DXMachina (dxmachina) wrote,

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Past Imperfect

I was talking with with helvirago the other night about how perceptions change over time, and how in some cases what was once accepted behavior is no longer acceptable, and that portrayal of such behavior in an older work can destroy, or at least interrupt, one's enjoyment of the work. We were talking about Shakespeare, and her example was The Taming of the Shrew, a play she despises. I haven't seen it in a long while, (and most of my memories of it are corrupted by the Moonlighting version) so I have no strong feelings about it, but something that I did watch recently that I felt similarly towards was The Quiet Man.

The Quiet Man is a movie I have enjoyed immensely, and I picked up the DVD last week, and watched it the other night. John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara are wonderful, and there's a great supporting cast, including a lot of John Ford's usual group, and I was again enjoying it. The story is about Sean Thornton (Wayne), an American ex-boxer who returns to his native Ireland after he kills an opponent in the ring. There he falls in love with Mary Kate (O'Hara), the feisty sister of his bullying neighbor, Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). Danaher is tricked into allowing them to marry, and refuses to give Mary Kate her dowry. Sean refuses Mary Kate's demands that he fight for the dowry, so she refuses to consummate the marriage, and eventually decides to leave him to go to Dublin. This is where is suddenly get dicey. An enraged Thornton physically pulls Mary Kate off the train, and then drags her through the woods and fields back to her brother's farm to either get the dowry or give her back to her brother.

It's a disturbing sequence, because although it's meant to be played for laughs (O'Hara is doing pratfalls the entire way), and Mary Kate never appears to be afraid of Sean, Thornton is in a violent rage and she is getting bounced around. Meanwhile, the entire population of the village is following along, shouting encouragement to the husband, with one woman even offering him a stick, "To beat the lovely lady." They finally reach the farm, and Thornton throws his wife down at her brother's feet, at which point the brother is shamed into coughing up the money. Finally satisfied that honor is done, Mary Kate kisses her husband, tells him she'll be waiting for him at home, and marches off proudly. Then Thornton and Danaher have an epic fist fight and wind up best friends and everyone lives happily ever after. What's jarring about it is that up to that point, Thornton was doing his best to keep his rage bottled up, a kind man who is finally pushed too far. Instead of this leading to his downfall, though, his violent outburst actually solves all his problems. Wince. I do still enjoy the story as a whole, because most of it is sweet and funny. It's just unsettling, is all.

It could be worse, I suppose. I remember when I read Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout, written in the '30s and set in West Virginia, where one of my fictional heroes, Archie Goodwin, repeatedly uses a nasty racial slur for black children, along with a lot of other slurs. I was shocked, because I'd never seen such language in any of Stout's other books. Was it true to the times? Probably, but it doesn't mean I'm comfortable reading it. It never turned me off to Stout's other books, because it is the exception, but I won't read that one again.

[edit: Much later I did reread the book and realized I misremembered. Archie is a racist, but Wolfe berates him for it. The language I was thinking of doesn't appear, so I am probably conflating Archie with another detective, possibly Marlowe. That is, unless they elided the language from a newer edition.]
Tags: books, movies

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