The memorial encomiums for Maureen O'Hara have tended to stress the same bunch of movies—Hunchback Of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street, The Quiet Man. Which is all well and good, except, you know, they're not the only pictures O'Hara made that are of cinephile or even general interest.
Jamaica Inn (Alfred Hitchcock, 1939)
O'Hara's more-or-less debut film (her first, at least, under her stage name) is frequently pooh-poohed as "minor Hitchcock," and the director himself disparages it in Hitchcock/Truffaut on account of having been given a hard time by Charles Laughton, but let us never forget that "minor Hitchcock" is better than 95 percent of "major" whoever. This is a highly cracking, cinema-wise, period piece—"[Hitchcock] did not fall into the trap of historical reconstruction but focused instead on making a baroque and highly embellished work," Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol aptly enthused in their study of Hitch—and young Maureen, entrusted with the job of both carrying the narrative and acting as audience surrogate, does an exceptional job, especially for an 18-year-old.
The Immortal Sergeant (Stahl, 1943)
Andrew Sarris: "In The Immortal Sergeant, for instance, Henry Fonda is in the desert with a mental image of Maureen O'Hara emerging dripping wet from a swimming pool. This is the cinema of audacity to the point of madness, and yet always preferable to the relative sanity of discretion." I won't tell Jeffrey "I always had this fantasy O'Hara was great in the sack" Wells about this if you won't.
This Land Is Mine (Renoir, 1943)
It is interesting to contrast Renoir's affectionate near-exasperation with Laughton with Hitchcock's dismissive account of his frustration. But we're not here to discuss Laughton, O'Hara's mentor (had her under contract and everything). This too-little seen wartime quasi-allegory (set "Somewhere In Europe") features O'Hara quite convincingly portraying an ordinary person under extraordinary circumstances, a school teacher beloved of sad-sack colleague Laughton, who finds his courage and voice after being accused of killing O'Hara's quisling boyfriend (George Sanders!). Renoir seems hemmed-in by RKO's backlots, but the movie is not without its touches—a firing-squad scene witnessed by Laughton, the relative nuance of Una O'Connor, of all people, and more.
Buffalo Bill (Wellman, 1944)
One of Wellman's goofier pictures but not unattractive visually—like the more-frequently-cited (with not illegitimate reason, I suppose) The Black Swan, it's part of O'Hara's claim to "Queen Of Technicolor"
The Long Gray Line (Ford, 1955)
Many would call this Pedro Costa favorite a truly improbably tearjerker, but it gets me every time. Must be some Irish thing. Seriously, though, this is a remarkably rich movie and O'Hara's character is one of her damnedest, in a way an even more stubborn lass than The Quiet Man's Mary Kate. Tag Gallagher cites "Maureen O'Hara's marvelously full-bodied stylization, contrasting with Tyrone Power's woodenness."
The Deadly Companions (Peckinpah 1961)
Early Peckinpah in lyrical mode, with Brian Keith as a scarred (in many respects) ex-soldier and O'Hara as a dance hall girl whose son Keith has accidentally killed. They band together to cross Apache territory to bury the dead by his father. O'Hara (who found Peckinpah "objectionable") is fiery in grief; the chemistry between her and Keith is rather different than what they displayed in The Parent Trap, on screen that same year.
Spencer's Mountain (Daves, 1963)
O'Hara and Henry Fonda, two decades after Immortal Sergeant, in a proto-Waltons family saga based on a novel by Earl Hammer, Jr., who'd later go on to create...The Waltons. Solid in that Daves way, with Mimsy Farmer adding some jaw-dropping-for-their-time notes of hotsie-totsieness as a girlfriend of a Spencer clan member.
My young friend Diana Drumm, a fine writer on film and a family friend of Ms. O'Hara, commended me, on Twitter, to Sentimental Journey, a 1946 film directed by Walter Lang. Diana cited a "bizarre plot that goes off the emotional deep end" and adds "O'Hara is wonderful in it." After The Quiet Man, Diana says, it was a "great personal favorite" of O'Hara's.
Mr. Joseph Failla, whom George Harrison might refer to as "a friend to us all," wrote to me to say "Don't forget about Dance, Girl, Dance (Arzner/Del Ruth, 1940), which may be my favorite Maureen O'Hara film outside the group that is normally mentioned. The difficulty here is that most people recall it as having Lucille Ball's best performance (which it does) but O'Hara gets her chance to shine here too as a hard working young woman who pursues her dream to be a ballet dancer. It's also refreshing to see in a movie of this vintage, the leading lady choose her profession over a man and believe in herself."
And below, in comments, The Self-Styled Siren extols the virtues of The Forbidden Street (Negulesco, 1949).