside the U.S. can be a treasure trove of early films thought to be lost to the ravages of nitrate deterioration.

“We hope that our example will encourage other international partners who have safeguarded ‘lost’ American films for decades to share their long-unseen treasures with the world community,” said Jamie Lean, division director of the New Zealand Film Archive.

According to the National Film Preservation Foundation website, the films will be made available, at least in part, for streaming on their website. One of the films, 1916’s The Sergeant, is already there.

Cinecast 168 – The Hacksaw Dilemma

 
Revenge is a dish best served cold. So claims an old Klingon proverb. While probably not technically accurate as to the origin of the phrase, it is apropos of this weeks cinecast. It would perhaps be even more appropriate to say that revenge is a dish served often, and in a versatile and diverse number of ways! Even though that does not exactly roll off the tongue – we present a couple of lists to prove it. Tying in with this weeks top ten is our full (and shockingly spoiler free!) review of the Michael Caine revenge drama, Harry Brown. Though there are only two of us to go back and forth this week, we still find some DVDs to discuss and maybe grump out a bit at dismal outlook on our near future at the multiplex.

As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comment section below and thanks for listening!




To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_10/episode_168.mp3

 
 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Finite Focus: No Man With a Good Car Needs to be Justified! (Wise Blood)

Wise_Blood_onesheetJohn Huston often directed films about mad, lonely men (from fierce Captain Ahab in Moby Dick to the Humphrey Borgart twofer of The Treasure of Sierra Madre and The Maltese Falcon) while moonlighting as an actor playing monsters on screen (none greater than Noah Cross is Chinatown). Strange that the combination of those two things seems to be crazily overlooked in the case of Wise Blood (God bless Janus/Criterion for digging out this little cult gem), especially considering that the lonely and disturbed young man at the center of the film is brilliant character actor Brad Dourif.

Dourif plays Hazel Motes, a WWII veteran returned home with a few dollars in his pocket, no prospects and no family. All that remains of his childhood is the haunting scar tissue of his fire and brimstone preaching grandfather (yes, a villain of sorts played by the director) and a shriveled and abandoned piece of property in the middle of nowhere. With not a lot of intelligence, but a boatload of determination, Hazel is determined to “do something he never did before.” Dourif is a force of nature in this film, who at a young age (only a couple years past his Oscar Nomination for One Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest) was not quite on the path of the character actor who would play super-creeps in such varied films as David Lynch’s Dune, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and HBO’s Deadwood (or Voice Chucky the maniacal puppet in the Child’s Play films). Nevertheless, he more than holds his own against three other character actor greats here: Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton and Amy Wright as they attempt to force his naive determined (yet lost) soul from his forward and somewhat nutty trajectory (forming the Church of Christ Without Christ) into compromise with their particular (and petty) religious huckster schemes.

This particular scene requires the above paragraph to set it up, as Motes’ impulsiveness, faith (of sorts) and determination (and eventual frustration) are all summed up in how he purchases a rotting Ford Fairlane from a crusty used car dealer. I love the way that the dealer simply picks up his son and throws him out of the way after the son tries to ‘play dad.’ Another eventual theme that comes out in the film. Motes makes two ‘escape attempts’ to get away from his strange life as a preacher in the Church of Christ without Christ, and John Ford (well really Flannery O’Connor, the author of the book Wise Blood is adapted from) uses the ‘open road,’ a common metaphor for freedom and re-invention in American Cinema (and literature, I suppose) as an ironic bit of fatalism. The final ‘breakdown’ of the car rests on the incline of a steep hill whereupon a hellfire passage of Jesus graffiti further suggests that Motes is not getting away from either religion or his fathers legacy. Oh, did I mention that it is funny? That’s Southern humour for y’all.

Film on TV: June 1-7

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Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, playing at 12:30am on the 5th on TCM

I‘ve been posting these TV schedule recommendation run-downs on my blog for a few months, and it was suggested I crosspost them over here as well. This turned out to be a good time to start, at least for classic movie fans, because Turner Classic Movies is apparently highlighting a different Great Director every night in June, showing some of their best movies. That means they are showing a BOATLOAD of great films. I’ve included a tiny intro to each director – note that after the director blurb, all the rest of the films that day on TCM are by that director. There may be films on other channels interspersed, because I’ve kept the times chronological.

These tend to lean heavily on TCM, because studio-era films are where my film knowledge is the strongest. I throw in films from IFC and Sundance as well, but not as many, frankly because I don’t know as many of them; if you have other channels you’d like me to include, let me know. And if any other R3 writers want to fill out the IFC and Sundance portions a bit more in the future let me know. Oh, and this month it’s going to lean especially heavily on TCM, because of the Great Director theme. I normally don’t pick almost EVERY SINGLE FILM on TCM for these posts, I swear.

All times are Eastern Standard.

Monday, June 1

9:30am – TCM – Love Affair (1939)
This film is not as well known as its remake, 1957’s An Affair to Remember, which has the advantage of having the more famous Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr rather than Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer – who were both huge stars at the time, but are less known now. Both films were directed by Leo McCarey, and tell of a shipboard romance and a fateful rendezvous. I actually like Love Affair a tad better, but that could be just because I like being contrarian.

2:30pm – TCM – Duck Soup
Leo McCarey directs the Marx Brothers in what many think is their best and zaniest film. This is the one with Groucho becoming the dictator of Freedonia and declaring war on nearby Sylvania. Frequent Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont is on board as the wealthy woman who causes the rivalry that leads to the war. Personally, I prefer A Night at the Opera to Duck Soup, but this may be your best bet if the idea of musical interludes from Allan Jones (of which Opera has several) turns you off. Must See

6:15pm – TCM – The Awful Truth
This is one of the definitive screwball comedies (along with Bringing Up Baby), starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a married couple who constantly fight and decide to divorce, only to wind up meddling in each other’s lives (and screw up other relationship attempts) because they just can’t quit each other. Dunne’s impersonation of a Southern belle showgirl is a highlight. Must See

8:00pm – IFC – Clerks
Kevin Smith’s first feature, done for cheap, has become a cult classic, and though I think he’s done better films since Clerks, it’s definitely a worthwhile watch.
(repeats at 2:05am on the 2nd)

TCM – Great Director: John Ford
TCM starts off their celebration of great directors with John Ford, usually considered one of the greatest auteurs of the American studio era. He’s best known for westerns (like Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, playing tonight) and war films, but turned out plenty of quality dramas as well (like The Quiet Man). Disappointingly, TCM is not playing The Searchers, arguably his best film. Pick it up on Blu-ray, though – it’s not very expensive and it looks incredible.

10:00pm – TCM – Stagecoach
Major breakthrough for John Wayne, here playing outlaw Cisco Kid – he and the various other people on a stagecoach form a cross-section of old West society that has to learn to get on together to make it to the end of the ride alive. The most memorable, though, is Claire Trevor’s prostitute – a woman who does what she must to survive, and is shunned by everyone except Wayne. Her reaction to him treating her as a lady is perfect. Must See

2:00am (2nd) – TCM – The Quiet Man
John Wayne plays a retired boxer returning to his ancestral home in Ireland, where he meets spitfire Maureen O’Hara and decides to marry her. She’s game, except her somewhat boorish brother Victor McLaglen disapproves and refuses to give up her dowry, and tradition is tradition! A great supporting cast of character actors and an epic (and comic) boxing match round out The Quiet Man into one of the most entertaining and endearing films John Ford ever made. Though I will say the last time I watched it, I was a little more concerned by its gender politics than I had been in the past.

4:15am (2nd) – TCM – She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
The first of John Ford’s informal “Cavalry trilogy,” which continued with Fort Apache and Rio Grande – all three films star John Wayne, though they’re unrelated in plot and character. Technically, I guess that makes them both westerns and war films, doesn’t it? Heh.

Tuesday through Sunday after the jump, highlighting Frank Capra, King Vidor, Ingmar Bergman, Steven Spielberg, William Wyler, and Michael Curtiz. And other random films, of course.

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