|Directed by||John Ford|
In 1882 (in reality, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral happened on October 26, 1881), Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil, and James Earp are driving cattle to California when they crossOld Man Clanton. When they learn about the nearby boom town of Tombstone, the older brothers ride in, leaving the youngest brother James to watch over the cattle. The Earps soon learn that Tombstone is a lawless town without a marshal. Wyatt is the only man in the town willing to face the drunk Indian shooting at the townspeople. When they return to their camp, they find the cattle rustled and James murdered.
Seeking to avenge his brother’s murder, Wyatt returns to Tombstone. To identify the perpetrator, he takes the open position of town marshal and meets with Doc Holliday and the Clanton gang several times. During this time, a young woman from Boston named Clementine Carter arrives in town, and is given a room at the same hotel where both Wyatt and Doc Holliday are residing.
The film is generally regarded as one of the best Westerns made by John Ford and one of his best films overall.
At the time of its release, Bosley Crowther lauded the film and wrote, “The eminent director, John Ford, is a man who has a way with a Western like nobody in the picture trade. Seven years ago his classic Stagecoach snuggled very close to fine art in this genre. And now, by George, he’s almost matched it with My Darling Clementine … But even with standard Western fiction—and that’s what the script has enjoined—Mr. Ford can evoke fine sensations and curiously-captivating moods. From the moment that Wyatt and his brothers are discovered on the wide and dusty range, trailing a herd of cattle to a far-off promised land, a tone of pictorial authority is struck—and it is held. Every scene, every shot is the product of a keen and sensitive eye—an eye which has deep comprehension of the beauty of rugged people and a rugged world.”
The Variety reviewer wrote, “Trademark of John Ford’s direction is clearly stamped on the film with its shadowy lights, softly contrasted moods and measured pace, but a tendency is discernible towards stylization for the sake of stylization. At several points, the pic comes to a dead stop to let Ford go gunning for some arty effect”.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 100% approval rating with an average rating of 8.9/10, based on 28 reviews.
In 1991, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry; it was among the first 75 films entered into the registry. Fifty years after its release, Roger Ebert reviewed the film and included it in his list of The Great Movies.
In 2004, Matt Bailey summarized its significance: “If there is one film that deserves every word of praise ever uttered or written about it, it is John Ford’s My Darling Clementine. Perhaps the greatest film in a career full of great films, arguably the finest achievement in a rich and magnificent genre, and undoubtedly the best version of one of America’s most enduring myths, the film is an undeniable and genuine classic. In the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound polls, seven critics and five directors named it one of their 10 favorite films.
Some bullets hit the mark; others miss
The stories of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the town of Tombstone are always interesting and have always been told just a little differently through the years on film.
I’ve read where this movie was supposed to be based more on fact than some of the other versions, but I’ve heard that before, so I have my doubts. Well……more than doubts…but are ANY of the versions really true? Probably not, so you just enjoy each film for what it offers.
Henry Fonda makes a good Earp but Victor Mature as Holliday doesn’t fit. In re- makes, we saw Val Kilmer and Dennis Quaid do far better in the role. Walter Brennan, however, was very good as the nasty father of the Clanton family. Too bad he didn’t have a bigger role. The female lead in the movie was played by Cathy Downs, a wholesomely-beautiful woman. I am surprised she never amounted to making more than no-name films after this one.
Once again, director John Ford returns to his favorite location, Monument Valley, and provides us with some memorable panoramic scenes of that area, particularly in the beginning of the film.
The DVD has the film version that was not seen in theaters. This version is 10 minutes longer, showing footage that was cut by studio head Daryl Zanuck. It didn’t make much of a difference. In fact, if anything, the film lags in a few spots with this longer version, but it’s nice to have the complete package.My Darling Clementine is Ford as Mozart. Clementine’s not operatic. It’s a series of self-contained movements forming a melodic symphony of moods: Elegiac, bittersweet, lethal, witty and touching. Some trip lightly, some evoke Death, some make fun of themselves, some are just plain stupid. The pace varies to underscore emphasis and emotion. The slower shit happens, the more it means.Ford shoots Clementine with an unusual painterly sensibility. The grave, expansive frames are his most self-consciously gorgeous. The universe splits between immense sky above and endless earth below with men trapped where they meet. The interiors feature ceilings and chiaroscuro; Ford’s expressionist Black & White evokes Film Noir like no other Western. Criterion’s extraordinary 4K print brings out the richness of the cinematography. For once in a Ford picture, visual context isn’t only backdrop or grand metaphor.Clementine is Ford’s most subtle, elegant picture and, when it’s not stupid, his least sign-posted.The story addresses mortality; the symbiosis between civilization and violence; the scale and poetry of the Western landscape; family bonds; and how the spoken word fails to resolve disputes or express love. When Ford vests in those themes, Clementine proves hypnotizing and profound: an archetypal myth. Ford tells it as a myth should be told, quietly. Astonishingly, Ford never beats you over the head with the most profound moments. The narrative power rises from the characters and the visual presentation of theme. Ford frames Wyatt Earp against the gigantic sky and Doc Holiday tucked in the corner of a long dark bar. The meaning’s clear. Earp strides the West like a colossus; Holiday’s a dead man walking.
As for the stupid part, Ford apparently never had a conversation with a woman in his life. Or, at least never a post-orgasmic conversation – hers, not Ford’s. It’s not entirely Ford’s fault. In classical-period Westerns – Anthony Mann’s Freudian The Furies aside – women are wives, virginal wives-to-be, whores, spinsters, moms, prizes to be fought over, chicken-pluckers/plow-pullers, ornaments or encumbrances. Even so, where in Western mythology to fit poor Linda Darnell leaning against a doorway in mismatched flounces with a hairdo that launched a thousand drag queens, announcing: “I’m Chihuahua!”?
Mood needs nurturing. When Chihuahua appears as the epitome of grasping, clueless low-rent love – and she’s the sex object! – the mood goes to hell. Here Ford proves arrested development incarnate, stuck in 8th Grade, obsessed with 8th Grade obsessions: Dick-measuring, who hits hardest, who’s fastest, who’s the Alpha, who best conceals emotion, who’s most impervious to desire, who’s got the most inflexible notions of right and wrong. Granted, those obsessions do form the heart of classical-period Westerns. Only someone wholly vested without self-consciousness could spin that straw into mythology.
No women characters perfectly incarnate a ’50’s man’s terror of women as do Ford’s. Chihuahua counterpoints Clementine, who’s so virginal she’s practically paralyzed. She barely lifts her hands above her waist once in the entire picture. Earp, repressed himself, falls hard. Ford relishes their 8th Grade courtship. Clementine pretends to have no sexuality and Earp, no aggression. The more his Alpha aspects recede, the more comfortable Clem becomes. Yet in almost every exterior frame Earp and Clementine share, somewhere in the background, always between them, always thrusting to the sky, stands a big ol’ raging boner of a cactus. Few things appear in Ford frames by accident. Maybe all that role-playing and repression service lust. Must have been hell, getting laid in the 1940’s.
Just as the stupidity and regression, uh, climax, Ford constructs a transcendent sequence of visual narrative and metaphor. Clem and Earp stroll arm and arm down a board sidewalk. Ford goes to a medium long shot. Still for an instant, Clem and Earp look exactly like a couple atop a wedding cake. As they walk toward the camera, Ford pulls it just a bit ahead in an extended stately track. Somebody – I always think it’s Godard when somebody says something insightful about cinema – said that tracking shots carry the story forward into the future. Ford makes Clem and Earp’s future plain. In case we didn’t get the point, Ford goes to a reverse of the couple walking slowly, slowly, slowly to a half-built church under a vast, sheltering sky. Of course a big-ass American flag waves in the breeze.
They get to the church and everybody’s a’dancing. Clementine offers an 8th Grade condescending smirk as she stands in the hot sun waiting for fearless, mankiller Earp to grow a pair already and ask her to dance. Ford follows this annoying pantomime with one of the most evocative symbolic moments in all Westerns. As Earp prepares to pop the question, he yanks off his twenty-gallon hat and tosses it out of frame. He’s done with the range! Earp don’t need no hat! He’s gonna let this gal civilize him and live in town!
In a metaphorical marriage, Earp dances with Clem before all the townfolk. Fonda manifests Earp’s notion of dancing as sweet, unknowingly ridiculous, and gooberishly self-assured. In that moment, Fonda rivals Charlie Chaplin in finding the precise physical manifestation of his character. Fonda has Earp wired, inside and out.
As Walter Brennan has old man Clanton. This is not the wisecracking, aging coot Brennan of Red River (and everything else he ever did). Brennan’s never been so amoral, unyielding or darkly paternal. There’s a lot of Lear in his slumped shoulders as he bullwhips his boys and spits: “When you draw a gun – kill a man!” Clanton’s as serious as Earp. His sons, like Earp’s brothers, provide window-dressing. They give the old man and the Marshall context, but we know who matters.