Ebert’s Greats: My Darling Clementine

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
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Title: My Darling Clementine
Director: John Ford
Year: 1946
Country: USA

If I had thought about it a bit more I would have probably ventured into other filmatic territory before going for another film by John Ford (since I looked at The Searchers not too long ago) but I came across this and remembered a vivid image of Linda Darnell looking rather melancholy whilst wearing a sombrero. I had to find out what the context of this image was.

If you know even the smallest possible amount about the American West you will have heard of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It is one of those events in American history like the Alamo which has had many romanticisms and false histories written about it. My Darling Clementine takes inspiration from the, now widely considered fictional, biography of Marshal Wyatt Earp and takes its own route towards the explanation towards the gunslinging conclusion.

The thing is, that for an event so infamous, the film does not dwell for too long on the gunfight. In fact you could probably cut it out and you would still have a really good western. This is mainly due to the leading three of Henry Ford, Victor Mature and Linda Darnell. It is hard to think of a film where Henry Ford has been anything other than great, his turn in The Ox-Bow Incident helped to shape it into one of my favourite films, and his pick for the lead of Wyatt Earp serves the perfect contrast to other members of the town of Tombstone, Arizona.

The forces of nature that are singer Chihuahua (Darnell) and Doc Holliday (Mature) exemplify those who we would typically find in a film of the Old West. They are strong-willed and ultimately dangerous people who keep their vulnerabilities close to their chest. Chihuaua has an intense fear of abandonment and Holliday is dying of tuberculosis; not that either of them would admit it out loud.

Then there is Earp and the titular Clementine (Cathy Downs). Neither of them fit in that well since they are clearly well-mannered outsiders who have found their way into the lawless West. There is no denying the strength of either character but they are able to get things done with their guns still in their holsters. As such this film is able to comment on the time where the West began to lose its title of wild as other more civilized people moved in from the East to live.

This collision which would eventually tame the West (exemplified by a humorous scene between Earp and the town barber who sprays him with the scent of desert flowers) is also shown through Ford’s direction. In the beginning many of the long shots focus on the untamed surroundings of Arizona but these contrast greatly with the images later on of a church construction which is the ultimate act of bringing law and order to the area.

Despite the focus on Clementine in the title there is the feeling that the events would have unfolded the way they did even without her presence. The gunfight was inevitable after the death of Earp’s brother. Chihuahua’s jealousy would have caught up with her in the end. Holliday’s tuberculosis in itself was a death sentence. Was the darling Clementine a catalyst for good, a catalyst for action or just someone who happened to be there? All I can say, is that she formed part of a great Western.

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