‘The Quiet Man’ And How To Treat A Lady

Society has changed a lot since the 1950s.

The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara is one of the all-time great movies. Hollywood initially released it in 1952. It is fascinating to watch it today while considering the relationship between the two lead characters. And it’s interesting to think about how people would be horrified if anyone treated a lady in real life like Wayne’s character treats O’Hara’s character in the film.

I wrote, “When Hollywood Men Spanked Women,” earlier in December. One of the films I mentioned in that post was, McLintock!, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. And as I was tweeting about that column, I received a reminder about another Wayne and O’Hara movie.

I had forgotten about that scene in The Quiet Man. In fact, I had forgotten a lot about The Quiet Man despite having watched it years ago on AMC (when AMC was still American Movie Classics). So I searched YouTube for some of its scenes. And while I didn’t find the bedroom scene (you can read about it in this TCM analysis of the movie), I did find the following clip which is just as good.

What a great scene. And what outrage we’d witness today if any man treated a woman like Wayne’s character (Sean Thornton) treated O’Hara’s character (Mary Kate Danaher). And it wouldn’t just be precious snowflakes who would have a fit; everyone would be outraged.

That notional outrage is an interesting thing to consider. Is it that the old days weren’t as good as some people think? Or is it that times have changed so much that even the people who think they hang onto the values of the past have succumbed to modern ways of thinking?

Regardless, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and the rest of the cast and crew of The Quiet Man must not have shared the values we have today. They saw nothing wrong with a man manhandling a woman (indeed, they played it for laughs). They apparently believed there are times when it is okay for a man to hit a woman.

Modern society certainly can’t fathom this but perhaps Americans of the 1950s thought that different women have different personalities, and that some women can take a lot rougher treatment than others.

Or, another way to put it is the way the Los Angeles Times put it last year in its headline of Maureen O’Hara’s obituary: “Maureen O’ Hara, the ‘only leading lady big enough and tough enough for John Wayne,’ dies at 95.”

O'Hara starred with Wayne in five movies total. And the same quality that allowed Wayne’s character to treat her character the way he did in The Quiet Man was a quality that O’Hara had in real life: toughness and an ability to give as good as she took.

Still, despite these thoughts on how Americans of the 1950s may have looked at life and male-female relationships, no modern person could tolerate a man treating a woman the way Sean Thornton treated Mary Kate Danaher (at least not anyone who writes political commentary or regularly uses social media).

And it’s interesting to think about that, and to consider what it means about our times and culture and the fact that they’ve changed so much.


Michael  Loftus
EditorMichael Loftus
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