Screengrab: What Maureen O’Hara Really Said to John Wayne

Richard Lutz spins your dials to offer the best movie on the box this week.


There is a great Hollywood moment at the end of The Quiet Man (Friday; More4, 10.15)  which is movie legend. Sit down and listen:

In the last scene of this John Ford elegy to an Ireland that never existed, John Wayne runs hand in hand with Maureen O’Hara  to a little knoll overlooking the Emerald Isle as they peer into their movieland future. It is a happy ending. Director Ford, ever the perfectionist, felt the two stars just weren’t cutting it  for the ending to this 1952 light romance. The Duke seemed wooden.

Ford had an idea. He told Ms O’Hara, who was a strict Catholic and a bit of a puritan, to whisper something appallingly obscene and suggestive into The Duke’s ear. She said she couldn’t. She wouldn’t. It was against her better judgement and her upbringing.

“I couldn’t say that to The Duke,” she wrote later in her memoirs.

Ford promised only she, Wayne and John Ford himself would ever know what she would utter. She trusted Ford, then at the height of his powers. She agreed to whisper something very naughty. But no one else was to know but they three.

Come the re-take and the two run to the marked spot on the knoll. Maureen speaks quietly into Wayne’s ear. Wayne’s jar drops. His screen persona dissipates. He is simply a guy who has just heard a female pal say something very risqué in his ear. Maureen OHara, the Miss Goody Two Shoes of Hollywood, just didn’t say things like that to a man…any man.

The camera captures John Wayne reacting to this surprise, this moment. His eyes enlarge, for a mini second he is frozen, then he laughs, a real laugh, grabs Ms O’Hara and they run back to their idyllic cottage in the green rolling fields.

That’s the final shot. The movie ends and the credits roll. Hollywood magic. It is said that the trio never told anyone just what Maureen O’Hara whispered. They kept to their promise. Pals do that.

The movie itself is pure 1952 good fun. Wayne is an ex boxer come home to Eire to inherit family land. Maureen O’Hara stands in his way and, of course, they fight, banter and fall for each other.

There are a host of Ford regulars like Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, and the director’s own brother Francis Ford. Ford ensured there was the colour green in every shot. Critic Leonard Maltin called it “Boisterous blarney”. Yeah, that about fits.

It won two Oscars (one presumably for Best Dirty Comment Kept Secret By a Star) and it’s one to record and watch on a lazy wet Sunday afternoon.