on June 7, 2004
Of the many movies that I love and own, this is one of the DVDs I would grab if the house was on fire.
My Darling Clementine is fundamentally about the shootout at the OK Corral, arguably the most famous 30 seconds in American history. But in John Ford's loving hands, the story takes its time getting there and, in the process, becomes as graceful and easily beautiful a piece of film-making as you will ever see.
In this age when movie goers prize realism, sheer violence, and de-mythology, Ford has become something of a whipping boy for those who point out the glaring historical inaccuracies present in Hollywood's traditional portrayal of the American West. These folks miss the larger picture and are the poorer for their narrow, fashionable view. In this archetypal story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and the Clanton family, Ford was not interested in historical detail. He was creating legends, not historical accounts for the archives.
Ford was a film maker. When a movie lover approaches a Ford film, it becomes necessary to give oneself over to the power of film. Once one does that, tremendous pleasures await. Such as: the townspeople of Tombstone having a dance around the skeletal frame of a half-built church while the huge, flat buttes of Monument Valley tower in the background; or Henry Fonda as Earp watching with great sympathy as Victor Mature (Doc Holiday) recites Hamlet's suicide soliloquy in a barroom (as hokey as this sounds, it is Fonda's expression that will move you, I guarantee).
Other images worth mentioning: Fonda/Earp walking alone through the rain of Tombstone at night; or the final shot of Clementine (meaningless in the film other than as a perfect symbol of all the things men love but can never have) standing framed against the Arizona sky and a picket fence - or the way Walter Brennan as Old Man Clanton, flashes through his scenes like a rattler's hiss.
Loving a John Ford Western is a bit like believing in a religion: it requires a leap of faith - a belief in something that might not be tangible reality, but is instead an ideal no less worthy of love.
This DVD is an absolute must for Ford fans, Western fans, or movie lovers. As an extra bonus, the special feature commentary by Ford biographer, Scott Eyman, is absolutely superb. Mr. Eyman's concise and rich commentary is nearly as enjoyable as the film itself. All in all, a real treasure for John Ford fans. -Mykal Banta
on April 28, 2016
You know when you read the title that you started singing the song in your head and rightly so as it plays every time Clemintine comes around. Its a sad theme in this wonderful 1946 classic film.
The restoration of the original film pops in all its black and white glory! This is why I get Criterion films, it looks like it was just shot only a couple of months ago. The cinematography is beautiful both in the actual visuals and in the framing of the shots with very subtle use of the setting. Just look at the cover! You don't often see movies shot this well, period.
John Ford deserved his reputation as a great director, Henry Fonda was brilliant! How much can I say that's good about this film?
My favorite scene, without giving anything away, is when Wyatt Earp meets Doc Holliday and they are kind of at odds. You don't quite know who's who in this meeting/confrontation so you aren't quite sure who has the upper hand or what either man is capable of. The tension is fantastic, and they let you know who the better man is later on in spectacular fashion!
So much is expressed in this film by action rather than words, a look, a pause, a nervous motion says volumes! Even where the actors are standing with respect to the set pieces speaks, its everything a film should be. All of this speaks volumes to the ability of the actors and director. Such a rare film is this that I can't help but gush!
The plot is simple and even a bit predictable but it doesn't matter because you don't need a complex plot when you are making a film this well crafted.
I mean, you know there is a conflict that will come to a head at the end, but how will we get there? You know the good guys are going to win, but against these odds, how? Getting there is so beautiful and entertaining that the how is just so much better and exciting!
Its no wonder that they called this time in Hollywood the golden age.
Why are you still reading this review? BUY THIS FILM! (...and don't skimp! Get the Criterion release!)
on March 9, 2004
This is arguably the best Western by the best director of Westerns in the history of the genre. Ostensibly the story of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the legendary John Ford gives us a vision of the Old West that is violent yet idealized, frightening yet warm, grim yet majestic. Ford has often been called a visual poet, and the sublime "My Darling Clementine" is perhaps the best example of visual poetry that anyone has ever put to celluloid.
Forget about comparing this film to actual historical events. While Ford knew Wyatt Earp from his early Hollywood days when Ford was a prop boy, and he claimed that Earp told him how the gunfight really happened, he also said he wasn't trying to make a documentary when he directed "Clementine". The "facts", whatever they may be, don't matter here. As the newspaperman tells Senator Ransom Stoddard in Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Henry Fonda's Earp is the classic Ford hero, somewhat distant and removed from society, quietly confident and basically nonviolent, but nevertheless commanding the utter respect of others (partly because of his reputation which has preceded him, and its inherent threat of violence). And, most importantly, he is ultimately unable to share in the peace and security that he makes possible for others. Next to his portrayal of Tom Joad in Ford's "The Grapes Of Wrath", this is perhaps Fonda's finest performance. He has never appeared more cool and comfortable in a role, as he laconically and assuredly inhabits the lawless frontier town of Tombstone.
Contrasting Wyatt's sanguine pragmatism, Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) is a haunted, tragic outcast who has uprooted himself from civilization and drifted West. We learn that Doc was once a surgeon (the real Doc Holliday was a dentist, another negligible historical discrepancy), a valuable, functioning member of society, his career presumably cut short by alcoholism, consumption and undisclosed ghosts, which apparently still haunt him.
The Clanton family provides the reason for Wyatt's accepting the job as marshal of Tombstone, by murdering his youngest brother, James, and making off with the Earp brothers' cattle. The miscreant Clantons, like the Cleggs family in Ford's "Wagonmaster", are the personification of evil, demented and motherless. The leader of their clan, known only as "Pa" (ominously played by Walter Brennan), would like nothing better than for Tombstone to remain open and lawless and free for the taking.
Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) appears as a civilizing angel from the East, who has come to rescue Doc from himself and bring him back to Boston (Ford's eternal bastion of Civilization in the worst sense, invariably inhabited by bigoted grotesques - though Miss Carter seems to have been spared this characterization). The tempestuous Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), who wants to run away with Doc to Mexico, embodies the wild, open frontier.
While the climax naturally takes place at the O.K. Corral, the centerpiece of the film, as in many Ford films, is a dance. Its prelude unfolds majestically as Wyatt and Clementine meet in the lobby of the hotel and begin a stately walk toward the framework of the unfinished "first church of Tombstone", the sound of a tolling church bell and the strains of one of Ford's old favorite hymns, "Shall We Gather at the River" growing louder as the couple approaches the assembled congregation. Like many great moments in great films, the beauty of several elements melding flawlessly to create this sequence defies verbal description.
The church, to Ford, helps legitimize the existence of a community, not only for religious reasons, but as a place where people can come together in fellowship, providing a foundation for that community's future existence. The dance, which takes place on the physical foundation of the unfinished church, is the turning point of the film, and provides possibly the most transcendent moment in all of Ford's work. It is the embodiment of the spiritual establishment of a real and lasting community, which, until the arrival of Wyatt and Clementine, and all that they stand for, had no solid foundation.
Ford's use of comedy, often criticized for its broadness (but of which he was nevertheless proud), is sparing and deft in "Clementine". It is gentler and more restrained than his usual comedic fare, as in the humorous references to the aroma of the eau de toilette which the enthusiastic proprietor of the Bon Ton Tonsorial Parlor has applied to Wyatt's freshly shaven and coiffed person: "I love your town in the morning, Marshal", says Clementine, as she and Wyatt step out onto the front porch of the hotel; "the scent of the desert flower . . ." "That's me," corrects Wyatt, adding, explanatorily, "Barber." There is also the justly praised bit of business of Wyatt doing his seated "dance" on the front porch of the hotel, as he, somewhat passive aggressively, ignores the shrewish admonishments of Chihuahua. This casual, reportedly spontaneous creation of Fonda's (or Ford's, depending on the source) succinctly captures the essence of the relationship between the two characters.
Ford's innately masterful sense of composition and lighting, which he displayed throughout his career, is magnificently displayed in "Clementine". The sweeping diagonal of the bar in the saloon as Wyatt walks to the door after Chihuahua's operation; the expressionistic shadows which constantly envelop the doomed Holliday's face; the somber, monumental tableau of Wyatt and Morgan, bending over the dead body of their brother Virgil in the street at night; all of these images resonate indefinitely in the viewer's memory, and all reveal a visual master in his prime.
Many of the reassuringly familiar faces of Ford's legendary "stock company" are faithfully present, as was nearly always the case - with slight variations - over the years. Ward Bond, Jane Darwell, Russell Simpson, Mae Marsh, J. Farrell MacDonald and the ever-present, ever-endearing Francis Ford, John's older brother and former mentor (and a veteran of Hollywood from its infancy), all add their warm, familial qualities, counterbalancing the darker aspects of the film.
Of all the Westerns I've seen, "My Darling Clementine" is the most eloquent, the most understatedly awe-inspiring - the most poetic.
John Ford printed the legend. Sublimely.