My Darling Clementine
Directed by John Ford
Written by Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller from a story by Sam Hellman based on a book by Stuart N. Lake
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#204 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
If you are not looking for action, this is about as close to perfection as a Western comes.
Although Ford claimed that Wyatt Earp explained the whole thing to him, this is a highly fictionalized account of the events leading up to the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his brothers are driving a herd of cattle to California when they meet up with Old Man Clanton (a truly scary Walter Brennan) and his sons. Clanton offers to buy the herd at rock-bottom prices. Earp refuses to sell. That night, while Wyatt and two of his brothers go to nearby Tombstone to get cleaned up, the Clantons help themselves to the herd and kill the youngest Earp boy.
Wyatt has no proof and accepts the very dangerous job as Marshall of Tombstone to get it and his revenge. He makes friends with legendary gunslinger Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), a big deal around town. His relations are not so good with Holliday’s girl, the fiery Chihuahua (Linda Darnell).
Then Clementine, Holliday’s lady love from older, better times comes looking for him. Doc cannot bear to have her see what has become of him. Wyatt takes an instantaneous liking to the pretty, refined Easterner. The rest of the movie follows the love triangle, or is that quadrangle?, and the events leading up to the final confrontation with the Clantons. With Ward Bond as an Earp and Alan Mowbray as a boozy itinerant actor.
Take away the plot and leave only the characters and scenery and you still have one fantastic movie. With Ford it’s the little things that count. I love the shots of Mature’s face as he listens to Hamlet’s soliloquy, Fonda’s stiff-legged dancing, and so much more. The whole thing has a lonely, elegiac feeling befitting another time when the good guys won but at a terrible cost.
Ford always brought out the very best in Fonda and I find Mature to be such a sadly underrated actor. Darnell is in her fake “Jane Russell” mode and not at her best. Brennan reportedly hated working with Ford so much that he never did it again. Despite or because of the animosity, he gives one of his best performances. Highly recommended.
The Criterion DVD has an excellent commentary by a Ford biographer.