Perhaps the best orchestrated western of all time, courtesy of the modest Mr. Ford. No western figure inspired more cinematic lore than the indomitable Wyatt Earp, and Fonda, back from WWII, gives a definitive portrayal of the famous frontier lawman.
Earp and his brothers (Bond, Holt and Don Garner) have driven their cattle to the outskirts of rough-and-tumble Tombstone, Arizona. Coming upon their campsite is Old Man Clanton (Brennan), who offers the Earps a cut-rate price for their herd. Wyatt rejects the offer and heads into town, leaving
his youngest brother as watchman. In Tombstone Earp manages to rid the town of a bothersome drunken Indian, and the grateful townsfolk offer him the job of sheriff. He doesn't accept the position until he discovers the Clantons have stolen his cattle and killed his brother. Then it's time for the
remaining Earps to strap on their guns, shore up Wyatt's mysterious, alcoholic friend Doc Holliday (Mature), and head for the OK Corral.
Dramatic and brooding, with shadows at night and blinding light at day under a sky that never ends, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE doesn't follow history exactly, but Ford is much more concerned with the myth of the West. The scene where Wyatt brings harmony to Tombstone by eliminating the disruptive
element--notably, a Native American--is almost a prototypical expression of the genre's obsession with the formation of community. The most famous scene in this regard, however, is the dance at the church-founding social, where Wyatt and Clementine (Downs) walk down the street like it was a
wedding aisle. Fonda was rarely better, his Midwest accent and measured delivery perfect for the part. His chair-balancing makes wonderful use of his lanky body, and his deliberately stiff but gracefully folksy dance with Clementine is a brilliant bit of acting. The often underrated Mature is also
outstanding, acting out the tormented Holliday with amazing passion and restraint. Darnell's luscious noir persona is effective, even if she is too glamorized and seems about as Latina as "My Wild Irish Rose." Downs, meanwhile, cast as a refined parallel to Darnell, isn't much of an actress, but
then this isn't much of a part; schoolteacher Clementine is less a character than the embodiment of civilization from the East, and the ingenue fills the bill admirably. Finally, Brennan, downright chilling as Clanton, will make you forget every rerun of "The Real McCoys" you ever watched.
As with other Ford films, there is no sustained score; Newman merely provides haunting little variations of the title song on a harmonica, and other western ballads on fiddles or guitars as needed. The script is lean and tight, and MacDonald's startling photography, under the Master's guidance,
provides graphics so sweeping that the whole of the West seems bounded by the frame.
Many other films about Wyatt Earp have been made: LAW AND ORDER with Walter Huston; two films named FRONTIER MARSHAL with George O'Brien and Randolph Scott in the role; TOMBSTONE, THE TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE with Richard Dix; WICHITA with Joel McCrea; GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL with Burt Lancaster;
HOUR OF THE GUN with James Garner; and DOC with Harris Yulin. This, however, is the definitive rendering, if only for the sequence at the church dance. If that scene doesn't either give you chills or make you cry, see your doctor immediately.
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- Review: Perhaps the best orchestrated western of all time, courtesy of the modest Mr. Ford. No western figure inspired more cinematic lore than the indomitable Wyatt Earp, and Fonda, back from WWII, gives a definitive portrayal of the famous frontier lawman. Earp… (more)