Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Darling Clementine Review

My Darling Clementine (1946)
Dir. John Ford
Starring: Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan
After the death of his brother James, Wyatt Earp takes the position of sheriff in the town of Tombstone in order to find the people responsible. There he befriends Doc Holiday, and falls for Doc’s former lover Clementine, and culminates in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

The movie is a great hangout movie, one that feels like it would rather spend time on the minutiae of Earp’s time as sheriff, his friendship with Holiday, and him trying to woo Clementine. One of the most interesting things about the film is that for the most part the 2 storylines do not intersect. Clementine doesn’t seem to know anything about the feud with the Clantons, and this spares her from scenes where she has to sit around and look worried about how the gunfight will turn out. Cathy Downs and Henry Fonda’s scenes as Earp and Clementine give the film some of its most lighthearted moments, with their walk to the site of the new church and the scene of them dancing one of the high points of the film. Earp’s lack of ability on the dance floor also paints the picture of a man that is out of place in “polite” society.  The relationship between Earp and Holliday is interesting in the film, as it is painted as one of mutual admiration and respect.

One of the biggest complaints about the movie is that it isn’t accurate to the actual events that happened in Tombstone. Characters die that survived the gunfight (Holiday died of tuberculosis 6 years later) and some characters, like Walter Brennan’s Old Man Clanton died months before at an unrelated incident.  Ford’s thoughts on the story were that adherence to the facts didn’t matter as long as it was interesting*. Ford was friends with the real Wyatt Earp, and he had knowledge of the actual events that transpired at the gunfight but still made changes to it. But ultimately this movie isn’t trying to be accurate. It’s trying to make a poetic view of the west populated by legendary characters. Who cares if it isn’t 100% accurate as long as it’s entertaining? As another Ford famously said, “Print the Legend”. 

The film has a somber, melancholy tone to it, similar to the first verse of the song “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine”. Earp is immediately smitten with Clementine as soon as she arrives in town, ignoring his duties and commitments to spend a few moments with her. But at the end he chooses not to stay with her in Tombstone, leaving her with a small kiss (or a simple handshake in Ford’s original, preferred ending). This places Earp in a similar light to other heroes of Ford’s oevre, which is filled with characters who comes to town, right wrongs, and then goes away. Even Earp’s victory can be seen as a hollow one. He avenges one brother, but loses another in the process. His quest for vengeance ends up with 9 people dead and his families cattle still gone. His victory comes at a great cost, and can be seen as a reaction to World War 2, a conflict that John Ford and many of the principal actors in the film served in. Earp comes across as a man who wants one thing (a future with Clementine), but is unable to reconcile that part of himself with the part of him that is a lawman and a fighter.

This movie is really, really good. It’s got some beautiful Black and White photography, great performances, and some good actions scenes. It has a different feel to it than a lot of other films of the genre, but it helps it stand apart as an interesting classic. 

A film historian once asked John Ford as to why he changed the events of the movie from the facts of what actually happened. Ford asked the historian if he liked the film. The historian replied that he did and Ford said "What more do you want?"

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