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My Darling Clementine

My Darling Clementine(1946)

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My Darling Clementine (1946)


Tombstone, Arizona, 1882: Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil arrive at the lawless boom town for a night of relaxation, leaving their youngest brother James behind to tend their cattle herd. When they return to camp, they discover James is dead and the cattle have been rustled. Determined to stay in Tombstone until he finds his brother's killers, Wyatt accepts the job as marshal and deputizes Morgan and Virgil. In his calm, quiet way, Earp brings a semblance of justice and order to Tombstone despite several tense run-ins with the vicious Clanton gang. He befriends the brooding, hard-living Doc Holliday and begins to fall for Clementine Carter, Doc's former love from back East who has been scouring the West to bring him back home. For a while it seems as if a peaceful life might be possible for Wyatt and the town. Then another brother is murdered by the Clantons and Wyatt vows to settle the score, resulting in the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Director: John Ford
Producer: Samuel G. Engel
Screenplay: Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller, story by Sam Hellman, based on the book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake
Cinematography: Joseph (Joe) MacDonald
Editing: Dorothy Spencer
Art Direction: James Basevi, Lyle Wheeler
Original Music: Cyril Mockridge, David Buttolph
Cast: Henry Fonda (Wyatt Earp), Linda Darnell (Chihuahua), Victor Mature (Doc Holliday), Cathy Downs (Clementine Carter), Walter Brennan (Old Man Clanton), Tim Holt (Virgil Earp).
BW-97m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.


Though still greatly esteemed by auteurists for technical expertise, economy of expression, and pictorial beauty, John Ford has been looked on less kindly by more recent critical analysis, such as that noted by film historian Michael Atkinson, which takes him to task for "clumsy staging, booze-sodden sentimentality, militaristic fetishism, vaudeville overacting, bar brawl camaraderie, and racist war-mongering." What is generally agreed upon is Ford's mastery as a mythmaker and, in his best films, an often breathtaking and expressive visual style; he was greatly aided by the top cinematographers with whom he worked, such as Joseph MacDonald's stunning black-and-white work on My Darling Clementine.

Although in his 50-year career, Ford made movies in almost every genre, he is known first and foremost as a creator of Westerns. He was the film artist who did the most to codify the myth that delineated our nostalgic views of the Old West for so long. His reputation in the genre rests almost exclusively on the last 20 years of his career, and that all began here, in a film that encompasses the finest of his talents, even in the estimation of many of his harshest critics.

There were, of course, his silent Westerns, which are rarely seen today, and Stagecoach (1939), which is still considered a landmark in the genre. But as critic-turned-filmmaker Lindsay Anderson remarked, Stagecoach is very good prose, My Darling Clementine is poetry. As such, fans of Western action may find this less satisfying, if what they most seek are the shoot-em-up thrills of posse pursuits, Indian raids, blazing gunfights, and the like. While the central event of the Wyatt Earp legend is the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, that moment is only the briefest climax to this story (as it was, even more briefly, in real life). What Ford and scenarist Winston Miller concentrate on in My Darling Clementine are the smaller, mundane moments of Earp's life in Tombstone - visits to the barber, a dance on the foundations of a new church, his budding friendship with the tormented and difficult Doc Holliday, his shy attraction to the genteel new woman in town (the Clementine of the title), the visit of a roving Shakespearian actor - even as the plot moves inexorably to the final showdown with the Clantons. So, when violence does occur, it's all the more startling, a necessary but unsettling rupture in the gradual encroachment of civilization into the wild frontier.

The triumph of civilization over the wilderness, so common to the Western and more broadly to the notion of Manifest Destiny, however misguided and damaging that may have been to the American experience, is at the core of My Darling Clementine. The narrative takes great liberties with the true history of Wyatt Earp. It was a more complex and compelling tale than the legend, more insightful of the real West than the popular image of the upstanding lawman, who was "brave, courageous, and bold" (according to the lyrics of the TV theme song for the long-running 1950s Western series about him). Earp's legend as we now know it and as presented here was built by one writer, Stuart Lake, in his 1931 book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall. It's a measure of Ford's achievement that he created something far superior and more resonant than any of the other movies based on Lake's work. Creating a legend is what Ford did best and, in his later Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), one of his characters makes the statement - "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend." That's why Ford took the town of Tombstone out of its factual setting in southern Arizona and placed it at the far northern border of the state, in his beloved and iconic Monument Valley.

It may be far too simplistic and sentimental an approach, but it's a motif that has driven so many American movies, not only in this genre but in those films Robert B. Ray has identified as "disguised Westerns." This "certain tendency of the Hollywood cinema" (to quote the title of Ray's book) - to build a story around an outsider hero reluctantly drawn into the service of the civilizing forces whose very triumph must always exclude him-has shaped films as apparently divergent as the Western Shane (1953), the war story Casablanca (1942), even a "woman's picture" like Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love (1947), and to an extent in Ford's own adaptation of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1940). The motif is given its finest expression in My Darling Clementine, boosted in no small measure by the portrayer of Earp, Henry Fonda.

Critics Joseph McBride and Michael Wilmington have observed how Ford used Fonda's silences in the six films they made together. In his association with Ford, particularly in films prior to My Darling Clementine (The Grapes of Wrath and Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939), Fonda established himself as an icon of honesty and decency, conveying with few words a moral force that roots the narrative of Clementine (and would ossify into self-righteous rigidity in Ford's Fort Apache, 1948). Throughout script development, Ford kept hectoring Miller to pare away words, eliminating any verbosity that stated the theme or Earp's feelings in favor of letting the story unfold in Fonda's glances, his walk, his awkward high-stepping at the church social, his little trick in the chair outside the marshal's office. The one scene where Wyatt does speak of his hopes that "maybe when we leave this country, young kids like you will be able to grow up and live safe," uttered at the grave of his murdered brother, was not even Ford's but added by producer Darryl Zanuck and directed by Lloyd Bacon. It's a sweet scene, emotionally effective in Fonda's low-key delivery, but it isn't really needed. Without it, Fonda still creates an understated, beautiful portrait of a man marked by tragedy yet retaining a capacity for affection and optimism.

Henry Fonda's isn't the only performance of note. Unfortunately, Linda Darnell and Cathy Downs, the women in My Darling Clementine, while central to the plot, are negligible as characters (as they would be, regrettably, in too many of Ford's films). Victor Mature, however, known far more for his beefcake physique than his acting talents, is quite memorable as Doc, perhaps the best role of his career. Character actor Walter Brennan turns his usual rural roughness into something very dark and sinister as Old Man Clanton and Alan Mowbray evokes a mix of bravado and pathos even in his small bit as the traveling actor.

For students of film, then, My Darling Clementine is the perfect site to weigh the pros and cons of one of our most famous cinema artists. For observers of the American myth, it's an expression of the birth of American civilization where the necessities of survival in hostile territory are refined by traditional community values into an ideal society. For movie fans free of the more scholarly considerations, it's essential as simply a pleasurable story, a sweet and understated fantasy of the past marked by small but rich moments and sweepingly evocative visual images.

by Rob Nixon

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My Darling Clementine (1946)

The now legendary town of Tombstone was named by prospector Ed Schieffelin, who discovered silver there in 1877 after being warned by friends that all he would ever find there would be his own tombstone. During the 1880s, about 7,000 people lived in and around the boom town, but it was virtually deserted a few years later when the bottom fell out of its mining industry due to labor unrest, floods in the mines, and a drop in silver prices. The Tombstone Historic District was granted National Landmark status in 1961. Now the seat of Cochise County, the town's population was 1,569 in 2006. The historic cemetery, Boot Hill, contains the graves of Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury, the three men killed during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It is also the final resting place of Newman Haynes "Old Man" Clanton, who died prior to the gunfight (unlike in the movie); he was "killed by Mexicans while driving a herd of stolen cattle," according to his tombstone. He was originally buried in New Mexico but later re-interred at Boot Hill.

Wyatt Earp and his wife Josephine settled in Los Angeles when he was in his 60s, and he spent a lot of time hanging around movie sets, trying to convince someone to film his then nearly forgotten story. John Ford said Earp would come to town and get drunk with cowboy actors whenever his wife went away to religious conventions. Western stars Tom Mix and William S. Hart were friends of his and served as pallbearers at his funeral in 1929.

Doc Holliday was not killed at the O.K. Corral. He died of his tuberculosis in 1887 in a Colorado sanitarium. His purported last words were "I'll be damned."

"Oh, My Darling, Clementine" is a folk ballad of the American West most often credited to Percy Montrose in 1884, and occasionally to Barker Bradford. It is believed to have derived from another song called "Down by the River Liv'd a Maiden" by H.S. Thompson (1863). It tells the story of the death by accidental drowning of the daughter of a miner in the 1849 California Gold Rush. It's usually believed to be from the point of view of a lover, although some theorize it's the miner-father who's supposed to be singing it. This theory, however, has less credence in light of final lyrics that indicate the singer has turned his affections to Clementine's little sister, a stanza that is left out of most children's song books, presumably because it's seen as morally questionable.

The folk song became a signature for the cartoon character Huckleberry Hound, who sang it often and always horribly out of tune.

Henry Fonda did the same slightly awkward high-stepping dance in his earlier appearance for Ford, Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). According to My Darling Clementine screenwriter Winston Miller, Ford deliberately included the dance number again because "he thought it would make a good shot."

Although the scene at James Earp's graveyard was added without Ford's approval, it bears connection and comparison with similar scenes Fonda played in the earlier Ford movies Young Mr. Lincoln and The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

The story of My Darling Clementine was retold in John Sturges' Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), with Burt Lancaster as Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc.

Wyatt Earp and the legend of the O.K. Corral have figured in many other films over the years. The first movie based on Stuart N. Lake's book of the same name about Earp was Frontier Marshall (1934), which set many of the details of his legend and restored Earp to prominence after being largely forgotten for many years. George O'Brien played the character whose name was changed to Michael Wyatt in this version because the lawman's widow threatened to sue.

Lake's book was adapted again under the same title in 1939, directed by Allan Dwan and starring Randolph Scott as Earp and Cesar Romero as Doc. Earp's widow threatened to sue again but producer Darryl F. Zanuck allegedly secured her silence with a $5,000 check.

The 1939 Frontier Marshal was the first film to feature Wyatt Earp by name. Director Allan Dwan knew the real Earp, who as an old man lived in Los Angeles and used to visit the sets of Dwan's silent Westerns. Dwan remembered Earp as "crooked as a three-dollar bill" and says he and his brothers "were racketeers, all of them." Nevertheless, Randolph Scott as Earp in Dwan's film is a paragon of virtue and justice, associated with Western low-life only through his friendship with Doc Holliday, whom he tries to reform.

Lake's version of Earp's life also served loosely as the basis for Powder River (1953), starring Rory Calhoun as a character named Chino Bullock based on Earp.

The character of Wyatt Earp has appeared in nearly 50 movies and television shows, played by actors as varied as Richard Dix, Will Geer, Joel McCrea, Buster Crabbe, James Stewart, and most recently by Kurt Russell in Tombstone (1993) and Kevin Costner in Wyatt Earp (1994). Hugh O'Brian played the marshal in a long-running (1955-1961) television series.

James Garner played Earp twice: in Hour of the Gun (1967), a sequel by John Sturges to his Gunfight at the O.K. Corral that begins with the O.K. corral fight and details its aftermath, and as the aged marshal, now living in Los Angeles and getting involved in a comical fiction adventure with Western movie star Tom Mix (Bruce Willis), in Blake Edwards' Sunset (1988).

Doc Holliday has appeared on screens big and small nearly as many times as his friend Wyatt Earp, played by such actors as Walter Huston, Martin Landau, Jason Robards, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Dennis Quaid, and Randy Quaid. Stacy Keach played him in a movie more specifically about the character himself, Doc (1971), with Harris Yulin as Wyatt and Faye Dunaway as another Western legend, Katie Elder.

The legend underwent revision in Doc, expanding Earp's shadier side into more villainous proportions. Screenwriter Pete Hamill acknowledged his story's links to the political and cultural upheaval of the time: "We were continuing to fight [in Vietnam] because of some peculiar notions of national macho pride. Indochina was Dodge City, and the Americans were some collective version of Wyatt Earp."

Late in 2009, Paramount Pictures acquired a script for a large-scale western by Chad St. John, "The Further Adventures of Doc Holliday." At the time of the announcement, Paramount indicated it planned to make a "history-based action adventure tale in the vein of" the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.

The sci-fi comedy Back to the Future Part III (1990), which follows its time-traveling hero back to the Old West, pays tribute to My Darling Clementine with a scene of people dancing on a building foundation to the tune of the old folk song.

John Ford himself revisited the legend with a different take, depicting Earp as lazy and decadent versus Fonda's righteousness in this version, in one segment of Ford's late film Cheyenne Autumn (1964). James Stewart plays Earp and Arthur Kennedy is Doc Holliday.

The 2004 DVD release of My Darling Clementine includes a near-complete version of the film before Darryl Zanuck's changes to it.

Fonda and Downs starred in a live radio version of the film on the April 28, 1947 broadcast of the Lux Radio Theatre with Richard Conte as Doc.

In the popular TV comedy series M*A*S*H*, Colonel Potter's favorite film is My Darling Clementine, and clips from it are shown in one episode.

After the real Wyatt Earp's death, his widow, Josephine Marcus Earp (1861-1944) wrote her own rather sanitized version of the Earp legend, I Married Wyatt Earp. It was made into a 1983 TV movie starring Marie Osmond as Josephine, the first time Wyatt's longtime wife appeared as a character in a movie. Earp was played by Bruce Boxleitner in that version. Josephine was later played on film by Dana Delany (Tombstone) and Joanna Going (Wyatt Earp).

"I have this theory that certain [director-studio boss] combinationsFord and Zanuck, Capra and Cohn, Wyler and Goldwynabrased each other in a very creative manner, like Michelangelo and Pope Julius. They were constantly criticizing each other, and there was conflict, but the end results were astonishing."
actor, photographer, film preservationist Roddy McDowall

by Rob Nixon

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My Darling Clementine (1946)

My Darling Clementine opened in November 1946 to generally good reviews and average box office, grossing a little over $2.8 million, a little better than breaking even.

Because of its optimism and simple idealism, Ford thought of My Darling Clementine "as essentially a film for children."

Ford was asked by a film historian why he changed the historical details of the famous gunfight if, as he claimed, the real Wyatt Earp had told him all about it on a movie set back in the 1920s. "Did you like the film?" Ford asked, to which the scholar replied it was one of his favorites. "What more do you want?" Ford snapped.

Stuart Lake, who wrote the Wyatt Earp biography that served as the basis for My Darling Clementine and many others, worked as an adviser on many of those productions in the 1950s. He also created the successful television series The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp, which ran from 1955 to 1961, for which he wrote more than two dozen episode scripts. He died in 1964 at the age of 74.

When the Arizona location shoot was completed, Ford and the studio (Fox) donated the Tombstone set to the Navajo tribal council to be disposed of as they wished. It remained there until 1951, when it was sold and carted off for salvage.

Following the production of My Darling Clementine, 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck offered Ford $600,000 a year to remain at the studio, but Ford, displeased with Zanuck's changes to the film and determined to be more autonomous than ever, decided to make his subsequent films under the banner of Argosy Pictures, the company he and Merian Cooper formed in 1939.

Along with John Wayne (and the supporting players who made up John Ford's long-standing stock company), Henry Fonda is the actor most associated with John Ford. Fonda's career was given a tremendous boost in his first three films with Ford: Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), for which the actor earned his first of three Academy Award nominations. Among his other important roles for Ford were the rigid cavalry officer opposite Wayne in Fort Apache (1948) and the title role in Mister Roberts (1955). Fonda, like Wayne, had put up with Ford's often abusive behavior for many years, but the two had a permanent falling out on that last picture. Possibly because of this disagreement, but officially due to "illness" (which also could have meant complications due to Ford's alcoholism), Ford was replaced on that film by Mervyn LeRoy.

Long Island-born Cathy Downs started out as a model before breaking into the movies in the mid-1940s with uncredited roles as "Miss Cream Puff" and "Miss Mascara" in some big-budget Fox musicals. The studio was grooming her for bigger things with the title role in My Darling Clementine, but it never turned out that way for her. Most of her work in the following two decades was in low-budget westerns, horror, and sci-fi movies and the occasional TV appearance. She was married for a few years to actor-produce Joe Kirkwood, Jr. (son of a famous golfer who instructed President Eisenhower), with whom she co-starred in a series of movies based on the Joe Palooka comic strip character. After hearing she was in dire financial straits, ex-husband Kirkwood was putting together a trust fund for her when he learned of her death from cancer in 1976 at the age of 52.

Ward Bond (Morgan Earp) was perhaps the most prominent actor in John Ford's stock company, a group of supporting players he used in most of his pictures. Bond first appeared in a Ford film with Born Reckless (1930), and the two worked together 23 more times, through The Searchers (1956). Ford even directed Bond on television: an episode of Screen Directors Playhouse called "Rookie of the Year" (1955) and one episode of Bond's long-running Western series Wagon Train in 1957.

John Ford's elder brother Francis appears in an uncredited bit in My Darling Clementine as an old soldier. An actor since the early days of cinema and director of more than 170 silent films between 1912 and 1928, Francis appeared in 32 of his younger brother's pictures.

Former silent star Mae Marsh appears in an uncredited bit. She made her film debut in 1910 and starred in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). Once considered a successor to Lillian Gish, Marsh retired in 1918 on the eve of her marriage. When the Great Depression financially ruined her and her husband, she returned to films and appeared in 17 Ford movies between Drums Along the Mohawk and Cheyenne Autumn (1964), her final film role.

Danny Borzage can be seen playing the accordion in the saloon band. The brother of director Frank Borzage, he was frequently employed by Ford to play his accordion on the set as background or mood music, or simply to entertain cast and crew. An important member of Ford's stock company, he appeared in 14 of the director's films between The Iron Horse (1924) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

John Ireland, who plays Billy Clanton here, also appeared in a different version of the story, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), playing another Western legend, Johnny Ringo, who was known as the King of the Cowboys.

As dance hall owner Kate Nelson, Jane Darwell made her second on-screen appearance in a John Ford film, after her Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. She worked with Ford one other time previously as a voice actor only (along with Henry Fonda) in the director's war documentary The Battle of Midway (1942) and then four other pictures after Clementine, ending with The Last Hurrah (1958).

Screenwriter Winston Miller started his career in movies as a juvenile actor in the silent era. Two of his earliest roles were in the John Ford films The Iron Horse (1924) and Kentucky Pride (1925). His screenwriting career began with the Western The Vigilantes Are Coming (1936), and he wrote a number of Western scripts for features and television over the next 40 years, although he and Ford worked together only this one time. In 1960 he turned to producing television shows, working on such popular series as the Western The Virginian, Ironside, and Little House on the Prairie.

by Rob Nixon

Memorable Quotes from MY DARLING CLEMENTINE

OLD MAN CLANTON: Wide awake, wide open town of Tombstone. Get anything you want there.

WYATT EARP: What kind of town is this anyway?

WYATT: Got myself a job.
CLANTON: Cow punchin'?
WYATT: No. Marshalin'.

WYATT: Maybe when we leave this country, young kids like you will be able to grow up and live safe.

DOC HOLLIDAY: You haven't taken it into your head to deliver us from all evil?

WYATT: Stage is leavin' in thirty minutes. See you're on it.

DOC (referring to himself): The man you once knew is no more. There's not a vestige left of him.

VIRGIL EARP: I swear I can almost smell honeysuckle.
WYATT: That's me.

MORGAN EARP: You know, there's probably a lot of nice people around here. We just ain't met 'em.

WYATT: Mac, you ever been in love?
MAC: No, I've been a bartender all my life.

WYATT: Ma'am, I sure like that name. Clementine.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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My Darling Clementine (1946)

The true story of Wyatt Earp is far more detailed and complex than legend would have it. Born in Illinois in 1848, Earp and his family moved West in 1864. Wyatt and his brothers became part of frontier life, working as stage drivers, night watchmen, and bartenders, frequently on the move. Wyatt settled down briefly, but after his young wife's death, he took to a wilder, more transient life. Arrested for horse stealing, he jumped bail and fled to Wichita, where his brother James worked as a bartender and James' wife ran a brothel. Wyatt got a job as a policeman but kept company with the tough saloon crowd, gaining a reputation not as a killer (Earp may have only killed one man prior to the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral) but for pistol-whipping drunken cow hands. In 1876, he and older brother Morgan found jobs as deputy marshals in Dodge City, where he first met John "Doc" Holliday, a tubercular ex-dentist and gambler with a reputation for violence. The three Earps and Holliday soon moved to Arizona, where Morgan worked as deputy U.S. marshal in the silver-mining boom town of Tombstone. The family made a bid for respectability by throwing in their lot with the town's Republican establishment against the Democratic ranchers who lived and worked their cattle outside city limits. The younger Earps became guards and deputies, and Wyatt increased his reputation for pistol-whipping "cowboys," then a derogatory term for the ranchers and the men who worked for them. That faction was led by rancher Newman Clanton (referred to as "Old Man" Clanton in the film) and his hot-headed sons and was backed by violent gunmen like Johnny Ringo. As the hired guns of the town's businessmen, the Earps became the natural enemies of the Clantons and their cronies.

The conflict between the Democratic ranchers and the town's Republican business establishment came to a head in the 1881 election for county sheriff. Wyatt Earp ran against incumbent John Behan, charging Behan with protecting the cowboys, while Behan and the Democrats countered that a series of stage robberies the Republicans blamed on the Clantons were really the work of the Earps and Holliday. Wyatt lost the election but managed to steal Behan's lover, the beautiful Josephine Marcus. The confrontations between the two camps escalated until the Clantons and a couple of their cronies, the McLaurys, gathered in a vacant lot next to the O.K. Corral. The heavily armed Earp brothers and Holliday followed them there, and Earp allegedly said, "You sonofabitches have been looking for a fight and now you can have it!" They opened fire and, in a few second, one of the Clantons and two McLaury brothers were dead, and both Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded. The citizens of Tombstone quickly took sides along party lines. The Democrats brought murder charges against the Earps, but the situation only worsened when a Republican judge let them off. Within a few weeks, Virgil was ambushed, his arm blown off by gunfire, and Morgan was killed. Wyatt got himself appointed marshal and took Holliday and others on a rampage, killing at least three of their cowboy enemies, then fleeing the territory.

Holliday died of his tuberculosis in a Colorado sanitarium not long after. Wyatt married Josephine and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where as an old man during the birth of the film industry he used to hang out with Western stars, trying to convince someone to film his story. By the time he died in 1929 Earp had been largely forgotten but a short time after that is when his legend really began. In his last days, Earp was visited by popular writer Stuart Lake, and by 1931 Lake had turned their brief meeting into a book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal. Mixing just enough fact for credibility with its highly imaginative account of an upright lawman who single-handedly cleaned up the worst towns on the frontier, the book became a best seller and the basis for all future Earp stories.

John Ford is regarded today as almost exclusively a director of Westerns; that is understandable but inaccurate by any measure, and the films of that genre by which he is best known were, at the end of World War II, still to come. He had made a number of Westerns in the silent years, but of the three dozen or so features he made after the advent of sound, only one, Stagecoach (1939), was a true Western. For his first post-war picture, he decided to return to the genre with a property he had filmed years earlier, The Last Outlaw (1919). After the success of Stagecoach, Ford and Merian Cooper had formed an independent production outfit, Argosy, and this was to be the first project by the reactivated company. United Artist bought the story rights and was set to distribute, John Wayne and Harry Carey were going to star, but the deal fell through. While Cooper looked for other projects for Argosy, Ford agreed to take on the final film he was obligated to make in a multi-picture deal he had made with 20th Century Fox.

Fox had made a film about Wyatt Earp based on Lake's book in 1939 entitled Frontier Marshal; it was a minor B-Western starring Randolph Scott that concentrated almost solely on shoot-em-up action. Sam Hellman's script for the film did have a few effective set pieces, though, that Ford must have found appealing because when he and writer Winston Miller prepared their new story, those key scenes were virtually lifted from the 1939 Western. One was about a drunken Indian terrorizing the town of Tombstone that Ford turned into the sequence explaining how Wyatt got his lawman's job; he even hired the same actor who had played the Indian in the 1939 version, Charles Stevens, and gave him the same character name, Indian Joe. The earlier film also features a traveling vaudevillian, real-life entertainer Eddie Foy, played by his son Eddie Foy, Jr. In Ford and Miller's version, the vaudeville star is transformed into Granville Thorndyke, a second rate Shakespearean actor.

Up to this point, Winston Miller, the brother of silent star Patsy Ruth Miller, had mostly written scripts for low-budget programmers, but a majority of them were Westerns. He also had one other factor to recommend him to Ford: he played the younger version of George O'Brien's character in Ford's silent Western The Iron Horse (1924).

Ford knew Earp during his early days in Hollywood, and he claimed Earp had described to him the details of the famous gunfight.

The first draft of the script for My Darling Clementine is fairly close to the final movie with some crucial differences: the draft has Doc Holliday killed before the gunfight; the Clantons never overtly confront Earp; Chihuahua is killed but it is another wounded girl who is operated on by Doc, and Wyatt leaves at the end with no final parting words to Clementine.

The final script of My Darling Clementine did take considerable liberties with historical fact for the sake of dramatic conflict and character: Old Man Clanton actually died prior to the gunfight, Doc a dentist in real life, not a surgeonsurvived it, and there was no Clementine. The deaths of the Earp brothers occurred differently in reality (James, who was the first to die in the story, actually lived until 1926), and the key women in Wyatt's and Doc's lives - Wyatt's wife Josephine and prostitutes like the infamous Katie Elder were eliminated. Also, the film gives the date as 1882, but the gunfight actually occurred in 1881.

The only reported instance of Ford's famous temper flaring up during the writing phase involved the scene where Wyatt rides out after Doc to accuse him of killing his brother. Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck suggested Ford have Doc on his horse rather than riding shotgun on a stagecoach (as scripted and eventually filmed). Zanuck thought it would be better just to have the two men confront each other and made the mistake of noting that, with the stage driver present, the scene might feel too "cluttered." The remark launched Ford into a ten-minute tirade about his ability to direct scenes with any number of people in them that never felt cluttered. "He was volatile," Zanuck recalled. "He could be the nicest guy in the world and he could be the meanest. You never knew which was going to happen."

Ford's changes to Miller's script characteristically consisted of paring down several elements. Dialogue was cut, not only for Earp (who Ford wanted to portray as laconic as Earp was in real life) but also for Doc, whose first appearance wearing an opera cape was also eliminated. He also cut a long speech at the church service and a catfight between Doc's two women.

"Sooner or later he wanted to dominate you," Winston Miller later noted of working with Ford. One day during the scripting phase, Ford asked him if he thought it would hurt him in the business if My Darling Clementine didn't turn out well. "No, I've got other credits I can fall back on," Miller replied, failing to recognize that Ford was actually fishing for a compliment. "Ford kind of dummied up for a while....He kind of froze; he wanted me to say, 'Oh, no!'"

Ford had made his previous picture, They Were Expendable (1945), and his only sound Western to this point, Stagecoach (1939), with John Wayne. However, for the part of Wyatt, he had Henry Fonda in mind from the beginning; Fonda had been the star of two of Ford's most acclaimed films prior to this, Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940). My Darling Clementine would be Fonda's first film after returning home from service in World War II. His previous release was another esteemed Western, The Ox-Bow Incident (1943).

Two actresses considered for the part of Clementine were Fox contract players Anne Baxter and Jeanne Crain. Instead, Ford was given Cathy Downs who was an unknown actress at the time.

Tyrone Power was an early possibility for Doc Holliday, but for whatever reason, his name was dropped from consideration early in the pre-casting stage. Ford was enthusiastic about Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., telling Zanuck in a memo, "He might be terribly good in it. He would look about the same age as Henry and as it's a flamboyant role it is quite possible he could kick hell out of it. Think it over well." He was not happy with Zanuck's choice, Victor Mature, and he began pressing for Vincent Price instead. But after meeting with Mature, Ford told Zanuck he was not at all worried about the actor's performance. He was never very happy, however, with Linda Darnell as Doc's Mexican spitfire lover.

As production neared, Ford's good mood grew, and he even displayed his humorous side in a letter to fellow director Frank Capra, who was using Ford regular Ward Bond in his latest picture, It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Ford reminded Capra that Bond had already been contracted to appear as Morgan Earp and jokingly told Capra that members of the Clementine cast wholeheartedly approved of Bond working for Capra instead, even to advancing a collected $890 if that would help get Bond out of the Western. "Hank Fonda...offers to throw in a Radio Victrola, hardly used. A Mr. Victor Mature also offers in compensation...the phone number of a very interesting young lady." Joking aside, the two directors arranged their schedules so that Bond could work on both films back to back.

by Rob Nixon

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My Darling Clementine (1946)

John Ford wanted to shoot My Darling Clementine in Monument Valley, on the southern border of Utah just dipping down into northern Arizona. It had proven to be the perfect site for Stagecoach (1939) and would quickly become his favorite location and the landscape most closely associated with his vision of the Old West. The real town of Tombstone, however, lies at the southern end of the state, closer to the Arizona-Mexico border. So he had a set for the complete town built at a cost of $250,000. Ford also chose Monument Valley because he wanted to bring some business to the economically depressed Navajo community there.

Ford contacted a priest from 86 miles away and brought him to the set, which was down a dirt road, to say Mass on Sundays, mandatory for all religions.

Nights on location for My Darling Clementine were very peaceful and quiet in this remote area of Utah. The only sound that could be heard most evenings, as on many other Ford pictures, was the accordion music played by Danny Borzage, the musician brother of director Frank Borzage and a Ford favorite.

Walter Brennan, John Ireland, and Grant Withers as the Clanton men, were required to do their own riding and shooting in the scene where the clan rides into town during a dust storm. Ford used a powerful wind machine and told the actors to fire their guns close to the horses' ears to make them ride wild.

Home movie footage from the My Darling Clementine shoot shows some actors relaxing on location and others goofing off; Walter Brennan appears solemn and subdued. This was the first Ford picture for the noted character actor - and the last. He didn't like the director at all; it may have been this loathing that translated so effectively on screen into Old Man Clanton's hatred of Wyatt Earp. One time when Brennan was having a little trouble getting into the saddle, Ford yelled, "Can't you even mount a horse?" Brennan shot back, "No, but I got three Oscars® for acting!" Brennan had won Best Supporting Actor awards for Come and Get It (1936), Kentucky (1938), and The Westerner (1940), the most statuettes won by a single actor until Katharine Hepburn's third win (of four) in 1969.

Winston Miller didn't go on location, so minor dialogue changes were made as needed by producer Sam Engel, who later successfully petitioned for a writing credit, a move that angered both Ford and Miller. "I asked him once why he was trying to muscle in on my credit," Miller said. "He said, 'On a John Ford picture a producer credit doesn't mean a thing. Everybody knows he's the producer.'" Ford turned his anger back on Miller, accusing him of not thinking "a Ford credit was worth fighting for."

The location shooting of My Darling Clementine took 45 days.

Darryl Zanuck had sunk about $2 million into the movie's production and was concerned when he saw Ford's cut. "You have a certain Western magnificence and a number of character touches that rival your best work, but to me the picture as a whole in its present state is a disappointment," he told Ford. "If the picture does not live up to my own personal anticipation, it will not live up to the anticipation of a paid audience."

Zanuck insisted that My Darling Clementine would need recutting and felt there was enough raw footage to make most of the changes. He also insisted he be allowed to do it himself without Ford's input, saying "You trusted me implicitly on Grapes of Wrath [1940] and How Green Was My Valley [1941]. You did not see either picture until they were playing in the theaters and innumerable times you went out of your way to tell me how much you appreciated the Editorial work."

Zanuck's changes tightened the narrative and eased the flow of the story, sometimes by cutting only a few words out of a scene. But they also contributed to some odd continuity problems: Chihuahua's black stockings disappear just before she's thrown into the water trough; Wyatt's face is suddenly full of lather before the barber has had a chance to apply it.

Zanuck also forced a reluctant Ford to film the final kiss between Wyatt and Clementine.

Either because Ford objected or was unavailable, Zanuck had studio director Lloyd Bacon shoot the scene of Wyatt standing at his brother James' grave. It's an emotionally affecting scene and closely approximates Ford's pictorial style, but it violates Ford's presentation of Wyatt as a laconic man who doesn't explain or justify himself.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser My Darling Clementine (1946)

Westerns are myths, their definition as a genre contingent entirely on how they play out Biblical/primal moral dilemmas in a lawless frontier where individual men must obey only their conscience and the hand of fate. Good and bad tend toward extremes, and stereotypes have dominated the genre's landscape as they have for no other type of modern narrative. Only traditional musicals were simpler (routinely because they offer no dilemmas at all); westerns have long been the 20th century's school-boy way of simplifying the nation's own troubled history.

And John Ford is the form's Emanuel Leutze, a grand mythmaker and determined simplifier, the perfect artist for the Western in its haziest, least examined, pre-"anti-western" matinee heyday, and easily the most troublesome figure in Hollywood's docket of master auteurs. He is generally a hallowed filmmaker, and worshipful encomiums have landed at his feet for decades, praising his pictorial beauty (which often seems merely that), his sureness of storytelling (often as shapely as a dime novel, and in any case rarely his screenplays to claim), and his mastery of iconography (which requires no mastery). It's an argument still happening; for every vague hosannah I've heard sung for Ford's meaningfulness, I could count a hundred examples of clumsy staging, booze-sodden sentimentality, militaristic fetishism, vaudeville overacting, bar brawl camaraderie, and racist war-mongering. (Among his last projects before he died in 1973 was a pro-intervention documentary for the USIA titled Vietnam! Vietnam!) For Ford, Manifest Destiny was never out of fashion, Native Americans were malignant pests, and women were too often pink-cheeked cartoons.

Conservative bullet head though he might have been, Ford was no hack, and the disarming and expressive visual tacks he took in his best films The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Long Voyage Home (1940), The Fugitive (1947) and My Darling Clementine (1946) survive as breathtaking achievements (aided by some of the best and most individualistic cinematographers in the business, including Gregg Toland, Gabriel Figueroa, Arthur Miller and Joseph MacDonald). (It should be said that The Searchers (1956), in every way, belongs on a high shelf all alone, above all of Ford's other work and above any other westerns.) Perhaps not coincidentally, the films mentioned above are also Ford's least silly, least low-brow, and most sympathetic there might be a book to be written about how Ford's visual style became duller and repetitive as his political sense became more reactionary, especially considering how liberal and proletarian the extraordinarily vivid The Grapes of Wrath is, inside and out.

My Darling Clementine is still cinema's greatest adaptation of the Earp-Clanton-Gunfight-at-the-OK-Corral legend, if only by virtue of the competition. Indeed, accusing Ford of whipping up a single-minded, good-vs.-evil fable out of the story is a dead end, in the light of, say, the elephantine hooey of Lawrence Kasdan and Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp (1994). As myths go, Ford's film is imbued with a startling gravity and grace, and with the exception of William Wellman's sweat-drenched 1943 version of The Ox-Bow Incident it might be the best western made by anyone up to that time. To be fair, most westerns up to and during WWII were B-movie programmers built for children and starring the likes of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Kermit Maynard and even John Wayne. But Clementine was different could a western look and feel like this, with these brooding shadows, darkening skies, noir-like silences, gazes that speak fear and vengeance louder than words?

The template of the story was established by writer Stuart N. Lake in the Wyatt Earp biography Frontier Marshal, filmed twice before, in 1934 and 1939. (It's not a book famous for its legitimacy, but then again, not much is known about the Earps one of the most famous scholarly sources, Glenn Boyer's I Married Wyatt Earp, sold by the University of Arizona Press for 23 years as an annotated memoir, turned out to be a hoax piece of fiction.) Ford, in any case, always embraced the tall tale, and Lake's form fit nicely: the four Earp brothers, after one is killed on a cattle drive outside Tombstone, Arizona, take jobs as the town's marshals and eventually face off, with the help of the local gambler Doc Holliday, against the local clan of criminals, the Clantons, in a shootout in and around the famous corral. Who knows how much is true. It takes Ford not even 20 minutes before Wyatt (a fierce-eyed Henry Fonda) pushes a bossy woman (Linda Darnell), who's both a saloon tramp and half-Indian, into a water trough. But amid Ford's reflexive bully moves and character shortcuts, the film has a distinctive weight to it, as if something epochal and catastrophic was on the verge of happening at any moment. The characters handle the dialogue like they were sticks of dynamite.

Ford was also alive, at least during the 1940s, to the possibilities of his actors. His famous company of rowdy character actors is a mixed bag; today, the likes of the oft-used Victor McLaglen and Barry Fitzgerald seem amusing but blustery and thin, while Ward Bond, here playing Morgan Earp and a veteran of over 25 Ford films, appears to be a much more reflective and thoughtful figure, capable of genuine wit and character. Fonda, at his peak in the 1940s playing angry young men, is magnetic, but look what Ford does with Walter Brennan, a premier character whirlwind used to fast-talking crotchety comic relief. As Pa Clanton, in an untrimmed beard, Brennan was as quiet, understated and wary as a mountain cat, and the startling power of his diminutive presence catches your attention like a magnet. The same can be said for Victor Mature, never anyone's idea of a versatile or expressive actor, who as Holliday strides through the film menacingly, with a truckload of bad history on his back, his eyes half-lidded with a self-hatred to which he can never own up.

My Darling Clementine is a great western, just as are Budd Boetticher's and Sam Peckinpah's, because of exactly what it delivers that westerns normally didn't: a measure of emotional maturity, a sense of dread and cost in regards to violence, a notion of frontier life being difficult and soul-hardening, not breezy and schoolyard fun. Ford didn't believe in this general perspective all the time, apparently (see Fort Apache [1948] or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance [1962] for the flip-side), but when he did it made westerns in which a grown man could get lost.

Producer: Samuel G. Engel, Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Sam Hellman, Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller, Stuart N. Lake (book)
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Film Editing: Dorothy Spencer
Art Direction: James Basevi, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge
Cast: Henry Fonda (Wyatt Earp), Linda Darnell (Chihuahua), Victor Mature (Doc Holliday), Cathy Downs (Clementine Carter), Walter Brennan (Old Man Clanton), Tim Holt (Virgil Earp).

by Michael Atkinson

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My Darling Clementine (1946)

Awards & Honors

Winner of Best Foreign Film from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists in 1948

In 1991, My Darling Clementine was chosen to be one of the films preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.


"From the moment that Wyatt and his brothers are discovered on the wide and dusty range, trailing a herd of cattle to a far-off promised land, a tone of pictorial authority is struck-and it is held. Every scene, every shot is the product of a keen and sensitive eye-an eye which has deep comprehension of the beauty of rugged people and a rugged world."
Bosley Crowther, New York Times, December 4, 1946

"On the surface, and to millions of its audiences, it will appear as no more than a jimdandy Western. ... It's also a sustained and complex work of the imagination. ... Its qualities derive from Mr. Ford's affection for the portrait he is drawingthe portrait of the Old West. It is a mixed portrait, half truth, half folklore, but fact or fancy, it is the West as Americans still feel it in their bones."
Richard Griffith, New Movies, 1946

"A smooth and superior motion picture, wild and woolly Western though it certainly is."
New York Herald-Tribune, 1946

"Having assembled all the elements of a conventional Western..., John Ford as director proceeds to make an excellent film out of his material, using the formula technique to say something about pioneer days in Arizona. What he has done bespeaks his artistry, his humor and his understanding of human nature."
Christian Science Monitor, 1946

"Trademark of John Ford's direction is clearly stamped on the film with its shadowy lights, softly contrasted moods and measured pace, but a tendency is discernible towards stylization for stylization's sake. At several points, the pic comes to a dead stop to let Ford go gunning for some arty effect. Major boost to the film is given by the simple, sincere performance of Henry Fonda. Script doesn't afford him many chances for dramatic action, but Fonda, as a boomtown marshal, pulls the reins taut on his part, charging the role and the pic with more excitement than it really has."
Variety, 1946

"My Darling Clementine must be one of the sweetest and most good-hearted of all Westerns."
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, October 26, 1997

"From the El Greco skies of the opening scene, to the eminently jaunty, eminently soused tragedian Granville Thorndyke, to the resolutely underplayed ending, Ford keeps the focus on the people. Ford's direction is like the look on Fonda's face as Mature finishes a Shakespeare soliloquyattentive, observant, focused, but also a little awestruck and quite beautifulbeyond acting, beyond analysis. The meditative pace makes the spasms of savagery and violence, unusual for Ford's work, feel genuinely brutal."
Scott Eyman, Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

"Though it climaxes with the shootout at the OK Corral, Clementine almost treats the famed gunfight as a pretext; Ford is far more interested in the texture of everyday life, the petty brawls and minor allegiances of frontier life. ... Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp is a straight shooter, especially compared to the short-tempered Doc Holliday (Victor Mature, in an undervalued performance), but he's something of a rube as well, fidgeting in the barber's chair, wincing when he's sprayed down with cologne."
Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper, January 22-28, 2004

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