My Darling Clementine


Director: John Ford

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Henry Fonda plays a soft-spoke slow-walkin' Wyatt Earp who commands authority in rough Tombstone even though he doesn't carry a gun -- until it's finally necessary to avenge his brothers. Victor Mature, not usually regarded as much of an actor, turns in a splendid performance as a gloomy tubercular short-tempered yet heroic giant, Doc Holliday. A glowering Walter Brennan plays the Clanton patriarch as pure unadulterated no-saving-graces bad-guy. These aren't Roy Rogers or Hoppalong Cassidy figures; these actors deliver mature performances for adult viewers.

My Darling ClementineIt's all leading up to the familiar shoot-out at the OK Corral, a fairly exciting climax, but the film as a whole is not action-packed, & is very slowly paced. It has to be appreciated pictorially, & the deep-focus black & white cinematography of the Monument Valley setting for Tombstone, & the rugged faces of character actors, makes it pretty easy to appreciate on its own level.

My Darling Clementine is a romantic portrait of Great Men living Great Men's lives in the wild wild west, where sitting still & playing poker, sitting still & eating food, sitting for a haircut, sitting in a chair on the boardwalk, & many other inert sequences, are infused with mightiness held in check, but can be a little surprising if one was expecting a shoot-em-up with saloon brawls & extra characters flung through windows or falling from the roofs of buildings. Even in 1946 that stuff wasn't new enough for John Ford, but a quiet sense of what life might really have been has its own romance.

A weakness of the film is its plethora of side-characters aren't given much of a chance to shine. There are a number of cameo performances by cool character actors, but not one has his own subplot or mini-story to be revealed, they're just postcards from the west. Wyatt's brothers (Ward Bond & Tim Holt) aren't given much to do; we see them eating lunch or breakfast or dinner about a half-dozen times, & they move to the fore only to serve a couple quick plot bits, but never become vital figures. The Clanton boys are wholly indistinguishable thugs. The decision to make Wyatt's brothers & old man Clanton's sons such faint figures has the effect of making their fates & few actions less impactful.

The story also has trouble giving women meaningful positions in Tombstone. There are only two complete characters here, Wyatt & Doc, & girls exist only to reassure the audience these guys are straight (& one endearing long view of Wyatt's face as he lovingly gazes at Doc reciting Shakespeare certainly could make one wonder).

The titular character of Clementine is in love with Doc who rejected her, & she is secretly loved by Wyatt. But Cathy Downs (also the love interest for The Amazing Colossal Man more deserving her her "talents") invests the thinly written character with no personality whatsoever, & Clementine has very little purpose in the tale though one expects her to do something since she's the title of the film. Better integrated into the story is the stupidly-named Mexican harlot or bad girl Chihuahua (Linda Darnell). It's a flashy role but a horrible stereotype compared to the archetypal more-than-mere-stereotype figures of the two heroes.

It also has a couple of virulently racist moments, for Mexicans & in particular the Drunken Indian sequence. Perhaps Ford only meant to show that racism existed in towns like Tombstone, as he was not always so insensitive in all his films. But since most Hollywood westerns had the same sorts of ignorant scenes played out in the same way, if Ford intended to comment upon that, he failed.

The Fox Classics DVD has extras including commentary track & on the reverse side of the disc a longer pre-release cut of the film. The commentary track purports to feature both a semi-scholarly commentator Scott Eyman, & Wyatt Earp III. The later says hardly a thing, whereas the droning monotonous academic, though interesting at first, is at least half the time just describing what's on the screen as though we can't see it for ourselves. The rest of the time he is reading in monotone from his research notes, a hodgepodge of cribnotes that were badly matched to what's on the screen. He eventually becomes insufferable, & waiting for Earp's kin to say anything at all is totally frustrating. But such "extras" are rarely worthwhile on most DVDs, & this one's merely par for the course. The film itself remains a lovely experience.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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