My Darling Clementine
Directed by John Ford
Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil ride into Tombstone and leave brother James in charge of their cattle herd. On their return they find their cattle stolen and James dead. Wyatt takes on the job of town marshal, making his brothers deputies, and vows to stay in Tombstone until James' killers are found. He soon runs into the brooding, coughing, hard-drinking Doc Holliday as well as the sullen and vicious Clanton clan. Wyatt discovers the owner of a trinket stolen from James' dead body and the stage is set for the Earps' long-awaited revenge.
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★★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
"When ya pull a gun, kill a man."
So goddamned fresh. John Ford depicts an entire community - a town at the edge of the world, the skies of Monument Valley as encasement for the unknown - with spectral simplicity, unleashing a strong-willed presence of law and order into a population surrounded by death. And if residents are defined by their environment, then Tombstone is barren in every facet; a ghost town kept alive through alcohol, gambling, and the looming threat of savagery. Ford's images are boundless in more ways than one, delivering direct, uncluttered information via human placement as well as evoking fluid, expansive landscapes with searing poetic flourish. In particular, the gunfights in My Darling Clementine end as soon as they begin, waves of dust settling as slowly as the breath of the wounded. Not as pure as Wagon Master or as immeasurable as The Searchers, but its unfiltered, no-nonsense gestures and movements carry a lovely, pleasant charm beyond reproach.
★★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd
A.V. Club review. Makes sense that my most vivid memory from a previous viewing 20+ years ago was Henry Fonda leaning back in his chair—this is a gloriously lazy movie, in a very different way from Hawks' (equally wonderful) digressive '50s Westerns. Also turned me around on day-for-night, which I hadn't realized could look so evocative.
★★★½ review by Ben McDonald on Letterboxd
My first real introduction to the Western (and John Ford). Not exactly my cup of tea, but I certainly expect my impression of this to change as I learn about and explore the genre further.
Henry Fonda is truly fantastic, though. What a unique and quietly enthralling screen presence.
★★★★★ review by Jake Cole on Letterboxd
One of Ford's most harrowing, depicting a land mired in the messy turmoil of civilizing, where gunfights interrupt shaves and Shakespeare is bewilderingly spoken aloud, albeit slowly, the way someone condescends to speak English to a foreigner, as if enunciating everything will make it clearer to these savages. The iconic image of Fonda in this film sees him pressing his foot against a patio beam, tilting his chair back as he relaxes against Tombstone's outer rim. It depicts the hero, and his surroundings, on a precipice, having found an uneasy balance between lawlessness and order that is about to crash into the modern age. As is often the case in Ford's films, that development can only occur through a violent break, though I was surprised on a rewatch to find just how brief the OK Corral shootout really is, having remembered its seismic importance over its actual structure. Ford's power of suggestion is such that he only needs a minute or two of serious gunfire to say everything about Earp's leveling effect on the town's lingering brutishness, and then, like so many Western heroes, he departs, leaving behind the calm he made (but also avoiding having to do the heavy lifting of a reconstruction). Tag Gallagher sees the film as a clear postwar allegory, which further colors Earp's departure with ambivalence. I've not talked of the film's formal expressiveness, if only because it deserves a full-length essay. This is top-tier Ford; wouldn't object if someone called it his best.
★★★★ review by ScreeningNotes on Letterboxd
"You hadn't taken it into your head to deliver us from all evil?"
My Darling Clementine certainly fits into the western genre, but from the visuals alone you wouldn't be remiss to assume that it had more in common with film noir. The term wouldn't be created to retroactively describe a trend in American cinema for another two years, but the social and cultural anxieties that the new subgenre was rooted in were very much alive. The low-key lighting casts shadows that are deep and dark, and they pervade the frame and reflect the social angst of the time and the existentialism that resulted from World War II.
But the similarities go beyond simple imagery: the little town of Tombstone (aptly named) is much the same as the seedy urban wastelands depicted in film noir, and it's similarly populated with violence and corruption. Doc Holliday brags that the town has the largest graveyard in the area. Even Wyatt Earp, the new man in town and the cleanest guy around, gambles in hazy, drunken bars. Everyone seems cursed: Earp loses his youngest brother at the start of the film, Holliday has an ever-present cough, and both Chihuahua and Clementine seem doomed in their love lives.
Earp has come to town in order to clean it up (motivated by the death of his brother), and this is where the film diverges in a slight but significant way from the noir tradition. Earp eventually reveals himself to be as pathologically motivated and corruptible as your favorite hard boiled detective (the finale is "strictly a family affair"), but unlike film noir, the town of Tombstone is ultimately capable of redemption. Earp has to pervert his ideals in order to clean up the streets, but his willingness to take this evil onto his own shoulders does eventually deliver the town from their own evils.
This new lawful, just society is built on an act of violence which has to occur elsewhere (the gunfight at the O.K. Corral) and then be forgotten about, just as the man who perpetrated it and saved the town must leave.
New personal favorite, and a likely candidate for the five-star treatment on rewatch.
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