Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral; it’s not a unique story in the annals of film, to be sure. But this one is directed by John Ford, the man of all Westerns, and stars Henry Fonda, the most likable of likables, so what’s not to like? Sure, for a western that takes advantage of the beautiful vistas of Monument Valley, it does detract some that the film is in black and white, and for dealing with a real event, the film takes many notable liberties with the story, but come on; it’s a John Ford western – these detracting qualities don’t really matter… Or do they?
In this film, Wyatt and the Earp brothers are cattlemen, who head into Tombstone with their herd parked a ways back, only to have them rustled in the night and the youngest Earp, James, killed. Wyatt, now with a vendetta to keep, takes the vacant marshal position in Tombstone, which runs him up against gunslinger Doc Holliday (who he ends up befriending) and the Clanton family, who are the general lawless men who run the town from behind the scenes. I’d go a little bit more into the plot, but to be honest, if I did, I’d be essentially giving away the whole film, and I wouldn’t want to do that to those of you who haven’t seen this yet who might have a mind to. Also, the story ended up being my biggest quibble with the film. I know it wasn’t aiming for accuracy, but there were two major foibles I couldn’t help but be annoyed with. First, aside from setting up the characters in the beginning and the gunfight at the end of the film (which is over in all of two minutes), no running time whatsoever is served to advance the actual plot of the film, which should’ve been the Earps looking to find the cattle rustlers who killed their youngest and sparring with them until both sides eventually agree upon the eponymous gunfight. This only happens, like I said, at the beginning and at the end of the film. The middle is left to my other main annoyance with the story, that it was essentially left on the back-burner to try and shoehorn in an unnecessary romantic subplot and love quadrangle that had no business being there other than to satisfy what was expected of the Hollywood norm at the time. The character of Clementine, who the film is titled after, is on screen for no more than ten total minutes, and has essentially nothing to do but to exist as an item to be argued over by Holliday and his would-be lover Chihuahua (nice name, btw), with a little dash of a love triangle involving Clementine and Wyatt just for the sake of it. Really, there was more wrong with the film than there was right, but what the film did get right, such as the characters and the script and, of course, the production value of the western locales, it did pretty well with, so I gave it an extra point or two.
Honestly, I was expecting a little more from this. I don’t know if it would be fair to say I was expecting to be wowed right out of my socks, a la The Searchers or even to the level of Stagecoach, but this is a John Ford western; it should have had a lot more going for it than just the fact that it’s a western, with the typical western stuff, that just happens to be directed by John Ford (who, I should note, had already won three Oscars for Best Director at that time, and would go on to win a fourth). I wouldn’t say to avoid this one, but neither would I say to seek it out as a must see film. I wasn’t even expecting the film to be rigidly adherent to the real gunfight as it really took place, but this one just took half the jigsaw puzzle, removed it, and threw it out the window in favor of a few building blocks that have no business being in a jigsaw puzzle. That metaphor ended up kinda weird, but it puts my feelings about My Darling Clementine into pretty good perspective.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10