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Patty-fingers in the Holy Water

Of all the classic films set in Ireland or about Ireland and it’s people, there’s only one I consider absolutely perfect for lighthearted St. Patrick’s Day viewing. It boasts all the elements essential to movie perfection: stunning technicolor, a matchless cast of the best character actors of the time, a musical score guaranteed to get your toes tapping and an endearing love story. Yes, that’s right – The Quiet Man.

Trivia and stories abound when it comes to The Quiet Man. There’s the day John Wayne accidentally sprained Maureen O’Hara’s wrist in the famous kiss scene by unexpectedly blocking her slap. Or the dirty trick the Duke and John Ford played on Maureen for the scenes where she gets dragged across the sheep fields (operative word there being sheep). But by far the best story is the explanation about the last scene, where Maureen whispers something to the Duke and he stares at her in disbelief. Maureen speaks of it often, but there’s always one detail she leaves out:

There is only one fitting way to end our discussion of The Quiet Man, and that’s with a whisper. No matter what part of the world I’m in, the question I am always asked is: “What did you whisper into John Wayne’s ear at the end of The Quiet Man? It was John Ford’s idea; it was the ending he wanted. I was told by Mr. Ford exactly what I was to say. At first I refused. I said, “No, I can’t. I can’t say that to Duke.” But Mr. Ford wanted a very shocked reaction from Duke, and he said, “I’m telling you, you are to say it.”

I had no choice, and so I agreed, but with a catch: “I’ll say it on one condition; that it is never ever repeated or revealed to anyone.” So we made a deal. After the scene was over, we told Duke about our agreement and the three of us made a pact. There are those who claim that they were told and know what I said. They don’t and are lying. John Ford took it to his grave, so did Duke and the answer will die with me.

Curiosity about the whisper has become a great part of the Quiet Man legend. I have no doubt that as long as the film endures, so will the speculation. The Quiet Man meant so much to John Ford, John Wayne, and myself. I know it was their favorite picture too. It bonded us as artists and friends in a way that happens only but once in a career. That little piece of The Quiet Man belongs to just us, and so I hope you’ll understand as I answer:

I’ll never tell – Maureen O’Hara

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Though the movie fan in me is saddened at the thought this piece of history will never be revealed, I love Maureen for preserving this memory and keeping the secret. Her devotion to her friends and the times they shared making the film touches my heart. And if I were one of the people who knew magic phrase to make John Wayne’s head snap, I wouldn’t tell either.

The Quiet Man is one of my favorite films, not just to watch for St. Patrick’s Day, but for all time. The teaming of Maureen and John Wayne is one of the few on screen castings that actually deserves the title of “electric.” Since TCM decided to give The Quiet Man a miss for the lineup today, head over to YouTube, where a very kind soul has uploaded the film in its entirety.

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