The story of the four Earp brothers, who find themselves in conflict with the Clanton family when the latter steal their cattle, was adapted for the screen several times. However, John Ford’s version, released in 1946, was different from others as a new ingredient was added to the story: romance…
In John Ford’s movie, the three elder Earp brothers decide to stay in the small town of Tombstone so as to avenge the death of their younger brother who was killed by the Clanton family when they stole the Earp’s cattle. Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda), assisted by his brothers, becomes the marshal of Tombstone. However, the Clanton family is wary and Wyatt’s task will not be eased by the influent Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) and his adorable fiancée Clementine (Cathy Downs) with whom he will fall in love.
What is amazing about this movie is that even though it is a Western, most of it is actually a love story. The ingredients of a Western are all present (desert, small town, saloon, cowboy/marshal, alcohol, cattle…) but the romance is the most interesting part of the film, whereas the conflict remains peripherical. The beauty of My Darling Clementine is due to the actors’ amazing performance and, indeed, what strikes most about this movie, beyond its story, is really the characters. My Darling Clementine is truly a masterpiece, thanks to appealing characters and, above all, the trio that carries the movie: Henry Fonda is an impressive marshal full of wisdom and justice; Victor Mature is intimidating, notably with a play of lights that makes him almost scary; and then, the colorful Chihuahua (Linda Darnell) is a Mexican singer one loves to hate, but who is also endearing. All in all, their alchemy really works and is pleasant to watch even in the first scenes of rivalry.
However, the movie would not be the same without the well-played part of Cathy Downs, touching and moving in the role of a young nurse desperately looking for the man she is in love with. She is the Darling Clementine Carter who allows the movie to be softer and pushes into the background the Earp brothers’ thirst for revenge. The possibility of romance between the marshal, who has instantly fallen in love with her, and the young and delicate girl, is captivating. The dancing scene is particularly amusing and adorable at the same time. And when the Darling Clementine tells Wyatt Earp that she loves his town in the morning because the air is « clear and clean », it seems that she is defining herself, as opposed to the dirty and dusty desert. When she talks about « desert flowers », it seems again that she is the only flower of Tombstone. She brings hope not only in Wyatt’s life but also in the movie: there is suddenly hope for a better end, that maybe love will overcome hatred and revenge. Besides, for almost an hour, the Clanton family business is completely forgotten. The different love affairs between the four main protagonists are more interesting and entertaining to follow. It is a western, but a western softened by the presence of the darling Clementine and these different romances.
Although the movie was inspired by a true story, many elements were changed for dramatic purposes. For instance, the brothers were rejuvenated; the deaths were invented as James did not die; the Earp brothers were no cowboys and came to Tombstone to live there; Virgil was the marshall of the town, not Wyatt; Wyatt was already married to a woman named Josephine; Wyatt and Doc Holliday already knew each other and were friends; and so on and so forth. Yet, when you know that in reality the battle that opposed the Earps and the Clantons only lasted a few seconds, Ford’s version appears to be impressively better. Indeed, the scenes are full of suspense and really well-done. This would probably not have been possible, had he respected the historical facts.
All in all, the movie alternates sad scenes (death scenes mostly) with funny ones (Wyatt throwing Chihuahua into a watering through, Wyatt wearing perfume…), mixes conflict with a love story, and thus John Ford succeeds in catching one’s attention. My Darling Clementine can appeal to anyone, men and women alike, even those who are not familiar with Western movies.
My Darling Clementine (1946)
Samuel G. Engel
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Sam Hellman, Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller (based on Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake, 1931)
Music and musical direction
Alfred Newman, Cyril Mockridge
Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp
Victor Mature as Dr. John Henry « Doc » Holliday
Cathy Downs as Clementine Carter, Doc’s ex-lover
Linda Darnell as Chihuahua
Walter Brennan as Newman Haynes Clanton, cattleman
Tim Holt as Virgil Earp
Ward Bond as Morgan Earp
Grant Withers as Ike Clanton
John Ireland as Billy Clanton
Alan Mowbray as Granville Thorndyke, stage actor