Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source Fox Studio Classics DVD
If there is one film that deserves every word of praise ever uttered or written about it, it is John Ford’s My Darling Clementine. Perhaps the greatest film in a career full of great films, arguably the finest achievement in a rich and magnificent genre, and undoubtedly the best version of one of America’s most enduring myths, the film is an undeniable and genuine classic.
Superficially the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the events leading up to the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral, Ford’s film is more accurately described as an epic fable more concerned with themes of community and duty than with direct visualization of facts. While most of the characters were real personages (sadly, there was neither a historical Clementine nor a Chihuahua), nearly all of the events in the film are pure fabrications or fictionalizations of the actual events: the Earps had no cattle and no younger Brother named James; old man Clanton was long dead before his offspring were gunned down at their corral; and Holliday was a dentist, not a surgeon. Unconcerned with such trivialities as truthful history, however, Ford manages to create fully fleshed characters from his mixture of fact and fiction with lives thick with humor, complications, contradictions, and genuine emotion. Ford is not interested in the canonization of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday as larger-than-life American heroes but instead with the evocation of how real men (and, to a significantly lesser extent, women) attempted to recreate the kind of peaceful, pleasant communities in the West they had enjoyed in the East.
Ford made great films before Clementine and great films after it, but if there were one film I had to pick to introduce a neophyte to Ford (or to Westerns in general), it would be this. There is no clearer distillation of Ford’s visual style, thematic concerns, manner of storytelling, and development of character than My Darling Clementine.