Maureen O'Hara, who is turning 90, is Turner Classic Movies' “Star of the Day” today, Aug. 17, as TCM continues with its “Summer Under the Stars” series. (Check out TCM's Maureen O'Hara schedule further below.)
I was stunned by Maureen O'Hara's beauty when I saw her as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Her performance in that film, however, was woefully amateurish.
My opinion of O'Hara's thespian know-how has remained mixed at best. It's not just that her acting usually consists of looking both icy and fiery – admittedly, something that is probably harder to accomplish than one might think. But I'd say that the chief problem for anyone trying to evaluate her acting capabilities is that for the most part O'Hara was given drivel to work with. 20th Century Fox and RKO wanted their contract player to “act” beautiful; that was about it.
Now, in John Ford's Ode to Old Ireland, The Quiet Man, in addition to acting beautiful, O'Hara also displays a pleasant comic touch. Her look at the end of the endless John Wayne-Victor McLaglen punch fest is priceless.
The Quiet Man, I might add, is the first and only Republic Pictures production to have received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. It lost the Oscar to Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth – when it should have lost instead to either Richard Thorpe's Ivanhoe or Fred Zinnemann's High Noon.
John Ford did take home the Best Director Oscar, his record-breaking fourth. McLaglen was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for shamelessly devouring nearly all the Irish green.
Also tonight: Ford's great-looking but slow-moving Western Rio Grande (1950), another O'Hara-Wayne pairing; Carol Reed's Our Man in Havana (1960), co-starring Alec Guinness, and which has both fans and detractors (I found it watchable); and George Sherman's Big Jake (1971), a perfectly acceptable Wayne Western in which O'Hara has a brief supporting role.
Best of all: the underrated Henry King's The Black Swan (1942), a highly enjoyable good pirate-vs-bad pirate romp (screenplay by Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller from Rafael Sabatini's novel) in which O'Hara has stiff competition in the “acting beautiful” department from leading man Tyrone Power, whom O'Hara refers to as “murderously handsome” in her autobiography (with John Nicoletti).
If you haven't seen The Black Swan, don't miss it. If you have, well, watch it again.
Addendum: I'm currently reading Sabatini's Scaramouche. It's a witty, surprisingly subversive novel. Highly recommended. The 1923 Rex Ingram version starring Ramon Novarro kept much closer to the original than George Sidney's 1952 adaptation starring Stewart Granger.
Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:
4:45 AM The Fallen Sparrow (1943)
Nazi spies pursue a Spanish Civil War veteran in search of a priceless keepsake. Cast: John Garfield, Maureen O'Hara, Walter Slezak. Dir.: Richard Wallace. Black and white. 94 min.
6:30 AM The Long Gray Line (1955)
An Irish immigrant becomes one of West Point's most beloved officers. Cast: Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara, Robert Francis. Dir.: John Ford. Color. 137 min.
9:00 AM The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
A deformed bell ringer rescues a gypsy girl falsely accused of witchcraft and murder. Cast: Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, Cedric Hardwicke. Dir.: William Dieterle. Black and white. 117 min.
11:00 AM The Spanish Main (1945)
Dutch rebels in the Caribbean turn pirate and kidnap the corrupt Spanish governor's bride-to-be. Cast: Paul Henreid, Maureen O'Hara, Walter Slezak. Dir.: Frank Borzage. Color. 101 min.
12:45 PM Sinbad The Sailor (1947)
The Arabian Nights hero sets off to find the lost treasure of Alexander the Great. Cast: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maureen O'Hara, Walter Slezak. Dir.: Richard Wallace. Color. 117 min.
2:45 PM The Parent Trap (1961)
Twins separated by divorce plot to bring their parents back together. Cast: Hayley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, Brian Keith. Dir.: David Swift. Color. 129 min.
5:00 PM The Quiet Man (1952)
An Irish ex-boxer retires to Ireland and searches for the proper wife. Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald. Dir.: John Ford. Color. 129 min.
9:15 PM The Black Swan (1942)
When he's named governor of Jamaica, a former pirate sets out to clean up the Caribbean. Cast: Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara, Anthony Quinn. Dir.: Henry King. Color. 85 min.
10:45 PM Our Man in Havana (1960)
A salesman in Cuba takes up spying to support his spendthrift daughter. Cast: Alec Guinness, Maureen O'Hara, Noel Coward. Dir.: Carol Reed. Black and white. 107 min.
1:00 AM Big Jake (1971)
A rancher leads the posse out to recover his kidnapped grandson. Cast: John Wayne, Richard Boone, Patrick Wayne. Dir.: George Sherman. Color. 110 min.