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.
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 (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.