Thursday, 27 June 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1952: John Wayne in The Quiet Man

John Wayne did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sean Thornton in The Quiet Man.

Against type usually refers to an actor who plays good guys playing bad guys or vice versa. Wayne sort of plays against type here although not in the way one usually sees an against type performance. John Wayne is of course best known for all the westerns he starred in and he often carried a gun. This is one film where Wayne does not even hold a gun once and is a very different story about an American raised but Irish born who tries to return to his birth place to settle down and escape his old life. Maybe it was that different nature of the role is what caused his snub despite the fact that the film was nominated for best picture and actually won best director for John Ford.

This is not to say this is not a John Wayne performance, instead rather he uses what is best about his on screen persona to portray his character in this film. The title the Quiet Man is apt for Wayne. This is not to say he is some sort of George Smiley sort here, but rather Wayne just plays him in a modest fashion. This is a great example of a true low key charm. Wayne doesn't try to pile on anything about his character instead lets his character to be a very likable sort by just letting his natural charisma play out with ease. There is no question that why most everyone would take a liking to Sean Thornton, because Wayne makes him just a man with a nice warm personality.

Wayne in this film acts as the perfect guide for us through the pleasant setting of the small Irish village of Innisfree. Wayne does this carefully and very effectively. There is a nostalgia and distinct pleasure in his performance that adds to the pleasure of watching the film. One moment in particular that is excellent is just the moment as he looks upon his old childhood home and remembers his mother's words about the place. Wayne in his face tells us a large portion of the motivation in his smile as he looks at the place, and we see the genuine joy that Thornton feels in his homecoming which suggests properly that Thornton is trying to find that wonderful place his mother always spoke of.

As with many films of this nature the town is filled with various characters. The Quiet Man really works because all these character only add to the film with none of them being too over the top or out of place. Wayne adds to all of their more flamboyant performances for his own performance which is a little more easy going in a few ways. Wayne is great in his reactions to everyone in the town which he always handles well. Wayne is quite endearing in all of these scenes as he shows only an honest enjoyment of almost all those around him, and he becomes the perfect sort of welcomed outsider. He never blends right in with them, but Wayne shows that he can be comfortable with them in his own way.

The core of the story of this film is a love story though between Sean and the fiery Mary Kate Danagher (Maureen O'Hara), although it is not an easy one due to the objections of her brutish brother 'Red' Will Danagher (Victor McLaglen). Wayne and O'Hara have excellent chemistry here, and once again it is established in rather quiet way. Much of the attraction and love between them is shown through only really the smallest reactions to one another. They are beautifully handled by both actors as this is not a romance that involved big speeches, or even the usual romantic comedy back and forth insult routine. Instead they portray a powerful attraction and connection through mostly their manner to one another, and it works incredibly well.

Wayne and O'Hara do well to establish their character's love as something always underlying so even when they to have quite the conflict it is believable that they would stay together. Their conflict comes from her believing him to be a coward as he refuses to fight her brother despite that her brother will not give her rightful inheritance. Wayne is excellent in portraying the way Sean does not want or even entirely understand why to deal with Will. Wayne shows in part what this comes from is being the outsider to a certain degree and just doesn't see what's important about it. Wayne importantly never makes Sean seem foolish, instead he allows us to entirely empathize with Sean's lack of cultural understanding.

There is another reason though and that is also the secret reason why Thornton came from America which is that he was a professional boxer who killed a man in the ring. Once again Thornton's battle with his own guilt over the death and the fear of fighting again. Wayne again handles this all in very subtle moments, and mainly silent. Once again though Wayne's method is absolutely works in the role and these scenes are quite powerful in portraying what haunts the man as well. One especially great moment is in a flashback where we see Sean reaction to the man's death. It is a terrific moment for Wayne as he says nothing but we see just how it tears him apart inside. Sean is able to get over it, but again Wayne handles the realization in an unassuming yet entirely satisfying fashion.

This is definitely a different character for Wayne with his character trying to avoid violence, and all he ends up doing is getting in a rather comedic fight. Wayne shows here that he does not need to shoot someone to be a compelling screen presence. He uses his charm to give one of the very best romantic comedic performances. It is a shame that the Academy failed to recognize Wayne for this film despite the amount of nominations and support the Quiet Man found in other categories. Wayne focuses on the basics of the character finding his place in the film wonderfully, and just all around giving a winning performance that really brings this great film together.


Michael Patison said...

How about Maureen O'Hara?

Louis Morgan said...

I thought she was very good.