A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946)

Made in the twilight of the classic Western, there's something a little decadent about this West-as-it-never-was movie. In a few years, conventional Westerns would be all over TV, and Hollywood filmmakers would start turning out so-called "adult Westerns," films that did what they could to question the values and stereotypes that had been prevalent in the genre. Films like High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952) and Shane (George Stevens, 1953) would be lauded by intellectuals who would never have been caught dead at conventional Westerns. And even Ford would present a darker vision of the West's racism and brutality in The Searchers (1956). On the surface, My Darling Clementine looks like a fairy-tale version of the Old West, with its blithe disregard for actual geography: Tombstone, Ariz., and Monument Valley, Utah, are more than 350 miles apart, but Ford's movie puts the jagged buttes of the valley in every Tombstone back yard. The familiar tale of the shootout at the OK Corral has been turned into a clash of good (the Earps) vs. evil (the Clantons), in which the virtues of the former clan have been greatly exaggerated. There are some of the usual stereotypes: a drunken Indian and a Mexican (?) spitfire named Chihuahua (Linda Darnell). There's a virtuous young woman (Cathy Downs) from back east who tracks her man all the way west and when he's killed settles down to be the town schoolmarm. And yet, My Darling Clementine is one of the great Western movies in large part because Ford and screenwriters Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller are so insouciant about their patent mythmaking. Henry Fonda is a tower of virtue as Wyatt Earp, infusing some of the integrity of his previous characters, Abraham Lincoln and Tom Joad, into the portrayal. Burly Victor Mature, though seemingly miscast as the consumptive Doc Holliday, gives a surprisingly good performance. And there's fine support from such Western standbys as Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, Tim Holt, and John Ireland. The black-and-white cinematography of Joseph MacDonald only seems to emphasize the good vs. evil fable, bringing something of the film noir to the Wild West.