John Wayne is almost outshone by director John Ford’s idealistic vision of Ireland that’s the backdrop to this romantic comedy.
But ‘The Duke’ is suitably at odds against the lush and idyllic setting in a story of homecoming and culture clash that ranks among his best comedic turns.
Seeking a quiet life, Irish-born ex-boxer Sean Thornton from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, returns to his mother’s home of Innisfree intent on buying her family home and settling down. Shortly after arriving he meets and falls for Mary Kate Danagher (Maureen O’Hara), the hot-tempered sister of the bullying local landowners ‘Red’ Will Danagher (Victor McLaglan).
He seeks to court Mary Kate but Danagher, angered at being outbid for the Thornton land adjoining his own, refuses to give his permission. So several locals, including Catholic priest Father Lonergan (Ward Bond), trick him into believing that the wealthy Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick) wants to marry him, but only if Mary Kate is no longer living with him.
After learning the truth on their wedding day, an enraged Will refuses to give his sister her full dowry. Sean couldn’t care less but Mary Kate is obsessed with obtaining it and, shamed by his refusal to confront her brother she brands him a coward. Despite living together, they are estranged as husband and wife. Things come to a head when Mary Kate boards a train to leave Sean, but he fetches her back and drags her the five miles to Danagher’s house to demand what’s rightfully hers and confrontation ensues.
Set in the 1920s, the film has a fantastically old-fashioned feel to it in terms of setting and cultural background which emphasises Sean’s out of step modern approach to things. It also boasts one of the most epic fistfights in cinema history but, featuring a strong cast of Ford regulars including Ward Bond and Victor McLaglan, it’s most definitely Wayne and O’Hara’s movie.