The Quiet Man who caused quite a racket

Old Mayo

Who knew there was such a backlash against The Quiet Man

Who knew there was such a backlash against The Quiet Man

In terms of professional recognition and box office takings, the 1952 film The Quiet Man was a big success, the romantic comedy-drama was a gamble for Irish American director John Ford who was, until then, known largely for his high octane Westerns. The gamble paid off and Ford scooped his fourth Best Director Oscar for The Quiet Man. Though the film's stars John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara did not receive nominations, the film was nominated for seven awards and eventually won two at the 1953 Academy Awards. Its success was good news for Ireland, especially along the Mayo-Galway border, and the village of Cong in particular, where the film had been shot. Ford and his Hollywood entourage arrived in the west in the summer of 1951 to begin recording the film's outdoors scenes. The production had brought welcome employment to the area and the end result showcased the beauty of the region to a global audience.

On the film's release, and no doubt with a sense of ownership and pride, the people of Mayo flocked to the county's picture houses to get a glimpse of Hollywood's finest in their own backyard. During the seven showings of the film in the Ideal Cinema in Westport, every seat and emergency chair was occupied. Cinema employees had to repeatedly turn disappointed crowds away. The cinema was rushed on one occasion and the front door broken. The guards had to be called to control the mob. In Kiltimagh, the stream of cars into the town for a showing of The Quiet Man was said to be reminiscent of the scenes at the annual Croagh Patrick pilgrimage. All box office records at the Kiltimagh cinema were broken. 

The film was very much an idealised depiction of Irish society which Ford used as the setting for mostly comedic acts. Yet, despite its entertainment value and obvious pluses in terms of tourism, the film had its very vocal detractors. Storm clouds gathered in the Atlantic shortly after the film was first shown in the US. The Irish Embassy in Washington wrote to Conor Cruise O'Brien, then an official in the Irish Department of External Affairs, to warn him that The Quiet Man might create a false impression of Ireland which would provoke protests from Irish America. Once the reels began to turn in Ireland, angry letters began to appear in the local press and they continued for several months after the film's public opening.

Criticism was not wide-ranging and centred mainly on the supposed anti-Catholic and anti-Irish undercurrent of the film. The accusations could hardly have been true. The director, Ford, was born John Feeney to a father from Spiddal and a mother from Inis Mór in the Aran Islands. The leading lady was born in Ranelagh, Dublin, and was known for her zealous love of her native country. Some were not for convincing however, with one critic claiming, “Most Irish people are of the opinion that The Quiet Man is a disgraceful travesty of religion and nationality. The cinema business with its multiple divorcees posturing as Glamour Girls, shows little regard for Papal Encyclicals'. It would appear that the character Michaleen Og Flynn's suspicion of ‘patty-fingers’ was shared by some of the viewing public. The critic believed that the hallowed land of Cong had been abused and that it should instead be the setting for “a film portraying the grandeur of our maidens and the chivalry of our manhood instead of the salacious imaginations of morons”. 

Each angry letter encouraged more disapproval in which the film was dubbed “a filthy film”, “misleading, disgraceful” and which “gave a wrong impression of the Mayo people”. Cinema proprietors who called themselves Catholic were called on to boycott the film. In a reference to a scene where the character Father Lonergan covers his clerical collar in order to create the impression of a large Protestant congregation to help the local Reverend, an outraged letter writer spat, Never would a Catholic priest tie a cover over the Roman collar. No, never till death”. The role of Father Lonergan was seen by another as an abomination. Partition", they forced, "will not go if they [Hollywood] can buy our souls with paltry doles nor if we laugh off the attempt of the 'citizens of Sodom' to depict one of 'Christ’s anointed' as a 'Mickey Mouse' or a chaplain to pub-rowdies. Oh, what would the film’s Mayo detractors have thought of The Quiet Man being selected in 2013 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”?


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