Monday, February 18, 2013

CMBA Fabulous Films of the 1940s Blogathon: My Darling Clementine (1946)

I love a lot of movies.  A lot of the movies I love are from the 1940s.  I think the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fabulous Films of the 1940s Blogathon is the greatest idea since Allan Dwan's crane shot in Intolerance!

While I do love a lot of movies, there is only one movie that I have fallen in love with and that is John Ford's noirish, poetic look at the broken souls of Tombstone in 1946s My Darling Clementine.  Love has been known to get a girl in trouble.  The owner of the local laundromat may have regretted installing that television set the day of my contretemps with a heavy-set fellow from the apartment building next door.  That gentleman loathed My Darling Clementine as much as I love it.  He loathed it for historical inaccuracies regarding characters and events.  He loathed the use of Monument Valley for the filming location.  I cannot understand why any of that matters in the face of such a beautiful film.  It is the story told that grabs me.  Facts are available elsewhere.  When a fellow who thinks he knows all about movies meets a woman who knows she knows all about movies there are bound to be some uncomfortable moments for the rest of the customers in the laundromat.  When we parted it was not on friendly terms.  

The life of frontiersman/lawman/entrepreneur/self promoter Wyatt Earp (1848-1939) and his exploits has been the basis for countless and popular books, movies and television.  One of the first films to recount the subject matter of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral is 1932s Law and Order adapted by John Huston from W.R. Burnett's "Saint" Johnson (the fictional name given Wyatt) starring Walter Huston as the lawman.  It's interesting cast includes Walter Brennan and Russell Simpson who shows up later in our story.  The film itself is very interesting with a fabulous shootout, as recalled from my one and only viewing several years ago.

My Darling Clementine was John Ford's first film following his service with the Field Photographic Unit in WW2.  Ford was chaffing to get his own production company underway (Argosy), but was contractually obligated to one more film for Darryl Zanuck and 20th Century Fox.  The hands-on producer noted for his strong story sense and editing abilities had collaborated with Ford on such bona-fide classics as The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley.  Desiring a hit and choosing a western, Zanuck assigned Ford the task of reworking the 1939 picture Frontier Marshal.  Ford chose to shoot in Monument Valley to keep away from studio interference.  Ford had his way on the shoot and Zanuck had his way with the cutting.  Whatever their differences or agreements, the arrangement worked.

Frontier Marshal is based on Stuart N. Lake's detailed and admiring 1931 biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal.  Much of the book centres on Earp's close family ties, his friendship with "Doc" Holliday, his work in Dodge City and the troubles with the Clantons in Tombstone.  The screenplay by Sam Hellman (Little Miss Marker, Stanley and Livingstone, The Return of Frank James) included incidents which have been standard parts of the Earp legend including the routing of the drunk "Indian Joe" and the trouble when entertainer Eddie Foy journeyed to Tombstone.  Earp takes the marshal's job away from a timid Ward Bond who shows up later in our story.  It is a well-cast and crisp western directed by Toronto born film pioneer Allan Dwan (Heidi, Suez, Silver Lode, Sands of Iwo Jima).  Randolph Scott is Earp who arrives in Tombstone a loner with no family ties who takes on the marshal position and becomes friends with the consumptive gunfighter and gambler "Doc" Halliday (that's right, "Halliday") played by a charismatic Cesar Romero.  Nancy Kelly is the girl from Doc's past and Binnie Barnes the saloon gal who wants to be his future.  In this film Barne's character despises Scott throughout, and it's rather tough on this gal who grew up loving their "meant to be together" relationship as Alice and Hawkeye in 1936s The Last of the Mohicans.  1939 would also find Scott pining for Kelly in Henry King's Technicolor film Jesse James.  Our classic Hollywood is a small world. 

Ward Bond, Henry Fonda, Tim Holt

The screenplay for My Darling Clementine "based on a story by Sam Hellman" is by producer/writer Samuel Engel (Charlie Chan in Rio, Blue, White and Perfect) and Winston Miller (Danger Street, Lucy Gallant) TV producer and writer of popular shows such as Ironside, The Virginian, Cannon, etc.  Wyatt Earp is given back his brothers and a powerful motive for remaining in the "wide awake, wide open town" of Tombstone.

Our story opens with four Earp brothers driving cattle to California.  Wyatt played by Henry Fonda isn't the oldest, but he's a natural leader.  Morgan Earp is John Ford stock company stalwart Ward Bond.  Tim Holt makes his second (Stagecoach) appearance in a Ford film as Virgil Earp.  A 23-year-old, and looking younger, Don Garner whose work here as in most of his films is uncredited plays the baby of the family, James.  Garner would also appear in the 1955 remake of 1932s Law and Order.  

John Ireland, Grant Withers, Henry Fonda, Fred Libby

After refusing an offer for their cattle from Ike Clanton played by multiple Academy Award winner Walter Brennan, the older brothers head into town for a shave and a drink, leaving their beloved younger brother in charge of the herd.  The Earps do indeed find Tombstone to be the "wide awake, wide open town" Clanton proclaimed it to be.  Wyatt receives a job offer when he settles the hash of poor old "Indian Joe", but he's not interested.  Not interested until they return to their camp to find young James murdered and their cattle gone.  On a dreary, rainy night in Tombstone Wyatt becomes marshal with his brothers as deputies and the die is cast.

Henry Fonda said in an interview with Elwy Yost on TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies that John Ford with his unerring eye won awards for his cameramen.  In his career cinematographer Joe MacDonald was nominated three times for Oscars, twice for color films (The Sand Pebbles, Pepe), but it is his sumptuous work in Black and White that moves me in such films as Call Northside 777, The Dark Corner and Panic in the Streets.  His stunning work on location in My Darling Clementine adds immeasurably to the dark flavour of Tombstone at night and walks us into the brightness of the sunshine in the day.

Walter Brennan

Many of John Ford's films touch on the bond of families, those of blood (How Green Was My Valley, The Grapes of Wrath) and those brought together by external circumstances such as family of the cavalry (Rio Grande, Fort Apache, etc.).  Oddly enough the Earps find a replacement brother in "Doc" Holliday, a surgeon turned gunfighter battling tuberculosis and his own conscious.  It is an uneasy, yet strangely strong bond.  Victor Mature gives a strong and compelling performance as "Doc".  Ford was known for his unremitting hounding of certain actors during filming (Harry Carey Jr. in 3 Godfathers, John Wayne in Stagecoach).  On My Darling Clementine usual whipping boy Ward Bond was spared in favour of Mature.  In an interview on Saturday Night at the Movies Richard Widmark told anecdotes that show that Victor Mature did not take that sort of guff from director Henry Hathaway on the set of Kiss of Death.  However, he appears to have taken it, as others had before and after, from Ford.  Is it because he or they felt assured that the ultimate performance would be worth it?  One who did not take it was Walter Brennan.  Brennan is outstanding as Clanton, one of the screen`s great villains.  He vowed never to work with Ford again and he didn`t.  Of course, maybe he wasn`t asked.  Brennan would later spoof this role in 1969s Support Your Local Sheriff written by William Bowers (Cry Danger, The Gunfighter) as Pa Danby.  He's a hoot!

Linda Darnell

Linda Darnell (A Letter to Three Wives) is the spitfire Chihuahua, saloon singer, shady lady and Doc`s lover.  She`s beautiful, brassy and sweet.  She`s had to make her place in the world and she intends to keep it.  The title girl is Doc`s former fiance, Clementine Carter played by Cathy Downs (The Dark Corner).  She`s pretty, self-assured and ladylike, but no frail flower.  She has followed Doc across the country determined to return him to his old place in society.  The fact that Doc keeps Clem`s picture shows that she still has a claim upon him.

Henry Fonda, Cathy Downs

Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp feels very real.  He is confident in his abilities as a lawman and amusingly less sure when it comes to his burgeoning feelings for Miss Carter.  John Ford here gives us the opportunity to know Wyatt and expand the family relationship through the little touches of humour that are so memorable with Wyatt balancing himself on the chair and the gussying up he endures from the barber.  Tombstone is not all dark alleys and gambling halls.  A Sunday service and church building gives the Earps a chance to see the other side of the town.  As Virgil says "There must be a lot of nice people hereabouts, we just haven`t met them."  Ford loves a dance (Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Grapes of Wrath) and My Darling Clementine is one of the sweetest as the "marshal and his lady fair" take a turn.

J. Farrell MacDonald, Henry Fonda, Tim Holt
Ward Bond, Victor Mature, Alan Mowbray

Ford gives special moments to beloved character actors such as Jane Darwell (The Grapes of Wrath) as one of the denizens of the night.  J. Farrell MacDonald (3 Bad Men, The Whole Town`s Talking) as the bartender has the best line in the movie, and his expressive face conveys so much throughout.  Russell Simpson (The Grapes of Wrath, They Were Expendable) represents the amiable, non-criminal element of the town.  Alan Mowbray (Wagon Master, Terror by Night) is a charmer as the perpetually inebriated Actor (note the capital A) who incites and delights the town, infuriates the Clantons, and moves Doc with his recitation of Hamlet`s famous soliloquy.

The original music for the movie is by Cyril Mockridge (Nightmare Alley, Cheaper by the Dozen) and sets the sense of the outdoors at the opening and the obligatory minor key to introduce the Clantons.  James Earp is given the theme of a gentle guitar.  For the majority of the film the only music heard is that which is heard naturally in the town, the playing of the saloon musicians or the music for the dancing.  Classic westerns have brought out the best in many film composers and the scores have been come as memorable and as part of the film as any story or performances.  Try to imagine Red River be without Dimitri Tiomkin, The Big Country without Jerome Moross or The Magnificent Seven without Elmer Bernstein.  The lack of a score does not in the least hurt My Darling Clementine.  The story and performances are engrossing, moving and exciting and the choice to forego the punctuation of humour or shock with music was a wise one.

Monument Valley, Cathy Downs

Knowing the Clantons are behind the death of James Earp and proving it are two different things.  When proof is discovered it leads to two more shocking deaths and the ultimate showdown at the O.K. Corrall.  It is a tension filled scene that is exciting to watch and, even at this point in the picture, a chance to explore the characters of the men involved.

As he did with Stagecoach in 1939, John Ford once again raised the bar for the western genre in Hollywood.  The National Board of Review in 1946 placed My Darling Clementine among the top 10 pictures of the year.  In 1991 My Darling Clementine was placed on the National Film Registry.  Its pleasures are many.  My Darling Clementine is easy to fall in love with.


  1. CW, one of your best reviews ever! I love your comment that "many of John Ford's films touch on the bond of families, those of blood (How Green Was My Valley, The Grapes of Wrath) and those brought together by external circumstances such as family of the cavalry (Rio Grande, Fort Apache, etc.)." That's so true! I've seen MY DARLING CLEMENTINE several times and never knew it was a reworking of FRONTIER thanks for the awesome background details, too.

  2. You mentioned Ford and his cameramen... I watched another Ford Western, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, and in doing a little research on it for a possible post, I discovered that as many times as Ford shot in Monument Valley, RIBBON was the only film of his that won the Oscar for Cinematography, which surprised me, since it's so closely associated with Ford. What was that neighbor's beef with its use in this film?

  3. Love the laundromat story. Sounds better than a gunfight at the OK Corral.

    I love this one true, and the fact that the movie plays fast and loose with the facts doesn't bother me at all. Everyone is great in it. I love the little touches, like the dance sequence where Henry Fonda lifts his leg a little. Victor Mature makes a great Doc Holliday, a surefire part if there ever was one.

    The sun-baked photography can't be beat either. I also agree with you on the scarcity of scoring. Everyone assumes Golden Age movies were wall to wall scoring, but like all myths, that's not true. Despite Alfred Newman as the studio's music director, many Fox films are sparely scored. But when there is music, it's usually spot on.

  4. Caftan Woman, I'm glad you chose this film for your contribution to the blogathon. It's my second favorite Western after Ford's "Stagecoach." In addition to the copious background info, I particularly enjoyed your discussion of Ford's treatment of family (great comment about Doc Halliday being a replacement for Earp's dead brother), Walter Brennan (my favorite character actor ever, and here we get to see that he could be as menacing as he usually was colorful and endearing), and the great cinematography by Fox house photographer Joe MacDonald (as you say, a master of atmospheric b&w lighting--have you seen his work in William Wellman's Western "Yellow Sky"?).

    The person you had the run-in with at the laundromat seems to have taken the usual anti-Ford line--his preference for the drama of legend over historical accuracy. There are things about Ford that bother me, but that isn't one of them. I don't think he ever denied that films like this take liberties with history, just that sometimes they get closer to the MEANING of history than a historically literal approach would.

  5. CW - you tell a great story! This film is so 40s - leave it to Ford to make a noir western. But, it sure stood the test of time, no doubt about that. A great choice for the event.

  6. Spectacular cinematography here. Linda Darnell is my favorite part of this, but Fonda plays Earp to perfection, too. Nice choice, CW.

  7. Hi, I'm a new member of the CMBA and am visiting from the blogathon. This is my first visit to your blog.

    Wow, what an awesome amount of great information you have provided. It's always fun learning a bit about how a film came to be.

    As one who has not yet cultivated the taste for Westerns, I have to admit, I have never seen either this film or Stagecoach. But the fact that "My Darling Clementine" is THE film you fell in love with means it definitely is something special and is undoubtedly worth putting aside my dislike for Westerns and taking a look at it.

    I love the laundromat story, and I'm with you on the facts being muddled a bit. It doesn't bother me either, and neither does a book and its film version being different. I figure they are 2 separate things, and each can be enjoyed for what it offers. Likewise, a "facts-altered" film can be enjoyed for what it offers, and a look at an encyclopedia can offer the real story.

    Thanks for a great review.

  8. Beautifully written, worthy of the beauty of Ford films. Wow. I haven't seen "Clementine" in years but must take another look at it. I'm in a bit of a Ford glow this week having chosen "How Green Was My Valley" as my picture for this blogathon. Great read!


  9. Thanks, Rick. It was a pleasure to write about "My Darling Clementine". Blinded by love I may be, but Ford gives no reason to be otherwise.

  10. Hi, Rich. There's a story about the filming of "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" that cinematographer Winton Hoch was ready to pack up for the day when lightning developed, but director Ford kept on shooting. A gorgeous colour film.

    My laundromat opponent seemed to want the company to shoot in the actual town of Tombstone. After all, that would have made it much better. Gheesh!

  11. Kevin, you should have been there! I was on fire.

    After the trials of wartime, it must have been pure joy for Ford to work out those touches that remain with us all these years.

  12. RDF, you must be inside my head. After posting I was puttering around the house and had the V8 moment with "I should have mentioned "Yellow Sky"!

    Brennan becomes more and more impressive to me through the years. Growing up with "The Real McCoys" and "The Guns of Will Sonnet", I'm afraid I have been guilty of taking him for granted at times.

  13. Thanks, FlickChick. The western is such an adaptable genre and often reflects the times in which they were made.

  14. Thanks, Kim.

    My husband thinks of "My Darling Clementine" strictly in terms of Linda Darnell. I've grown fond of her Chihuahua. She's a "brave girl".

  15. Patti, thanks for visiting. You are a right thinking gal when it comes to facts and adaptations. When will the rest of the world get on board?

    I do hope you explore some of the great classic westerns, you may surprise yourself.

  16. Thank you so much, Aurora. I admired your work on "How Green Was My Valley". I hope your Ford glow continues for a while yet.

  17. Fabulous post, exquisitely written and researched.

    I would love to have seen the showdown at the 'ol laundromat, but I can almost imagine, as you left if with your basket of clean clothes, the kashink-kashink sound of your spurs. And a tip of your hat to the awed proprietor.

    Your irritable opponent perhaps mistook documentary for what was only fable. That's a hard mental hurdle for some people.

    Great post.

  18. Thanks so much, JTL.

    I do believe I heard someone softly whistling "The Streets of Laredo" as I ambled into the sunset.

  19. Terrific review. True the film plays real loose with the truth but so what? Want history read a book! Fonda is superb as is Walter Brennan. And the cinematography is just rich in its black and white images. McDonald was a great cinematographer but Ford had a great eye. Together they made magic. I love your background information!

  20. Great post Caftan Woman and a super selection for the 40s Blogathon. I agree with your rapture by the cinematography - that's the thing I love the most about Clementine. Its a combination of western, noir, and poetry by picture. Thanks for this informative review.

  21. John, I missed an opportunity a few years ago to see "My Darling Clementine" on the big screen. Someday that is how I truly want to experience the magic created by Ford and MacDonald.

  22. Thanks, Christian. There is a magic to cinematic storytelling that is irresistible.

  23. Great review (though I haven't seen this movie)!

  24. Thanks, Anthony. I hope I've encouraged you to take a look at "My Darling Clementine" and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

  25. cw,
    There was such a vast collection to choose from when it came to this recent Blogathon idea that I was quite interested to see just which film everyone would choose to review. (It certainly was difficult for me to decide on just one.)

    With that said, I can see why you have a special place in your heart for My Darling Clementine. You've written a love letter to the film which was perfect! As you mentioned, certain films depict the family bonds and MDC did so and then some.

    It's always fun to read a review of a film that the writer truly cares about, and can put down in words the many reasons why. I smiled several times while reading this and it really did make me want to re-watch the film with fresh eyes, keeping in mind all of the beautiful things about the film that you've pointed out here.

    Excellent post!

  26. Thanks for your kind words, Page. You made my day.

    "My Darling Clementine" was the first film that came to mind for the blogathon and then, with so many titles, I started to rethink. I'm glad I stuck with my gut/heart.

  27. I love to learn something new and I did. Like Rick, I had no idea it was a reworking of FRONTIER MARSHAL. I also love that you mention Alan Mowbray. It is great performances by supporting players that make a film stand out. We take them for granted in a great film even though they are what makes a film great!

  28. Gilby, glad you stopped by. I was raised in a character actor-centric home. You could never refer to someone as "whats-his-name", you had to know.

  29. I'm so glad that you decided to review this movie because I fell for it hard and fast the first time I saw it. Which is not a common thing for me and Westerns. I think it's the atmosphere, that sense that old ways are dying out as new ones are coming in. All anchored by Henry Fonda's great performance. And Victor Mature and Walter Brennan were never better. Thanks for writing this great, informative review.

  30. Aubyn Eli, it makes me so happy to know someone else who fell for "My Darling Clementine". It truly has an atmosphere that wraps you up and draws you in.

    I appreciate your encouraging words.

  31. Thanks for such a terrific post. This is one of my favorite Ford films, and I think you nailed it by describing it as both "poetic" and "noirish" - it's both beautiful and melancholy and one of the best things Ford ever did.

  32. Thanks, "Grand".

    I sometimes feel that "My Darling Clementine" falls through the cracks when one considers all of the great classics Ford gave us.

  33. I think I love everything John Ford did - each shot is framed so beautifully. But this is an exceptional film and is just as poetic as you said. I'm glad you chose this film to review for the blogathon. :)

  34. "...each shot is framed so beautifully."

    So true. Sometimes when watching a Ford film I think about how I would like to frame individual shots and let them surround me.

  35. LOVE IT! Wish I was there at that laundromat to help defend this film. It is a beauty, and at what point is any movie -- past or present -- going to be 100 percent factual? If so, it would be called a documentary. What a goofball. You should be proud of your love affair with this amazing film. :)

  36. CW, I haven't seen "My Darling Clementine" in ages. It's one of those movies that I watched many times on TV during childhood but haven't seen often since. You remind me that, as with great books, you must revisit the classics regularly.

  37. It's comforting to know that if I have any problems with the goofball again that I have Classicfilmboy as backup.

  38. That's so true, Lady Eve. The great (and even the not so great) books and movies mean different things to us at different times. They're there when we need them.

  39. CW, what a lovely Valentine you have given to "My Darling Clementine!" I think Ford had a gift for making some things feel larger than life yet others wonderfully intimate. I especially like Henry Fonda in vulnerable scenes. Great selection!

  40. Thank you for the compliment.

    Ford gifts are certainly in evidence in "My Darling Clementine". "Frontier Marshal" is a perfectly fine and entertaining movie, but Ford took some of the same incidents and fashioned something that lives in your heart.

  41. "J. Farrell MacDonald (3 Bad Men, The Whole Town`s Talking) as the bartender has the best line in the movie"

    Heartily concur, and both this and the film's second best line are said to have been ad-libbed on the spot by Mr. Ford.

    As you say, the Ford-Zanuck "tug of war" did work splendidly, but still I'm glad that the DVD includes the alternate preview version, a little closer to Ford's original intention. Will Wyatt kiss Clem at the end, or not? Zanuck fretted to Ford: "He loves her. The audience knows he loves her. Now is no time for us to get smart." Actually, both endings work for me - he kisses her with his eyes in any case.

    Thanx for a great write-up on a great film!

  42. Very thoughtful, detailed post, Caftan Woman! I love this movie too, and was amused to read your anecdote about the laundromat loudmouth. As you say, the real facts are out there, and John Ford didn't set out to make a docudrama.

    MY DARLING CLEMENTINE features one of my favorite Henry Fonda performances. I just love how he tilts his chair back on the porch and watches the world go by. Victor Mature never received much praise as an actor in his lifetime. Whatever abuse he suffered at the tyrannical Ford's hands was worth it, because it's a grand performance, much more subtle work than he's usually given credit for. And it's fun to see cuddly ol' Walter Brennan so mean and nasty.

    Great post about a great movie!

  43. Uncle W., it really adds to our pleasure over time to learn about the creative stages of our favourite movies. It's been a treat to me to discover how many fans really adore "My Darling Clementine".

  44. Thanks, Jeff F.

    I've had disagreements with film fans online and the discussions remain fairly cool and level-headed. Face to face, as with my laundromat combatant - well, let's say he got my Irish up.

  45. "Love has been known to get a girl in trouble." You always hit the nail on the head, CW. It's just as true about the movies we love, especially when we are young. I took movies so literally when I was a kid, that I thought much of life was just like that. It definitely colored my view of the world as I came to adulthood, and was not always a happy eye-opening experience. But you know what? I don't care! I love this movie too, factual problems aside. Who cares if everything is historically accurate? It's a rich, marvelous story, beautifully filmed and acted, and you have done it justice with your wonderful piece! Congrats!

  46. Thanks so much, Becky.

    For good or ill, the movies have been a major influence on my life as well. I believe the balance will prove that the inspiration they have provided has and will serve me well.

  47. Fine tribute to a great film! One small correction, in the fourth image from the top that's Mickey Simpson to the right of John Ireland, Grant Withers sported a more grizzly beard in this film.



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