(On TV, March 2018) There’s quite a lot that I don’t particularly enjoy about The Quiet Man, starting with John Wayne and the overly romanticized portrait of the Irish. I should probably add right now that I don’t have anything against Ireland of the Irish diaspora—after all, I’m part Irish myself (much diluted) due to a quirk of French-Canadian history—but I’ve seen enough Irish romanticism in my life to be largely immune to it by now. As for John Wayne, the irony is that I don’t like him but I like many of his movies especially when they feature him as a quasi-villain. Alas, that’s not the case here, as Wayne is out of his traditional element as a disgraced 1920s boxer returning to Ireland to reclaim his family farm. As with most “stranger coming to town” stories, he falls in love (understandably with a character played by Maureen O’Hara), makes a few friends and temporary enemies that he’ll have to deal with before a happy ending comes back. The Quiet Man is in colour largely to showcase Ireland’s Green tone and O’Hara’s fiery-red hair. It ends with a memorable knock-down drag-out fight played for laughs in the middle of the village. Wayne looks a bit lost in trying to act tough in the middle of a comedy, while the film’s blatant idolization of the rural Irish lifestyle will be lost on those who, like myself, can’t see what the fuss is about. As a result, the film is a bit obnoxious at times, and definitely too long otherwise. Director John Ford knows what he’s doing, so I suspect that this is as clear a case of “this film is not for me” as it’s possible to get. The Quiet Man is a fine film, but it just didn’t resonate. At all.
(On Cable TV, March 2018) Not all Oscar-winning movies are created equal, and it’s mind-boggling that a dull movie such as How Green Was My Valley would beat out Citizen Kane as the best picture of 1941. Not that this is entirely surprising: Director John Ford’s film is the kind of maudlin chronicle of a small town that Hollywood finds it easy to love. Unchallenging, promoting easy virtues and executed with maximum pathos thanks to a few well-chosen deaths and overall atmosphere of nostalgic longing, topped with an entirely respectable sad ending. The title tells you almost everything you need to know. How you’ll react is up to you—I found myself intermittently entertained by some of the episodes, but generally bored by the entire thing. The black-and-white cinematography, though excellent, does How Green Was My Valley no favour—it’s one of those rare cases where a colour film would have been more appropriate (and not solely for Maureen O’Hara’s red hair). Everyone’s mileage will vary. I’d rather watch Citizen Kane another time.
(On DVD, January 2018) Due to cultural osmosis, you already know how Miracle on 34th Street ends, with mailbags proving the existence of Santa Claus. But what may not be so iconic is the rest of the film, with its sugar-coated view of Macy’s department store, and especially with its Santa Claus character barging in on human affairs for a while. There’s a tension in seeing as pure a character as Claus trying to fit within the harsh reality of ordinary humans and Miracle on 34th Street does manage to get quite a lot of mileage out of this premise, and resolve it in a way that works for everyone. In-between, we get a rather lovely look at mid-century Manhattan in its airbrushed glory. Maureen O’Hara is fine as the sensible lead character, but Edmund Gwenn owns the movie as Kris Kringle in his genial charm. One of the quintessential Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street remains surprisingly interesting even absent the holiday element.