The great American director, John Ford, is known for two kinds of movies, aside from his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, a film I find somewhat uncharacteristic of his other work. The one kind of film was Westerns, often Westerns about the Army in the west – like his cavalry trilogy (Fort Apache from 1948, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon from 1949, and Rio Grande from 1950). The other kind of film was movies about Ireland and the Irish, ranging from the dark Irish civil war story The Informer (1935), through tonight’s film, a charming, sentimentalized view of the Emerald Isle from 1952, to the story of the final political campaign of an Irish-American mayor The Last Hurrah (1958). In the process he made movies over and over with a set of the same actors, most famously with John Wayne, who in this picture plays the American boxer in the land of the bogs and the little people, but also with Victor McLaglen, who plays Maureen O’Hara’s brother, and with Ward Bond and Mildred Natwick, who also appear in this cast. The critic David Thomson mentions Jack MacGowran, who plays Ignatius Feeney, as a standout – a real Irish actor, whose stage work included parts in the plays of Samuel Beckett.
John Ford had been making movies for Republic Pictures for some time, including one of the three cavalry trilogy films, Rio Grande, but this production, an expensive one for that studio, marked a departure from Republic’s usual B-picture Western fare. Republic consented to do it on the condition that Wayne, Ford and O’Hara make a Western first – the same one, Rio Grande. Another of Republic’s conditions was that the film was to have a running time of less than two hours. When Ford screened the film for the Republic execs, he stopped the film after two hours – right in the middle of a fistfight that was key to the plot resolution – and they agreed to let it run for its full length, which is 2 hours 9 minutes.
At the Oscars, Ford won best director for this movie, and Winton Hoch and Archie Stout won for best cinematography. The film was nominated for best picture, the only time a Republic movie was ever nominated. Other nominations were for Victor McLaglen for best supporting actor, Frank Hotaling, John McCarthy and Charles Thompson for best art direction, Daniel Bloomberg for best sound, and Frank Nugent for best adapted screenplay. I hope you enjoy watching this picture postcard view of 1952 Ireland with me tonight.