My Darling Clementine remains the definitive take on the legendary Gunfight at the OK Corral, and is right up there with John Ford’s finest ever Westerns. It’s stature as a classic of the genre is unquestionable, and along with other Ford greats like The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, at its core is not only a battle between good and evil, but also the challenges facing towns in the old West as civility slowly caught up with them.
It’s fair to say that Ford’s film bares only a passing resemblance to real life events, of course. He actually met the real Wyatt Earp on a movie set as a young man, but at this stage of his career the director’s focus was more on purveying great idealistic mythology than historical accuracy. An aim he achieves with typical aplomb.
At the film’s outset, Wyatt (Henry Fonda) and his brothers are cattle drivers just passing through the rambunctious town of Tombstone. While visiting the town one evening, Wyatt successfully incapacitates a drunken Indian and runs him out of town. However, despite the mayor’s pleas, he turns down the job of Marshall when it is offered. However, when the siblings return to their herd and find their younger brother James dead, he reassess his decision and opts to stay on until the killers are brought to justice.
Fonda is impeccable as Wyatt Earp, perfectly encapsulating a character that was undeniably tough, but was far from an uncultured brute. Well-mannered and intelligent, he carried an air of respectability and authority as he strode around his town. The central romance with the titular Clementine also provides the film with a tenderness that highlights the type of civil domesticity that Wyatt is trying to make the West safe for. Despite being driven by revenge over his brother’s death, Wyatt still insists on acting within the law, proving himself an unwavering man of honour. Also standing out is Victor Mature as the former doctor turned alcoholic gambler “Doc” Holliday. Suffering from a chronic case of tuberculosis, Doc is the classic flawed Ford hero. There is a darkness inside of him, but at heart he is a good man too. One of the film’s most memorable scenes sees Mature reel off the closing passage of a Shakespeare soliloquy in the middle of a smoky saloon. A scene that again emphasises the elegance and beauty found in the harshest of surroundings.
The climactic shootout is Ford at his very best as the hustle and bustle of the town fades away and the forces of right and wrong do battle. Wyatt and his brothers, along with Doc, stride out to face the no-good Clanton clan with a steadfast purpose. The final burst of action sits in notable contrast to the depictions of quaint town life we have largely seen to this point.
The Blu-ray itself delivers Ford’s picture in all its pristine monochrome glory with those Monument Valley vistas and eye-catching interiors both looking magnificent as ever. A truly special Western that has never looked better.
Special Features: Audio commentary / Two documentaries / Movie Masterclass episode / Two radio plays / Visual essay / Gallery / Trailers / 40-page booklet
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JOHN FORD / SCREENPLAY: SAMUEL G. ENGEL, WINSTON MILLER / STARRING: HENRY FONDA, LINDA DARNELL, VICTOR MATURE, CATHY DOWNS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW