Supreme contrarian that he was, it’s somehow appropriate that director John Ford’s biggest commercial success should be largely disparaged by many of his most doctrinaire academic defenders. Long a dream project for Ford, the film was just too popular, too Irish (make that ‘stage’ Irish), too pleasing (or corny) to stand with his more ornery classics; a misreading that still holds in auteur-ville. And while not exactly incorrect - it is very Irish, very likable - the objections (never a problem for regular film-goers) miss the main point of this story about an Irish-born/American-bred boy who returns to find the old homeland just as he imagined . . . and entirely different & foreign; told thru a series of encounters that test out Ford’s great post-WWII theme about the clash between legend and fact. It's famously articulated in the ubiquitous quote from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE/’62: ‘When the legend becomes fact; print the legend.’ But it pays to remember that Ford consistently did the exact opposite; only to lie about 'the facts' he had just shown us. (Or if not bald-face lie, skirt the truth; seen most clearly at the end of FORT APACHE/’48 with John Wayne nimbly feeding the legend about his disastrous commanding officer, a Colonel Custer stand-in.) Here, Wayne spends most of the film falling into the divide between his blinkered romantic vision of Ireland, and the reality of entering what turns out to be a real, culturally mystifying place. Decked out with fabulist characters & visual design, the film triumphs as fable even when its TAMING OF THE SHREW elements jar.* Wayne & Maureen O’Hara are wonderful together, decidedly sexy; and the closing curtain call Ford arranges enchanting.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Thank goodness O’Hara is such a big strong gal and ‘gives as good as she gets.’ Elsewise, we couldn’t enjoy the delicious non-PC moment when an elderly local offers Wayne ‘a fine stick to beat the lovely lady.’
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Ford abruptly jolts us out of the film’s pastorale pace in a short & brutal flashback, done in silent German Expressionist style, to help explain Wayne’s character. Seeing Ford pull this visual tour de force out of a hat, and watching him effortlessly get-in/get-out in under a minute is awesome (and unexpected) stuff.