Western marshal turned cattleman Wyatt Earp (Fonda) arrives at the lawless frontier town of Tombstone with his three brothers and a herd of cows they’re transporting to California to sell. Their plans to spend a refreshing night in town and move on are foiled when the youngest brother, left to guard the cattle, is killed and the herd stolen. Earp decides to stay in town until the matter is settled. While he forms an uneasy truce with the town’s de facto custodian, Doc Holliday (Mature), Holliday’s former girlfriend – the eponymous Clementine (Darnell) – arrives from Back East, to a frosty reception from both the Doc and, naturally enough, his current lover. The two dramas converge and ultimately conclude with the inevitable shoot-out at the OK Corral.
Arrow Films, rapidly establishing themselves as a prestige label for DVD and Blu-ray, fulfill the need admirably with this no-expense-spared release.
Alongside the film itself, we’re also given a pre-release version with some five minutes of additional scenes and editing variations, which are comprehensively analysed in a 40-minute documentary.
Allan Dwan’s 1939 film “Frontier Marshal”, of which Clementine is a partial remake, is also included and is a respectable film in its own right – less nuanced but a solid production, worth watching particularly for an entertaining performance by Eddie Foy Jr as his own father, a stage comedian who actually toured the old West. It’s interesting to compare Randolph Scott’s more upbeat version of Earp in this film with Fonda’s more brooding interpretation. (It’s worth mentioning that the transfer of this film is every bit as crisp and pristine as that of Clementine.)
Some of the other extras – an intensive commentary by Ford’s biographer Joseph McBride accompanied by Earp’s own grandson, and a radio adaptation, are included on the USA Criterion release, but not content with that, Arrow have included a one-hour Channel 4 programme from 1988 in which Lindsay Anderson gives a lecture on Clementine to students at the National Film School, and John Ford and Monument Valley, an affectionate recent documentary about the great director’s work, which includes lots of older video footage of John Wayne paying tribute to Ford, and of the man himself.
This two-disc set is far more than a classic film beefed up with extras. It adds up to a masterclass in film in general, and to John Ford and the making of this film in particular.
As for the film itself, anything I could tell you about an acknowledged classic would be redundant at this point in time, except perhaps my personal impressions. Never mind that it plays fast and loose with history (despite Ford’s assertion that he wrote the film to follow the truth as told to him by Earp himself, little more than the fact that there was a gunfight and that the Earps and the Clantons were there seems to match the historical record) and with geography (Ford’s career is responsible for giving us the impression that the American West all looks like Monument Valley!).
Ford is – as the extras remind us more than once – ‘printing the legend’, much as Earp himself defined it. An audience fresh out of World War II probably would have had even less appetite for shades-of-grey reality than it has at other times, and this film has intriguing echoes of what might have been the national mood at the time – that of a country that has been through tough times (for the lawlessness of the Old West, read Prohibition and the Depression) and now, having made great sacrifices to bring order to its world (for the gunfight itself, read WW2) is resolved to look forward to building better times, and especially (and poignantly, from this distance) to protect its younger generation in the future, and not get them involved in conflicts they didn’t look for.
Academic analysis aside, My Darling Clementine contains more than its share of the most perfect moments from classic westerns. To name a few: Wyatt Earp pointedly ignoring the wrath of Holliday’s girlfriend as he rocks on the back legs of his chair, the part played in the gunfight by the dust from a passing stagecoach, and old man Clanton’s chilling fatherly advice to his sons after he gives them a whipping for being bested by Earp: “When you pull a gun, kill a man!”
Review by Dennis Sisterson
[SRA value=”5″ type=”BIG”]
My Darling Clementine is out on Blu-ray on 17 August.