The ruins of a chapel near Dun Aengus on the Aran island of Inishmore, off Galway, Ireland. Photo by RC.
Lots of film buffs think John Ford is the best American film director who ever lived. He was talented. His record of four Academy Awards--for The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and The Quiet Man (1952)--remains unbeaten to this day.
Born Sean Aloysius O'Fearna to a family of Irish immigrants in 1895, his Celtic values and sentimentality inform his work. And though I seem to be the only classic film fan who doesn't like his (truly weird) film The Searchers (1956), today is a good day to celebrate his many, many other winners.
Stonework at St. Kevin's monastery outside Dublin. 2011 photo by RC.
I've just seen The Risin' of the Moon for the second time and it is a lovely little film in every way. Its cast comes almost entirely from the famed Abbey Theater in Dublin. Filmed in and around Galway in 1957 it is an anthology film, introduced and tied together by Irish-American film star Tyrone Power.
The first two pieces in the anthology are good--but it is in the last story, based on a play by Augusta Lady Gregory--one of the founders of the Abbey Theater--that is the best. Titled "1921" it takes place during "the troubles" and though it involves terror and treason, it is a very funny tale. The anthology film is now available on DVD and Blu Ray and I highly recommend it.
The Molly Malone statue, Dublin. Photo by RC, 2011.
How Green Was My Valley (1941) tells a tale of Wales, not Ireland, but as Richard Burton reportedly told Peter O'Toole when first they met: "Ah, Welsh and Irish. We're cousins under the skin." This film is one of Ford's most emotional and features all the classic immigrant themes--advancement through education, anger at and fear of the rich and powerful, the impact of religion, the importance of ritual and family. If you can see this film and and not cry, I'm not sure what you are made of. The scene in which Maureen O'Hara's wedding veil is caught by a breeze will stay in your mind long after the film has ended.
The rainbow that followed me as I toured Ireland this winter.
Finally, The Quiet Man (1952) is Ford's tribute to the Ireland of his dreams--the Ireland that is no more, and perhaps never was. It is the Ireland an Irish-American (played by John Wayne) retreats to when facing his world in America has become too difficult. And, when the courting Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne get caught in a rainstorm near an ancient churchyard--it contains the steamiest scene on film between two people who keep all of their clothing on. Lest you think this is a "woman's picture"--the last half hour or so is one long fight scene--with breaks for drinks between punches, at the local pub.
I guess you know there is something about the Irish I love--how so much literary talent can be concentrated in such a small population is one mystery that enchants me. I think, if you take a look John Ford's best films (and stay away from The Searchers--or perhaps explain it to me) you'll agree. Sean was a sentimental old eccentric who sucked on a handkerchief when he directed his movies. But he is a good example of the luck of the Irish. So very lucky, he was, to have been born with so much talent.
Lyrics to the Irish Ballad "The Risin' of the Moon"
Oh! then tell me, Shawn O'Ferrall, Where the gatherin' is to be?
In the ould spot by the river, Right well known to you and me.
One word more—for signal token Whistle up the marchin' tune,
With your pike upon your shoulder, By the risin' of the moon.
By the risin' of the moon, by the risin' of the moon,
With your pike upon your shoulder, by the risin' of the moon.
Well they fought for poor old Ireland, And full bitter was their fate
(Oh! what glorious pride and sorrow Fill the name of Ninety-Eight).
Yet, thank God, e'en still are beating Hearts in manhood's burning noon,
Who would follow in their footsteps, At the risin' of the moon!
At the rising of the moon, at the risin' of the moon,
Who would follow in their footsteps, at the risin' of the moon.
John Keegan Casey (1846-70)
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