Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - The Quiet Man

February was a bit of a lonely month for me. This winter was the coldest in NYC in recent memory, and that cold, coupled with the fact that this was my first Valentine's Day (a holiday I usually don't put a lot of stock in; if you really love someone, you don't need a day set aside to tell them you love them, you do it every day) alone in eight years made me feel lonelier and more listless than usual. It was just enough to make the idea of Valentine's Day make a whole lot of sense: An oasis of warmth and light in the middle of the cold, dark months.

"But Daniel," I hear you say. "How on God's green Earth does any of that relate to John Ford's The Quiet Man, which Nathaniel chose for the St. Patrick's Day edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot?"

Well, I'll tell you. For nearly all of the past month, I have been aching to watch a romantic movie, but haven't quite been able to bring myself to do so. I didn't want to cry and feel resentful and end up ruining one of my favorite films by watching it under poor circumstances. When I queued up The Quiet Man, I remembered the (ridiculously entertaining) climactic fight between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen, and the fiery, untamed Maureen O'Hara, and the adorable little Irish imp Barry Fitzgerald. I remembered the impossibly lush green scenery of Ireland. I remembered how the film somehow manages to just barely avoid feeling like one giant Irish cliche, despite by all rights belonging in that realm.

What I had somehow forgotten is that the film also contains two of the hottest kisses ever captured on film.

And this windswept quiet storm of a film turned out to be just what I needed to warm me up and set me right again.

When John Wayne's Sean Thornton first sees Maureen O'Hara's Mary Kate Danaher, she is nothing short of a Technicolor vision of beauty - her bright red hair and underskirt slashing through the film's greens and blues like a fire.
She's just as intrigued by Thornton as he is by her, but she's also afraid, excited, and surprised by her own feelings towards him. If this is love at first sight, it's one of the most interesting images of it ever put on film.
So of course, it's no surprise that when the two actually meet (outside church, because OF COURSE they do) she's not quite sure what to do and basically runs away. She is, after all, a woman who has no problem being just as aggressive as the men in her little Irish village, and this Yankee interloper makes her feel a completely different kind of aggressive - one that scares her, and makes her scared of him.

YES, the film's gender politics are quite wobbly, but as Mary Kate soon learns, sometimes you just have to go with the regressive gender roles, because there's nothing hotter than a big strong man seeing what he wants and just taking it.

...and I swoon as my insides turn to mush. They may have layers and layers of clothing on, but that is downright erotic. For 1952, it's practically porn. This is a romance novel cover-worthy kiss of the highest order. And the best part - why this one is my best shot as opposed to the later kiss - is that there's no score. The only sound we hear is that of the raging wind. Which makes it even hotter - something really special. Mary Kate can feel it, too - when she finally pushes Sean away, it's with a sigh. He's taken all her strength, quenched her fire. It only takes her a second to get it back, though, and she goes to wallop him. If she hadn't taken quite such a large backswing to prepare, she might have landed it, too (apparently Wayne broke O'Hara's hand while blocking that slap, and since the film was shot in sequence, she had to do the entire rest of the film without a bandage - and considering what she has to go through, that's a pretty mean feat).
The shot doesn't stop there, though, as it gets even tighter on the two stars as Mary Kate goes to leave and Sean traps her against the door of his cottage (she came there to sweep up and start a fire, the neighborly, Christian thing to do... AND FOR NO OTHER REASON... she protests, a bit too much). Taking back her power where she can get it, Mary Kate unexpectedly plants one right on Sean's lips and promptly leaves. Oh, Mary Kate. The time for playing hard-to-get has long since passed.

And all this is to say nothing of the film's other big kiss, a rain-soaked as opposed to windswept beauty.

Give me a moment to catch my breath.




Okay, I'm good.

The Quiet Man is mostly a quiet movie, the kind of film that doesn't call too much attention to itself. It's not exactly understated, but it doesn't make any big gestures - and given the gorgeous locations they shot in, director John Ford and cinematographer Winton C. Hoch (both of whom won Oscars for this) easily could have. Instead, they get on the wavelength of their star leads, letting the natural elements of Ireland amplify the heat that exists between them (the later scene in which Sean finally gets Mary Kate's dowry money from her lout of a brother and then burns it, is practically bursting with erotic heat from Wayne and O'Hara, and they don't even touch). The rain, and especially the wind, are just the perfect touches to make these stolen embraces impossible to resist... and too hot to ignore.


  1. That wind blown cottage kiss ALMOST made my Best Shot...because it's just so freaking amazing...but I went with one from O'Hara's aforementioned first scene. Love your choice though...those kisses were HOT!

    1. Totally agree. That first vision of O'Hara is so striking that I very nearly chose it. But then I got to that cottage scene and I think I forgot to breathe. It's interesting because it's all about the way the actors move as opposed to anything the camera really does, but it's placed perfectly and doesn't cut throughout the kiss AND their entire conversation afterwards. Not many directors have that kind of restraint, and the lack of sound only adds to the hotness.

  2. the first image from this film that always comes to my mind is that harlequin-romance-novel-cover-worthy, wind-swept kiss! glad you used a gif because the screen grabs i used just didn't have the same feeling. but my favorite part is actually when she slaps him afterward! too hot to ignore, indeed...

    1. Oh it's so true... I tried a number of different screengrabs but none of them really captured the essence of the shot to me. It NEEDS to be seen in motion. I love that slap afterwards, too. It's all so perfectly choreographed.

  3. Thank you so much for going to the trouble of posting this as a .gif. I love the melodramatic overtones of that shot, it's so intense and Wuthering Heights-ish - you're dead right that it's basically the '50s version of porn.

    I came close to picking this one, for pretty much exactly the reasons you did. I would have gone on a pointless tangent about the way this scene was used in E.T., so it's probably best that I stayed away from it, because you said everything that needed to be said, and perfectly.

    1. Oh you're welcome! And thank you - coming from such a great writer as you, that means a lot!

  4. This movie really is HOT! While I was watching I was imagining all the kinky things those two would get up to. The way they look at each other!