Monday, March 19, 2018

My Darling Clementine (1946)



Director: John Ford

Honors:

In the sense of western lure few tales capture the imagination like that of gunman Wyatt Earp and the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. For director John Ford’s return to Hollywood filmmaking following his service in World War II audiences received this classic western. Styled from stories of the man John Ford knew, along with the legendary accounts that exemplified adventure and romance of the wild west comes the production of My Darling Clementine. The film would be yet another success for the filmmaker, as well as a professional breakup that set Ford’s career down new paths.

My Darling Clementine is a John Ford western of a lawman confronting the ills of small frontier town in a romanticized telling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) takes on the task of marshal in the lawless town of Tombstone, Arizona following the murder of his youngest brother, James. The stoic and just marshal suspects Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), a local gambler with a fiery Latin love interest in a saloon singer named Chihuahua (Linda Darnell). Meanwhile, Earp takes a shine to Doc’s former love interest, Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), a relationship Doc broke off secretly for her own protection, allowing Earp to connect to his emotional side. Chihuahua’s jealousy of Clementine causes issue for Doc, and eventually her actions reveal a local family gang lead by Newman Clanton (Walter Brennan) are responsible for James’ death. Chihuahua’s informant ways puts her life in danger, shot by one of the Clanton’s, but saved by the surgeon hands of Doc Holliday, and agrees to help Wyatt Earp stop the Clanton’s in a shootout at the O.K. Corral. Earp comes out victorious in the shootout, but not before claiming Doc Holliday in the process. With his task accomplished, Wyatt resigns as marshal and heads west, bidding his dear Clementine farewell before riding off.

This feature is the classic western to its core, complete with the just, stoic lawman, lawless, dusty wild West town, John Ford’s favorite backdrop of Monument Valley, and the classic of all classic western gunfights represents numerous times in print and film. For many cinema fans this movie ranks up there among favorite westerns, and it is easy to see why. It is the classic tale of a man with a sense of justice needed to be served. With only fleeting hints of a love story, this picture focuses on the romance of a Wild West of legends, a ruthless frontier town where the wrong people manipulate whatever they want until the complicated hero arrives to stop injustice.

The historical man that was Wyatt Earp had a history that spanned from the late 19th century into early 20th century, where in his later years he offered up his knowledge of the west to the blooming motion picture industry when it migrated into Southern California. While serving as an actor, stuntman, and consultant on many western pictures, he would regale cast and crew with stories of his adventures in the days of the actual wild west. He was an ardent self-promoter, building up his own legends of dramatic gunfights, along with descriptions of villainous baddies and the ruthless wilderness the west was. One of these motion picture crewmen that hung on to his mythical storytelling was a young man by the name of John Ford, sparking his imagination that served his inspiration in his future as a motion picture director.

Earp’s tall tales brought himself fame as his stories, most notably the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, were passed along, retold many times over in various forms. My Dear Clementine, which derives its name from the song utilized throughout the feature, was a retelling of this now infamous shootout shared in the fictionalized biography “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal” by Stuart Lake. This Earp story was adapted for the screen twice in 1934 and 1939, both under the title Frontier Marshal, but here we get a rendition told by a man that heard Earp share the tale himself. From an exaggerated story about a gunfight that was perhaps in real life was nothing more than a skirmish with guns in an Arizona town, John Ford gives the tale the flare it needed for the big screen to further cement it as a legend of Wyatt Earp and the Wild West.

Director John Ford once again takes us to his favorite western location, Monument Valley, Utah, a majestic vista of buttes and plateaus in dusty, wide open spaces that has become synonymous with the genre thanks to his vision. Cast as the leading man was one of Ford’s favorite actors, Henry Fonda, for his stoic and deep nature with a hint of underlying heart under a tough fa├žade. His delivery many times is stiff and awkward intentionally to signify his lone man persona, helping to inspire the classic western hero archetype that would be made famous years later by John Wayne.

Darnell with Mature
Doc Holliday is portrayed by Victor Mature, an actor that studio head and producer Daryl F. Zanuck believed strongly in as a future major star.  His performance is subtle, multifaceted, and yet does not overshadow Fonda. His sultry trouble making love interest of Chihuahua is portrayed by the exotically beautiful Linda Darnell. Sadly, her performance is barely passable in a role that serves simply to direct the plot to its ultimate confrontation. Darnell’s career at the time saw her cast in many large productions, but in roles leaving seldom of substance for an actress that provided little more than a pretty face and alluring figure.

The titular character of Clementine has very little to do with the story at all. In her first credited role, Cathy Downs was an unknown studio actress that appears to simply be filling in a casting spot with little to it. A serviceable minor love interest for our main character, and a footnote to the background of Doc Holliday, the character of Clementine fades to the background as quickly as she suddenly enters the plot midway through the picture. For a character so forgettable, it is sad to think the film is named after her, or at least the song that has her name in it.
Brennan and Fonda

Three-time Academy Award winner Walter Brennan appears in a rare role as a villain, a no-good cattleman who takes what he wants and is willing to kill to do it. What makes his performance work so well is his acting history as the usual likable country fellow, but here with an edge that makes him dangerous. Overall his character is two dimensional, but performed well enough to get the job done. Stories from the set state Brennan did not get along with John Ford very well o with Ford numerous times pushing Brennan in a performance that was rougher than the actor was used to.

Before release producer Darryl Zanuck was displeased with Ford’s cut of the picture, hiring studio director Lloyd Bacon for slight alterations, re-shoots of scenes, and trimming down the picture by nearly a half hour. These changes by Zanuck caused such a great deal of disdain from Ford towards Fox’s studio head that he never forgave him for. Even after the success of the picture when Zanuck offered Ford a new lucrative studio contract with the sizable $600,000 salary Ford turn down the offer to sever ties with Fox Ford would go on to produce many pictures independently with his own company Argosy Pictures, which he founded with fellow filmmaker Meriam C. Cooper after the success of one his most famous works, Stagecoach.

Critics and audiences alike greatly enjoyed My Darling Clementine, with even its irritated director finding it suitable despite conflicts on creative control. However, Ford’s frustration with studios would begin him on a path of greater filmmaker-controlled productions. With time My Darling Clementine would aid in the spreading of the legend of Wyatt Earp and the O.K. Corral, which would see many more renditions in the future. This film would remain a stable of popular culture as one of the finest western in American cinema, inspiring numerous like features. The name may not be its most memorable suit, but My Darling Clementine has left its mark on the western, and continues to be one of the greats of the genre.

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