My Darling Clementine
- John Ford
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Inspired by the 1931 novel “Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal” by Stuart N. Lake, an allegedly accurate account of the O.K. Corral incident, Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller crafted a script that does not focus on the shootout, though it indeed surrounds it; instead, it focuses on the everyday life of an old west town, with all its boring moments and few excitements, outlaws, drunkards, whores, and lawmen. The film’s intention is not exactly to retell an important event of U.S. history, but instead, to portray the coming of civilization to the old west in a sumptuous, poetic way, while telling an exciting story.
The story has Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda), an ex-marshal and cowboy, passing by Tombstone with his brothers Morg (Ward Bond), Virg (Tim Holt), and James (Don Garner), on their way to California with their cattle. The cattle is stolen in infamy however, as James is cowardly murdered in the process. That’s how Earp, a fine lawman, decides to settle in Tombstone until he finds and punishes his brother’s killers, for which he becomes marshal.
Wyatt’s first questions to the man who hires him are, who runs the gambling and who runs the cattle. The answer to the first: Doc Holliday. The answer to the second: The Clantons. Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) proves to be a tough fellow, “owner” of the town who does as he pleases. Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) and his sons, on the other hand, are cynic outlaws who also get their way in most of their “businesses”.
You would imagine the premise to be reason enough for the movie to become an action piece or a revenge saga, but instead, it unfolds beautifully as nothing but a look at a quiet little town and its townspeople. Filled with comedy and presented in unforgettable vignettes, it makes sure of developing its characters until they’re everything but one-dimensional. Doc Holliday, for instance, though first shown as a scruffy, power-obsessed individual, turns out to be a complex man with an educated Bostonian past he’s struggling to leave behind.
Doc’s self-destructing personality strongly contrasts Earp’s, but both are similar in being intelligent and at their core noble, despite their different upbringings and pasts. Though they’re not exactly willing to exteriorize it at first, a bond is formed between them from the moment they meet, and their fascinating friendship is the vertebral spine of the movie.
Women also play an important role in My Darling Clementine. First and foremost, there’s ill-fated Mexican whore Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), a spoilt and ambitious woman with a very soft spot for Doc; her heartbreaking story moves the story forward in more ways than one. And there’s the title character, lovely Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), an educated woman from Doc’s past who visits Tombstone and soon catches the affection of none other than Wyatt Earp. Her subplot brings tension but also romance, as Wyatt’s clumsy efforts to win her affection make up for the prettiest aspect of the film (and its title), and moments like the dance sequence or the final farewell are truly indelible.
And in the end of course, there’s the inevitable shootout at the O.K. Corral. By the moment it happens, we’re so fully involved with every character that it becomes much more interesting on account of their subplots than because of its historical significance. On its own, however, it’s an excruciating though hardly overplayed action sequence. And it’s not the only one, by the way; Ford doesn’t miss the chance to include a chase sequence by coach and horse, which stands among his best.
The whole piece exudes beauty. Filmed on location in Monument Valley, northern Arizona, and uncannily photographed by Joseph MacDonald, it has a life of its own. The music by Cyril J. Mockridge, largely based on the folk song “My Darling Clementine”, is as low-key as the film itself, and accompanies the procedures to perfection. However, musical peaks come in the form of songs performed by Chihuahua.
As a final note, I’ll say the cast is uniformly outstanding. Fonda is in top form as a man of pride and integrity, Mature amazing as an ill, haunted man, Darnell heartbreaking as a woman of broken dreams and latent hopes, Brennan scary as a nasty criminal, and Downs exquisite as a pure, lovely woman. Other members of the cast include Alan Mowbray as a drunken Shakespearean actor, J. Farrell MacDonald as a barman, and Jane Darwell as a caring townswoman.
Heartbreaking, inspirational, and beautiful, My Darling Clementine is without any doubt my personal favorite film.
“Ma’am, I sure like that name - Clementine.”
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Other reviews of My Darling Clementine (1946): Morris