I was never a fan of The Quiet Man. John Ford's vision of Ireland was too Oirish, condemning every Hollywood movie set here since to be filled with characters who, when not drinking, would say 'Oh Bejaysus' while perched atop a horse and cart. Also, while the rest of us can be in just a bad mood, redheaded women were hence forth dismissed as 'fiery'. A living death. However, Se Merry Doyle's charming documentary has the subtle power to approach Ford's movie with fresh eyes.
Se Merry Doyle paints an interesting picture of Ford in the lead up to directing a film he, too far removed from his Irish roots for his liking, always wanted to direct. Taking Ford's story from his immigrant Irish parents from Ireland to Portland, Maine, and his introduction to Hollywood, Doyle builds up this grizzled, cigar chomping caricature who at his heart yearned for the land of his father (one wouldn't describe Ford as a softie, as that would be incorrect). Doyle has also rummages through the archives to find some fascinating behind the scenes footage. Taking his camera onto the streets of Cong, which doubled up for Ford's Innisfree, Doyle finds Americans who have travelled here for a bus tour of the film's locations and interviews a local character who runs a Quiet Man memorabilia shop.
But what that annoying Oirishness? The documentary is at pains to show that it wasn't Ford's intention to show the country up as backward, cart-driving, diddle-aye pub-dwellers. The critical analysis here, which is very interesting but is relied on a little too much, states that Ford knew that this Ireland no longer existed; when Wayne moves from the train station, where no one is sure of the way to Innisfree, to the waiting horse and cart outside, he's entering a mythical land. Fresh eyes, indeed. Dreaming works hard to explain away the controversial line, 'Here's a good stick to beat the lovely lady with,' but despite the perspiration on the part of the apologists, this reviewer is still confused as to how it can be taken any other way.
With help from Peter Bogdonavich, Martin Scorsese (who seems to like every film ever made) and Maureen O'Hara Dreaming The Quiet Man may just find for the film some new fans. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff.