Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Wayne goes to Ireland for what should have won Best Picture for 1952

Illustration for article titled John Wayne goes to Ireland for what should have won Best Picture for 1952

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With the Oscars airing on Sunday, we look back at Best Picture nominees that should have won.


The Quiet Man (1952)

Almost everyone agrees on one thing about the 1952 Oscars: That Cecil B. DeMille’s punishingly long blockbuster three-ring soap opera The Greatest Show On Earth did not deserve to win Best Picture. What they tend to disagree on is which movie deserved the top award.

Generally speaking, no one ever goes to bat for Ivanhoe, the start of a loose cycle of Robert Taylor/Richard Thorpe medieval romances produced by MGM in the early-to-mid 1950s. And though John Huston’s Moulin Rouge—best known for its energetic camerawork and for its intentionally reduced black-red-white color palette—has plenty of fans, very few of them will argue that it should have won Best Picture. As far as nominated titles are concerned, the debate comes down to two movies: Fred Zinnemann’s suspenseful Western High Noon and John Ford’s rolling Irish pastoral The Quiet Man.

These are two movies rooted in cultural myth—High Noon in the image of the deadly West and The Quiet Man in that gentle Ireland that seemed to exist only in the imaginations of second-generation Irish-Americans. (Ford himself was born John Martin Feeney, though later he would often claim that his birth name was Sean Aloysius.) They represent different sensibilities, with High Noon being as trim and allegorical as The Quiet Man is episodic and apparently arbitrary.

And yet—at least for this writer—The Quiet Man is clearly the better film, even if it doesn’t make the John Ford top five. (For the record, the real Best Picture of 1952 was Nicholas Ray’s non-nominated The Lusty Men, with The Big Sky and Singin’ In The Rain as strong contenders—and that’s just sticking with Hollywood.) It stars John Wayne as Sean Thornton, a former heavyweight boxer who returns to fictional Innisfree, Ireland to reclaim the family farm. There’s a sensitive, complicated romance—with independent-minded Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara), sister of local bully Red Danaher (Victor McLaglen, one of Ford’s best company players)—but the real attraction here is Ford’s masterful maneuvering of tones and his fluid handling of a large cast of colorful characters, qualities which also defined his iconic (and then-underrated) Westerns.

Shot partly on location in Ireland and designed in the lushest greens ever squeezed out of Technicolor, The Quiet Man is a movie that isn’t about a whole lot, but yet seems to contain so much—from Wayne’s easygoing charisma to the notoriously protracted climactic fight to the febrile, film-noir-like flashback to Sean’s boxing days. To put it in simpler terms: if High Noon is a story, The Quiet Man is a whole universe.


Availability: The Quiet Man can be streamed through Netflix and can be rented or purchased from YouTube and Amazon Instant. It is also available on Blu-Ray and DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, rented from your local video store/library, or purchased from Amazon.