The Criterion Voyages (Spine #732): MY DARLING CLEMENTINE -- A Wonderful Western That Pre-Dates TOMBSTONE
By Dan Skip Allen
I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't a big fan of westerns. Unforgiven, High Noon, and Once Upon a Time in the West are among my favorite films of all time. Tombstone is another terrific western, but it was based on My Darling Clementine from 1946, another great film about famous Sheriff Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is trying to move a herd of cattle through Arizona when he and his brother stopover for a night in Tombstone. When Wyatt wakes up the next morning, he notices that their herd of cattle is gone and one of his brothers is dead. He suspects the Clanton clan, led by Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) who live out by the O.K. Corral. Trying to figure out a way to get revenge for his brother, Wyatt becomes the Sheriff of Tombstone. He also befriends an alcoholic gambler known as Doc Holiday (Victor Mature) and the title character of the film, Clementine Carter (Kathy Downs).
Fonda's Earp struggles the entire film to try to get his cattle back and apprehend the culprit. The film is based on Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake. It's directed by legendary western director John Ford who worked with John Wayne quite a bit in his career. This film takes a lot from classic western tales, but Wyatt Earp is considered one of the most famous lawmen in history.
Henry Fonda plays a great Wyatt Earp and lawman. Later on in his life, he played a very evil villain in the Sergio Leone spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West. So he played both sides of the coin in his acting career. He's great as both men, though. It just shows what a great actor Henry Fonda is. His Earp is a very friendly guy. People are generally connected to him because of his friendly demeanor. He doesn't want people to think they can walk all over him, though. That's where his toughness comes in.
Walter Brennan was another very famous actor of the time. He was in quite a few westerns in his career including Rio Bravo, but his most important role was as the Pastor in Sgt. York starring Gary Cooper. Even though he won the Oscars for Supporting Actor in his lifetime. He plays a great villain in My Darling Clementine as Old Man Clanton. A true western villain that resembles others and Stephen Lang channels in Tombstone in 1993.
My Darling Clementine also has great performances from the women, including the title character, in the film from Kathy Downs and Linda Darnell as Chihuahua. They hold their own against great actors like Fonda and Brennan. Their characters are tough and stick up for their own lives in the film as well. A lot of actresses of the time are powerful and can handle themselves in these films with the best actors of the time. These two are very good at that.
The film is in black and white, but it looks great and has beautiful cinematography. The music in the film is pretty good as well. The title of the film is sung throughout the film. And it's a very catchy song, but the score is very good as well. The craft departments are all superb in the film. And it's nice to see a film that everything in it is so authentic and makes the film much more watchable than I could have thought. It's a great addition to the Criterion Collection.
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