Thursday, March 17, 2005

The pluck of the Irish

Recently, it was quietly announced by Disney that a DVD release of "Song of the South" would be coming out soon. To those who know about the film and it's history, this was quite a shock. For years, the movie has been unavailable in any format due to the controversial nature of the Uncle Remus character in the film. But it seems that, like "Birth of a Nation", the quality of a film is overriding the dated material and is making its way into people's homes for their enjoyment.

This many seem like an odd segue into a mention of John Ford's classic "The Quiet Man", but there is indeed a connection. First off, it should be noted that this film is one of Mrs. Mosley's absolute favorites, and it has become one of my favorites since I first watched it with her. I have since enjoyed it on many other occasions, and I have picked up on details in the film on each of my subsequent viewings.

The story concerns an American named Sean Thorton (John Wayne) who travels back to his ancestral Irish town of Innisfree in order to settle on his family's land. He has trouble adjusting to some of the cultural traditions, including the painstaking process of courting the lovely Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara). Mary Kate's powerful brother Squire 'Red' Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) is dead opposed to the union and makes as much trouble as he can for them. Unfortunately for Sean, Mary Kate is so deeply rooted in the local traditions that she gives him as much trouble as her brother at times. But with a little help from the townsfolk, everything turns out right in the end.

This is a simple and fanciful tale, and it's filled with the colorful Irish village folk we've seen in countless films since then such as "Waking Ned Devine" and "The Matchmaker". But it was also made over fifty years ago in 1952, and some things that occur in the film would probably never make it in a film made today. At least, not a film that took most everything in such a light hearted manner. Take, for instance, when Red Danaher discovers some of the townsfolk's complicity in the scheme to get Sean and Mary Kate together. He accuses one of them in a pub.

Red Danaher: So the I.R.A. is in this too, is it?
Hugh Forbes: If it were, Red Will Danaher, not a scorched stone of your fine house would still be standing.
Michaleen Flynn: A beautiful sentiment!
Then there is much later when Sean finds out that Mary has left in the early morning hours to catch a train and leave forever due to her shame of him for not fighting her brother. The classic sequence shows him charging purposely to the station, yanking her out of the train compartment, and sometimes pulling/sometimes dragging her along all the way into town so that they may both may once and for all confront Red Danaher. The townsfolk follow both of them in a gathering crowd and, at one point, a woman offers Sean her assistance.

Fishwoman with basket: Sir!... Sir!... Here's a good stick, to beat the lovely lady with.
Again, I have to stress that both of the scenes are played with gentle good humor as is most of the film. This is fun. This is a lark. This is charming. And despite what some might think after reading those two quotes, I'm here to tell you it is all those things. I suppose it all boils down to the context, and these quotes in the context of the story and the time it was filmed are not as offensive as they may be in another story at another time.

The final note on all this is a piece of trivia courtesy of the IMDb. According to them, the city of Boston, Massachusetts censored one line in the film when it was first screened. The line is spoken by Michaleen Flynn when he spots Sean's broken bed on the morning after the honeymoon. He gazes at it and decrees, "Impetuous! Homeric!". Truth be told, this is my favorite line in the film, and it's interesting to note how Boston theater owners in 1952 were more scared of the implication of raucous, bed-breaking sex than they were fanciful mentions of terrorist bombings and spousal abuse.

But it's all uncensored in the DVD version, which is gorgeous looking and quite inexpensive anywhere your bound to find it. Give it a look if you ever have the opportunity. It's not an exaggeration when I tell you that they simply don't make 'em like this anymore.

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