Thursday, May 26, 2011

Monkeypuzzle: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

 The Movie
   If this isn't the most misleading movie poster, I don't know what is - I wonder how many males it lured into seeing this sweet romantic film with the expectation of Gene Tierney in tight-fitting evening wear. Instead she spends the bulk of the film wrapped in turn-of-the-century widow's weeds and long gowns with her hair in a prim bun.
   This is just a great movie.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) is a quiet romance, but all of the main characters have enough edge and willfulness that the story never turns saccharine, and the minor players are acted with humor. 
   The story opens with Lucy (Gene Tierney), widowed for a year, declaring to her in-laws that it's time for herself and her daughter to move out.  This doesn't go over well, but Lucy is determined.  She takes herself to the rental agent and, after seeing and admiring Gull Cottage, she determines on the spot to take it.  The agent is concerned, but rents it to her.  She, her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and their longtime housekeeper Martha Huggins (Edna Best) move in, but it isn't long before Lucy discovers that the cottage is haunted by its former owner, an adventuring sea captain (Rex Harrison)...

   A point of contention develops between Lucy and the Captain when she cuts down the monkey puzzle tree in the front yard of the cottage.  I have always wondered what a monkey puzzle tree was - was it imaginary - and is the Captain right about the name?

The Monkey Puzzle Tree
   There is such a thing as a monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), and they are apparently very popular in botanical gardens and as decorative trees.  Originally from Chile and southern Argentina, the monkey puzzle is a type of evergreen or conifer with very persistent leaves that can last for 10-15 years.  In its native range, the monkey puzzle grows in the lower-middle elevations of the Andes in areas receiving high snowfall in winter, and it can grow up to 70 feet tall.  As mentioned previously, it's a popular choice for decorative gardens in other regions as long as the climate is temperate - such as coastal England, where The Ghost and Mrs Muir is set.
   The Captain was right - the 'Monkey puzzle' name comes from a specific anecdote, where an owner of one of the earliest examples of the species grown in England, in around 1850 in Cornwall, described the tree as something that would 'puzzle a monkey to climb'.  The species was first introduced to England in 1795 by the naval surgeon on Captain George Vancouver's ship, who had been served a meal of the seeds in Chile.

   The monkey puzzle is the national tree of Chile, and is currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature) Red List because of logging for timber and for the creation of agricultural land in its native range.  Current conservation efforts include mapping the distribution of the plant and developing infrastructure for restoration.  In addition to being a popular decorative plant, the seeds of A. araucana have been used as food by the Chileans.  The seeds are easily harvested when the cones drop, but this has not been developed as an agricultural crop because it takes a monkey puzzle 30-40 years to mature enough to produce seeds - a real barrier to efforts to restore naturally-propagating forests.

Links and Sources
Monkey Puzzle Tree, UNEP
Araucaria araucana, Wikipedia
Monkey Puzzle Tree, Global Trees Campaign
Monkey Puzzle Silviculture,
Monkey Puzzle Tree, IUCN

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The British Raj: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

The Movie
   Back to the realm of pith helmetsThe Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935, directed by Henry Hathaway) stars Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell, C. Aubrey Smith and Mischa Auer in an adventure tale set in India when still considered part of the British Empire.  Gary Cooper is the lead to the three main players, a brotherhood formed during duty in Bengal.  In the course of duty they confront mortal danger and conflicts of love and duty.
   While this movie is an excellent adventure movie that does more witty exploration of the internal conflicts of soldiers than most of the time, it represents the colonialist perspective of the Empire and has a few strikes against it when viewed from a modern angle.  Reputedly Adolph Hitler's favorite film (I guess one film had to have that unfortunate distinction).  Shot in California, not India. Native Americans were hired from the nearby rez as extras to act as the tribesmen.  Stiff British actors as Arabic chieftans.  But still!  A grand adventure story of its times that has something to say about hard choices and loyalty, when one of the three main characters (whose father happens to be the regimental commander) is taken hostage.

The British Raj
   The protectorate of India under the British Empire (officially the British Indian Empire) began in 1858.  Civil unrest during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 after an extended period under the control of the British East Indies Company led to the takeover of the region by the British Crown.  The Rebellion had several causes; the main cited cause was discontent within the mixed-caste Indian Army.  Also, Maharani Lakshmi Bai, a major leader in the Rebellion, had lost her throne because of British policies.  British reaction to the rebellion, once initiated, was harsh.
Maharani Laxmi Bai
   Under Queen Victoria, the new Empire instituted a system of collaborative rule with local viceroys and leaders.  The governance of India, a large area far from the seat of government of the colonial power, was administered in two modes:    1. British India, where the Queen directly governed the states through her Governor-General, and 2. the Princely States, states ruled with a certain degree by local leaders, but whose foreign, military and selected other affairs were subject to British control.  This second type of government is known as suzerainty, and power was exercised over these 500+ states through Viceroy or the Governor-General.
   The road to the independence of India was a long one.  Mahatma Gandhi began his calling as an agitator for civil and social rights in 1911; India would not gain independence from Britain until 1947 after many failed attempts and tiny steps forward.  Self-rule was finally granted to the region, and it was divided into India and Pakistan.  Burma was also originally a part of the Empire but became independent in 1937.

The Khyber Region
   In Lives, major action takes place in the region referred to as Mogala, 'far north of the Khyber', possibly a reference to the Mughal Empire that previously encompassed Afghanistan.  The Durand line separated Afghanistan from Raj-controlled India (now Pakistan) at the time this movie was made, and was drawn in part through the Khyber region.  This area has been home for many hundreds of years to the Pashtun tribe.
gratuitous Cooper pic
   Prior to the establishment of the British Raj, the British had attempted incursions into the Khyber, but they were repulsed each time.  In the late 1800s, the Durand Line, denoting sphere of influence of each nation, was finally drawn.  Despite the presence of the line, which had been drawn up with both Pashtun and British input, skirmishes continued as one party or the other made mischief in the other's territory.  Border skirmishes and anti-colonialist sentiment form the backdrop of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.

Links and Sources
West Bengal, Official Site 
From Empire to Independence, BBC
Durand Line, Wikipedia
British Raj, Wikipedia
Indian Rebellion of 1857, Wikipedia
Jhansi Tourism

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Edith Head: The Bride Wore Boots

The Movie
    The Bride Wore Boots ain't a great movie, but it's an afternoon's entertainment, and a great example of Edith Head's mid-40's designs.  And who could be a better clothes hanger for those outfits than Barbara Stanwyck, who stars in the movie as Sally Warren, a woman who loves horses and having her way.  Opposite her is Robert Cummings as her horse-hating husband, Jeff Warren, a Civil War historian.  Conflict arises when the youngest member Jeff's fan club, played with seduction by grown-up child star Diana Lynn, takes a real shine to Jeff.  Through a series of unfortunate accidents, Barbara gets the wrong idea about Jeff's intentions and readies a quick divorce...

Film Costuming
Leopard!  She's on the prowl.
   When I've thought of film costuming, my thoughts have been along the lines of: 'what a ton of fun! design an outfit on paper, have your assistants whip it up, make a few changes, a fitting and you're done!'.  Ah, but it is not so, as I learned when I went to find out more about the subject.  Designing a costume for a film sounds like it takes not only design skill and color sense, but diplomacy, patience and an ability to work on the fly.  Short deadlines, accidents on set, and many other factors make costume design more complex than it seems.  In addition, each design must fit with the concept of the character.  Then also there is the human element; one of the reasons Edith Head was so popular with many stars was her willingness to give the person what they wanted and to make them look good.

Costume Genius
    When do Oscar nominations become routine?  When you're Edith Head, famed costume designer nominated every year from 1948 to 1966, 35-time nominee over her career and 8-time winner (still the most for any woman).  A favorite of many major movie stars, Edith had a long and distinguished career designing the costumes for more than 1,100 films.
   Edith truly had a wandering childhood, although she never spoke much about it.  Bits and snippets gathered by her close friends hint at parents who never married, a portion of her young life spent in mining camps in the west and in Mexico, and finally high school in Los Angeles and college at Berkeley.   
   She was taught to sew as a young child and got her first break in costuming at the studio that would soon become Paramount, where she found a job working as a sketch artist and assistant to Howard Greer.  She would continue to work at Paramount for over 40 years.  She married twice and had no children.
Edith and Edna (
   Of Edith's physical appearance, it was said that she had "a face like a pussycat crossed with a Fujita drawing" (Howard Greer).  Through her observations of various studio-engineered star personas like Dietrich and others, she learned the importance of personal style, which became nearly as famous as the stars she dressed:  dark framed glasses with blue lenses (that helped her determine how a color would photograph in black-and-white, dark hair, classic clothes and placid demeanor.  It was distinctive enough to have a character, Edna Mode, based on her in the Pixar film The Incredibles.
   Many of her peers were dismissive of her talent, saying she relied too much on input from her assistant designers, couldn't draw or hadn't any flair.  She did design lower-key looks than many of the other costumers, but it was a classic look that set itself apart by being of the 'less is more' philosophy.  She was a favorite of several directors, including Alfred Hitchcock.
   Over her many years as a costume designer, Edith found insulation from volatile studio politics by working with the stars to give them what they requested and by being extremely diplomatic.  Films she would design in her long career included The Lady Eve, Holiday Inn, Roman Holiday, The Birds and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Her final memorial was a black-and-white film set in the 40s, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, with Steve Martin, released soon after she died in 1981.

Links and Sources
Costume Designer's Guild
This one looks interesting, lots of pictures, good text:  Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer by Jay Jorgenson
A great overview text by a man who knew her well: Edith Head:  The Life and Times...  by David Cherichetti
Edith Head, Wikipedia
Edith Head's How To Dress For Success

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Self-Improvement: The Magnificent Dope

The Movie
  What is success?  Everyone defines it differently, and the conflict in The Magnificent Dope (1942, directed by Walter Lang) comes from people with very different philosophies of success.  Don Ameche is Dwight Dawson, the gung-ho proprietor of a failing success school and Lynn Bari is his business helper and fiancee.  Together with their business partner, (Edward Everett Horton), they hatch a publicity stunt to save their jobs:  they will conduct a nationwide search for the nation's biggest failure and put him through their course.  The man they get is 'boat-renter-outer' Tad Page (Henry Fonda), who wants nothing more than to take his prize money back to Vermont, hand it over to the fire engine fundraiser and then go back to watching trees bend in the breeze.  It's a bit of Mr. Deeds as Dawson and friends try to change the loser into a success, but instead find his philosophy rubbing off on them.  It's an interesting lesson on doing what works best for you (and on how that can be sold as well).

Motivation, Success
   Motivational speakers and success brokers are prime movie fodder for comedy and pathos (think Little Miss Sunshine) because by definition they have to be excellent immediately; there's really no room for trying or for negatives if one is going to hold oneself up as a model of success.  However, there is a good deal of room for psychological coercion through guilt, peer pressure and outright manipulation, as Dawson's character shows.  This breed has been around for a very long time in many guises, but what surprised me most about The Magnificent Dope was how all the trappings for modern motivation were already in place in 1940:  the brochures, magazine articles, publicity, books, posters - all so similar to today, except for the art deco fonts.

The History...
   It's a bit of difficult thing, researching motivational speakers and success brokers - as stated above, the profession has been around in various versions for ages.  There is one case that stands out that may have provided a model for the Don Ameche character, or at least provided him with a profession.  One of the most famous influential self-improvers of the past century was Dale Carnegie.  He had originally worked as a successful salesman before entering acting school.  When success was not quick in coming on the acting front, he began to lecture on public speaking at local clubs.  He had originally wanted to lecture on the original self-improvement circuit, Chautauqua, but it was through the club lectures and experiences that he developed his principles for success.  Carnegie had been lecturing on public speaking and confidence-building since around 1910, and his most famous book, 'How To Win Friends and Influence People', was published in 1936, a few years before this movie came out.  At about the same time, his Carnegie Institute was churning out graduates of its school, guaranteeing success in business. 
Side Note:  Lynn Bari
   Lynn Bari, who co-stars as the love interest, is classy and fun to watch in this picture, and I wanted to find out more about her.  She was a B movie actress who appears to have had the talent, looks and impressive speaking voice to do more than second-rate pictures, but the prime roles never really came in.  She was known to many GIs through her pin-up pictures and was second only to Betty Grable as a favorite pin-up at Fox during the war.  This had to be a bit of a vindication for her, as only a few years earlier she had been traded to Fox by United Artists in return for expensive camera equipment.

Links and Sources
Motivational Speaking, Wikipedia
Dale Carnegie, Wikipedia
Dale Carnegie Corporate
Lynn Bari
Foxy Lady - Lynn Bari

Melies' Innovations: A Trip to the Moon

The Movie
   The first two minutes of this antique movie looks more like a convention of wizards from Harry Potter than a trip to the moon, but if you stick with this (for its full 12 minutes), the group eventually gets there, shot out of a giant cannon.  On the moon they experience a snow storm, enter a cave full of giant mushrooms and are escorted to the moon-man city.  Gravity being what it is, they tip their ship off the edge of the moon and fall right back to Earth to land in the salamander-filled ocean.  A Trip to the Moon was directed by Georges Melies in 1902 - he took inspiration from the film from two earth sci-fi books, one by Jules Verne (of '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' fame) and the other by HG Wells ('War of the Worlds' author).

A Film Pioneer
   Georges Melies was present at the first showing of the moving picture machine (Cinematographe) invented by the Lumiere brothers.  After the Brothers dismissed his offer to buy their machine, Melies found another camera projector to view and study, then built one for himself.  He began by showing other peoples' work, but soon moved on to producing his own, short 'trick' films that highlighted the innovations in technique he pioneered.  Most of his ground-breaking work was produced in the late 1800s; by 1905, he was behind the curve of new techniques.  His background as a magician, set designer and theater owner contributed to his unique style; he personally designed all the sets in A Trip To The Moon
   The very earliest techniques discovered by Melies were enabled when the film he was working with was accidentally doubly-exposed or changed speed in some way.  He also invented the purposeful double-exposure, used the first dissolve and the first scene of an actor playing opposite himself.  He applied his sense of theater to films, being the first director to put scenes together, rather than film in a single shot.
   Story was a part of Melies' oeuvre, but in general, he was more concerned with appearance and visuals (mise en scene) than in pushing the envelope of technique.  The truth was that he had found techniques and a format that appealed to him, and he was most interested in exploring all the boundaries of that format.  After a few years, cinema techniques had progressed to the point where his films were looking distinctly old-fashioned.  His films fell out of favor, and he ultimately declared bankruptcy, losing his theater.  After eking out an existence selling trinkets in a small shop, his was rediscovered in the 1930s, ending his days as a recipient of the Legion of Honour for his contribution to cinema.  A quote about Melies describes his skill:
Ultimately, Georges Méliès wasn't a filmmaker. He was, in truth, a film magician. A conjuror who experimented with films, but who was more concerned with how the film reflected his concept for the tricks involved than for the evolution of the new art form. As a filmmaker, Méliès may have stopped producing important films by 1903. But as a magician, he continued to create dazzling presentations of cinematic marvel.  - E.H. Larson

Victorian Inspirations
   Inspirations from this film include the Smashing Pumpkins' 'Tonight, Tonight' music video and influences can also be seen in modern-day Victoriana, like the film Moulin Rouge.

Links and Sources
Georges Melies, Wikipedia
Georges Melies,
Georges Melies
Georges Melies, Victoria Cinema

Sun Tanning: The Awful Truth

The Movie
   If adults acting a bit like children is something you like in movies, then The Awful Truth (1937, directed by Leo McCarey) is a great movie for you.  It's definitely something I'm fond of in my movies, so I'm happy to be reviewing this - another all-time favorite.  In the midst of witty one-liners, Cary Grant (Jerry) and Irene Dunne (Lucy) struggle to get a divorce without falling back in love with each other, even with the distracting enticement of Okie tycoons, bubble dancers and socialites.  Ralph Bellamy plays the Ralph Bellamy type of dim second-tier suitor, Cecil Cunningham plays Aunt Betsy as the aunt everyone would love to have, and Asta of The Thin Man fame plays Mr. Smith as the dog worth a custody battle.

Tan for Deception
   The catalyst for divorce in The Awful Truth is Jerry's trip to Florida -- that he actually doesn't take, preferring to have a good time around the town instead while his wife thinks he's down south.  The day he's due home, he heads over to his club to get a quick Florida tan.  He does become (amazingly) tan, but unfortunately for him, the basket of fruit he has supposedly brought his wife from Florida has oranges marked 'California'.  Jerry gets his tan with a sun lamp that resembles a giant hairdryer.  I remember being surprised on first seeing this movie that such a thing was available -- surely people weren't so frivolous in the good-old-days!

Tan for Health
    Maybe they were, and maybe they weren't.  Sun lamps advertised in Life magazine at around the time this movie came out (below right) were advertised as a way to get a tan; other advertisements emphasized the healthful aspects of light exposure.  Use of light as a health treatment began in the late 1800s and 1903 a Nobel Prize was given to Niels Ryberg Finsen in recognition of his work using light therapy to cure lupus vulgaris.  The first sun bed was invented by J.H. Kellogg of cereal fame as a health device and used by Edward VII of England and others who could afford to have access.  In modern times, light therapy is used as a treatment for many skin disorders, as well as for pain management and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

 The Fad for Tan
    Nearly everyone wants to be rich, or at least look rich, so the lower classes ape the upper crust, even when it comes to skin tone. Back in the days when most of the populace worked in agriculture, lighter skin meant that the person had the means to stay indoors away from the fields, and fair skin was in vogue.  Nowadays when tanning is synonymous with skin cancer, it's hard to believe that staying pale could be deadly, but the lead-based white powder once in vogue in ancient Greece and Rome could eventually cause death by lead poisoning.  Later, arsenic-based face powder was considered an improvement.
   Once industry became a major part of the economy and many lower class workers toiled in mills, offices and factories, a tan meant the person had the means to be unchained enough from their job to enjoy the great outdoors.  Coco Chanel is widely credited with jump-starting the trend of tan as a fashionable look when she returned to Paris after a long yachting vacation.  The popularity of Josephine Baker, the famous black entertainer, is also cited as a reason for the rise in popularity of the tan in the 1920s.  Sun-tanning remained popular until the later 1980s, when the information about the link between sun exposure and skin cancer began to be widely distributed to the public.  The rise in availability of self-tanning agents has meant that sunless tanning has become a popular alternative (although the resulting color may not be a pleasant tan, but instead something more...).

Links and Sources
A History of Tanning, Times Online
The Look: A History of Tanning
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Sun Tanning, Livestrong
Lupus vulgaris, Wikipedia
Light therapy, Wikipedia
Sun Tanning, Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Clip Joints: Marked Woman

The Movie
    Marked Woman (1937, directed by Lloyd Bacon) is the story of Mary Dwight (Bette Davis), a hostess at a gangster-owned nightclub, the kid sister she supports with her unsavory activities and the prosecutor (Humphrey Bogart) angling to make it big. The goings-on at the joint are relatively restrained.  Alot is left unsaid -- the film lacks the trashy sensibility it would have had if made a few years earlier as a pre-Code film.  There's plenty going on with trial drama, great clothes and G-men, and the film has a strong moral center emphasizing the importance of standing up to a wrong to end it, in spite of the cost.  Davis and Bogart are very well cast and the other clip joint women are excellent in support.

The many faces of Miss Davis
Clip Joints
   Short one.  There's not much to say about a clip joint, except that it's a place where suckers are conned into paying way too much for poor entertainment.  The rotten entertainment can take various forms:  the promise of sex (not achieved), of booze (watered down), singing (off-key), gambling (rigged), and so on.  One article from the 1932 New York Times tells the tale of a businessman held for two days in a joint, finally freed after signing over a $1000 check.  'Clip joint' as a term came into being during the Depression, but the concept is age-old and clip joints are still around today in various forms.

Links and Sources
Clip Joint, Wikipedia
Seven more men tell clip joint losses, NYT  June 9, 1932

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ghost Towns: The Prowler

The Movie
   The Prowler (directed by Joseph Losey, 1951) stars Van Heflin as policeman and certifiable creep Webb Garwood, who manipulates and cons his way into marriage with a woman he meets on a routine call.  Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) has been taking a shower at night with the bathroom window open and shades up, and is actually shocked when she looks out of the window to see a peeping tom.  Garwood and his partner arrive to log the incident, and Garwood takes a shine to Susan, who is a night widow - her wealthy husband is out late most evenings, fully occupied with his agricultural radio show.  One evening follow-up call by Garwood, a few visits more, and Things Begin to Happen...

California Mining Rush
   Trying not to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't seen the movie, the action towards the end of the film takes place in the California desert, part in an active town and part in the ruins of an old mining town.  As I watched this movie, I started wondering just how many vacant towns sit in the desert after all these years.  The answer is that many still exist, in differing states of repair.  Most mining towns in California came into existence in the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, to exploit rich deposits of gold, silver, borax, tungsten, chrysolite and other minerals.  The towns experienced booms at peak extraction and crashes when the resource was tapped out.  They were either supported by another livelihood such as agriculture or manufacturing, or died out as residents left. 

Ghost Towns
   The state of ghost town remains is different from town to town, and depends on a lot of factors.  Weather, geographic location, visitors and original construction material and techniques can all play a part in how well a site is preserved.  Eastern California has an ideal dry climate for the preservation of artifacts, and the remote locations of many of the sites keep them from being visited frequently by vandals.  Many mining camps were exactly that - camps - and the major structures were tents;  in many of these locations, little to nothing visible is left.  In other locations, where building materials were wood or stone, remains are still visible.  The modernization of travel by rail and eventually by car also led to the end of many western towns as travel became quicker, requiring fewer stops along the way.

Calico History
   Calico, California, the site of filming for The Prowler, is located west of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert just north of Barstow. 
"There's no argument that Calico is a real ghost town. Established in 1881, Calico produced $86 million in silver and $45 million in borax during its glory years. At its height, the town boasted a population of 1,200, 22 saloons, a "Chinatown," and a well-known red light district. When the price of silver plummeted in the 1890's, the town survived on borax revenues until its official death in 1907."   -Roadtrip America
   The remains of the town were left in peace until 1951, when the land was bought out by an entrepreneur with amusement-park dreams who had previously worked in the mines there himself.  He began to add artifacts and additional buildings, aging everything to add the patina of history until it became difficult to tell the difference between original and re-creation.  In 1966, the land was donated to San Bernadino County and is currently maintained as a historical park.  The Prowler was filmed in 1951, at a time when the location was probably still in its pre-restored condition.

Don't forget to draw the curtains.
Links and Sources

California Ghost Towns
Calico, San Bernadino County, Wikipedia
Calicotown, California
Calico, California

Friday, May 6, 2011

Donnybrook: The Quiet Man

The Movie
   My favorite movie, full stop.  How nice for Sean Thornton (John Wayne), arriving with his baggage (literal and figurative) in his ancestral village of Innisfree to find confidantes, a soul mate, enemies and endearing characters all set up and waiting there for him, in a beautiful pastoral setting.  The Quiet Man (1952, directed by John Ford) tracks the adventures of a man returning after many years to a place his family once lived, and the preconceptions and adjustments that entails.  Maureen O'Hara plays Mary Kate Danagher - a woman with a mind of her own, and Barry Fitzgerald is the matchmaker / shaughraun Michaeleen Oge Flynn.  Red Will Danagher (Victor McLaglan), Mary Kate's brother, provides a good bit of the conflict through his blowhard bullheadedness; Irish tradition and Thornton's past provide the rest.

The Setting
   I'm happy to be tackling this one at last, because I always wondered about the time period, setting and just what the heck was up with Mary Kate and her property.  It was the early fifties when the film was made, but since no date is indicated, I had always had some vague notion of isolated locales within Ireland that still used buggies and Model Ts and had traditional notions of dowries deep into the 1950s.  Well it didn't take much to find that the movie was shot in County Mayo and is set in the 1920s at the time of the partition of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (rebellion is only darkly hinted at in the film).  During this time in Ireland, around half of the Free State populace was employed in agriculture, and many lived in situations of overcrowding.  While part of the British Empire, Ireland was not permitted to industrialize.

The Set-up
   The main conflict of the film is the understandable reluctance of Thornton to engage in fighting for the money portion of his new wife's dowry.  She is firm in her need to follow tradition and have her husband respected within her family and the community by getting the money back from her brother.  Dowries were of high importance in the 1800s in Ireland, due to land inheritance customs and other sociological issues, and to Mary Kate, the dowry has a worth other than the grasping materialism that Sean thinks is her motivation.  Events are brought to a head when Mary Kate leaves.  Thornton pulls Mary Kate from the train and forcefully walks her back.  The transaction is eventually settled, but Red Will Danagher is feeling put upon, he takes a swing at Thornton and a cathartic donnybrook breaks out.

Donnybrook Fair
   The definition of 'donnybrook', from a local source:
"A 'donnybrook' is sometimes used to describe a general melee or row particularly in 'stage oirish' situations. The scenario seems to be that we all go around wearing funny hats and red beards shouting 'Shure' and 'Begorrah' while we beat one another with small blackthorn sticks." -The Clare Champion, 2010
   The term comes from the Donnybrook Fair, held in the Donnybrook (Domhnach Broc) section of Dublin from 1204 AD until the 1850s, when it was banned.  Originally begun as a fair for merchants and artists, by the 1800s the fair became notorious for its drunken carousing and, above all, its fighting.


   Medieval fairs (the source of our modern day Renaissance Fairs) were started by the Normans as a way of promoting trade, and were a good source of funds for the church.  Merchants and musicians would gather to hawk their wares, and all would have to pay fees to the holder of the fair charter, which was originally granted by King John of England and passed from hand to hand for centuries after.  By the 1700s, the focus of the fair was less on trade and much more on entertainment and drinking.  Dublin had expanded, and its suburbs were also encroaching on the traditional fair grounds, which had originally been outside of the city walls.  A campaign was got up by the locals, the charter bought out and the fair closed down.

Links and Sources
if Monet painted drunken fistfights
William Dowling's excellent essay on The Quiet Man, Rutgers
Family and Community in Ireland, Clare Local Studies Project
Donnybrook Fair, Wikipedia
Donnybrook, World Wide Words
Oh, Donnybrook..., Clare Champion
The Irish Family..., Fairfield University