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DVD: My Darling Clementine | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: My Darling Clementine

DVD: My Darling Clementine

John Ford's classic noir Western transcends its own mythmaking

Perchance to dream: Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) and Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) listen to Hamlet's soliloqy20th Century-Fox

In John Ford’s rueful 1946 allegory about the human cost of America’s new role as global peacekeeper, Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) agrees to clean up Tombstone, Arizona, as a pretext for revenging his teenage brother's murder by Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) and his rustler sons.

Ford dodges many facts about the real Earp clan’s politically driven feud with the Cochise County ranchers’ faction, which erupted inconclusively in the 1881 OK Corral gunfight. Frank Perry’s revisionist Doc (1971) comes closer to the skimpily documented truth but lacks My Darling Clementine’s mythic resonance and quiet lyricism.

Shot expressionistically in black and white, partly in Monument Valley, Clementine is, however, a noir-ish pipedream. Its simplistic morality is complicated by the homoerotic attraction between Wyatt (Henry Fonda) and Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), and by the shifting affections of Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), Doc’s discarded Bostonian mistress, and Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), his racistly depicted Mexican-Indian floozy.

Doc, the tubercular killer-dentist, is Ford’s most fatalistic creation – his death yearning evoked in his mournful completing of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” speech for an addled travelling actor (Alan Mowbray). 

Ford apparently knew Earp – a former gambler, pimp, teamster, buffalo hunter, and deputy marshal – from his visits to the director’s early sets. He cast Fonda to capture his solemnity while making him noble, courtly, and ruthless. He is a Fordian man of the wilderness who furthers the civilising process but remains an outsider. Ironically, Ford intended a cosy domestic ending, but Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck insisted he drop it for a more ambiguous one. He also ordered some reshoots and cut moments of incongruous humour.  

Clementine was the third adaptation of Stuart N. Lake’s since discredited 1931 Earp hagiography Frontier Marshall. Allan Dwan’s bustling 1939 version tops the extras in this crammed Blu-ray-only release, but it pales beside Ford’s masterpiece.

Its simplistic morality is complicated by the homoerotic attraction between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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