My Darling Clementine (1946)
Director: John Ford
Cast: Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature
Plot: A Western retelling the tale of the shootout at the OK Corral.
Genre: Drama / Western
Rating: PG for some violence.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
John Ford’s My Darling Clementine is, in my opinion, one of his lesser works. That being said, it remains to be one of Ford’s most beloved films, directed in the 1940s where the classical Hollywood system of studio filmmaking was at its prime.
Strangely however, I cannot seem to regard this film as accomplished, let alone better than what I feel are some of Ford’s best pictures as Stagecoach (1939) The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
My Darling Clementine is a Western shot in a non-traditional way. It is not your usual kind of Western with an overemphasis on galloping horses and over-zealous cowboys getting in each other’s way. Instead, Ford approaches the film with a heavy tinge of romance. Even its title unsubtly hints at that. Yet it is packaged in typical classical Hollywood fashion with a standard (and most often predictable) narrative form and style.
The film stars Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp. The sudden murder of one of his brothers triggers in him a strong reaction; he turns from a peaceful cattleman to a no-nonsense marshal who plans to make his temporary stay in Tombstone worthwhile by ‘cleaning’ up the ills of the town and fending off killers like Old Man Canton and his gang. Along the way, Earp meets Clementine (Cathy Downs). He falls in love with her but he keeps it to himself.
Later, a popular figure in Tombstone, Doc Holiday (Victor Mature), walks into the picture with an I-own-the-place attitude, creating observable tension between Earp and himself not only in scenes where they try to show each other who’s boss, but also in scenes where a complicated love triangle between Earp, Clementine, and Holiday is slowly developing, though the latter scenes are more psychological and discreet than anything else.
The most memorable shot in the film sees a casual Fonda staring at the remote distant with wistful eyes while seated comfortably on a wooden chair precariously balanced on its two hind legs, and with one boot against a pillar of the porch. This shot does not advance the development of the narrative, yet its simple, startling beauty echoes some of Ford’s more evocative pictures such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940).
The climax recreates the violent showdown between Earp and Old Man Canton known legendarily as the ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’. It is unspectacular and lacks the intensity and bravura that are distinct hallmarks of Ford’s action Westerns. My Darling Clementine is a departure for Ford in the Western genre; it seems more ballad-like than operatic, more folksy than larger-than-life.
GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)