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As far as black and white Westerns go, I must confess to not really being a very big fan. In fact, it took me two or three attempts at watching this before finally settling in to watch it in its entirety. There's nothing visually stimulating during the opening credits, and despite the acting prowess of one of the Fonda clan being promised, along with the charismatic Victor Mature, I still wasn't convinced.
The first 15 minutes or so is pure scene setting. Fonda plays Wyatt Earp who, along with his three brothers, comes across the town of Deadwood, initially intent on passing through. However, when his youngest brother is murdered while the other three were in town, he decides to lodge up in town, take on the vacant and unwanted post of sheriff in an attempt to expose the killer and restore law and order to the town. What he hasn't realised is the apparent lawlessness of the town is in fact down to the aggressive and controlling nature of the rapidly speeding train wreck that is Doc Holliday, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase: 'This town aint big enough for the both of us.'
Fonda as Earp and Mature as Holliday bounce off each other excellently, the clean cut law abiding strengthof the former contrasting nicely against the dark, aggressive and gruff charisma of the latter. The black and white film is actually used to good effect here, with Holliday permanently in black and looking morose, the occasional white handkerchief and ominous hacking cough the only signal of something bright (yet not!) around him. Earp though is much more of an open character, and the shadows are used well, with his face generally always visible even if Doc's is hidden by the brow of his hat.
The action is quite impressive I suppose. It's not a patch on today's action films of course, but the director uses different camera angles quite well and ensures that the accompanying music creates an atmosphere and almost made me want to edge forward on my seat. I certainly sat up and paid more attention after the first half an hour, and despite what I thought was an unnecessary side plot involving some romance, the film was miles better than I had initially thought. The tale of Wyatt Earp has been told multiple times, and this is as much of an entertaining tale as the others. I suppose like most plots that have been done to death, it was kind of hard to go along with an open mind knowing what the general outcome is likely to be for the main characters, but I can imagine that at the time this film was made it would have been more of a revelation.
Overall then, a decent film, one certainly worth a watch, with the pace and timing from those behind and in front of the camera certainly making sure that proceedings are entertaining. I can't quiet agree with Empire placing this in the top 500 films of all time, but the long expansive wild west was certainly used well, the actors did a good job and there was just enough mystery to keep this as a good film. Not the best, but certainly worth a watch.
This is a review of the film.
'My Darling Clementine' was made in 1946 and is one of several film realisations of the infamous Gunfight At the OK Corral.
Cast in the lead role of Wyatt Earp is Henry Fonda, an amazing performance, he brings a gravitas and maturity to his character as well as the necessary ruthless streak when needed. With Fonda there is Victor Mature as the ailing but charismatic Doc Holliday, who admires Earp but sees him as a threat to his role as unofficial ruler of the town of Tombstone.
The Earp brothers Wyatt, James, Morgan and Virgil are cattle drivers heading for California. As the film begins, Wyatt encounters Old Man Clanton who advises the Earp brothers to go into the local town of Tombstone to freshen up/get a shave. The Earp brothers leave youngest James to watch their herd while they go into town. Upon arrival back from the town they discover their herd has been rustled and James killed.
While staying in the town to find out about the murder of his brother, Wyatt is offered the role of Marshal of the town which he accepts, having been a former Marshal in Dodge City and a known name. His two surviving brothers are his deputies. When Doc Holliday returns from his travels he is initially angered by Earp's presence, but as the film progresses the two become friends, though there is always rivalry. This all develops to the inevitable showdown conclusion with the Clanton family, which is very well staged.
The two main female characters are Chihuahua, the local bar singer who is besotted with Doc Holliday, and the Clementine of the film title, Clementine Carter, Doc Holliday's sweetheart who has come to take him back home to Boston.
Chihuahua is well played by Linda Darnell, a feisty and jealous character especially when Clementine Carter arrives. Cathy Downs has a less challenging role as Clementine, the uptown girl who doesn't understand the violent ways of her former love.
Victor Mature is brilliant as Doc Holliday, a well educated man who can quote Shakespeare yet is hell bent on self destruction either at the hands of another gunfighter or his own whisky drinking.
It is the performances of the two main male characters, Fonda and Mature that impress the most here, giving their potentially one dimensional characters a great deal of depth and complexity. John Ford's direction is as masterful as you would expect from one of the greatest ever. His location scenery and sets perfectly conjures up the time and place of the action.
The great triumph of the film in many ways is that the gunfight itself which viewers know is coming, is put into the background of the film and Ford allows his characters to develop by focusing on more mundane things such as a dance on the site of an unfinished church, an important step in the blossoming relationship between Wyatt Earp and Clementine.
By calling the film 'My Darling Clementine' Ford shows that the relationship this woman has with the two male characters is the most important element of the film, gun battles come and go, but the relationships are important.
John Ford claimed to have actually known Wyatt Earp and that the gunfight in the film was as Earp described it to him, so the film could be said to have authenticity on its side. The extent to which that is true doesn't really matter though, this is high quality entertainment which is still brilliant 62 years after it was made. I now want to see a whole lot more John Ford westerns!
Running Time approx 95 minutes.