Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, and Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine (1946)


(director: John Ford; screenwriters: from the novel by Stuart N. Lake/from the story by Sam Hellman/Samuel G. Engel/Winston Miller; cinematographer: Joe MacDonald; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Cyril Mockridge; cast: John Ford. Henry Fonda (Wyatt Earp), Linda Darnell (Chihuahua), Victor Mature (Dr. John ‘Doc’ Holliday), Cathy Downs (Clementine Carter), Walter Brennan (Old Man Clanton), Tim Holt (Virgil Earp), Ward Bond, (Morgan Earp), Alan Mowbray (Granville Thorndyke), John Ireland (Billy Clanton), Don Garner (James Earp), J. Farrell MacDonald (Mac, Bartender); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel G. Engel; Fox videos; 1946)

“The quintessential Wyatt Earp movie and one of the greatest westerns ever filmed.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s the somewhat inaccurate but nevertheless lyrical interpretation of the often told western story of the legendary frontier marshal Wyatt Earp, who “cleaned up” Tombstone, Arizona (the black-and-white film was shot in the desert of Monument Valley). The real Wyatt Earp told the story of the cowardly Clanton gang and their gunfight at the OK Corral with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday personally to John Ford, and the filmmaker filmed it the way it was told to him. But that doesn’t mean he got the real scoop. This entertaining and atmospheric western, with an eye for getting the details right about the period, is the quintessential Wyatt Earp movie and one of the greatest westerns ever filmed, even if its accuracy is questionable. John Ford (“The Searchers”/ “Stagecoach”/”She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”) keeps it low-keyed, tense, moody and highly stylized by using shadowy lights and featuring many signature scenes (such as the drunken Shakespearean actor (Alan Mowbray) performing in a rowdy saloon, a Sunday morning dance at an unfinished church in the wilderness and the outstanding centerpiece climactic shootout at the OK Corral). It’s taken from the novel by Stuart N. Lake and written by Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller; it’s based on a story by Sam Hellman. It’s a film that grandly celebrates the coming of civilization to the west in 1882, as Wyatt is the drifter cowboy who after he settles his grudge against the outlaw Clantons settles down as a cattle rancher in Tombstone

Henry Fonda stars as former Dodge City lawman Wyatt Earp, who after he cleaned up that town arrives in the outskirts of Tombstone driving a herd of cattle to be sold in Mexico with his brothers Morgan (Ward Bond), Virgil (Tim Holt), and James (Don Garner). When three of the brothers are in town for shaves at the barbershop, their cattle is rustled and James is shot in the back. Wyatt stays in Tombstone and becomes marshal and his surviving brothers deputies. The new marshal confronts and befriends Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), a former Boston aristocratic surgeon turned gambler and gunslinger now running the local saloon. He’s a conflicted tubercular nonconformist, who is running away from his former life while saddled with a death wish. Doc’s girlfriend is the unreliable, hot-blooded, loose-woman Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), a floozy saloon singer who is also secretly carrying on an affair with Billy Clanton (John Ireland). His ruthless father, known only as the Old Man (Walter Brennan), and his brothers, are the ones responsible for the crime against the Earps. Nice girl aristocrat from Boston, Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), arrives by stagecoach after tracking down her elusive boyfriend Doc, but is rejected by him and takes up instead with the shy and awkward Wyatt. When Wyatt discovers Chihuaha wearing an amulet stolen off the dead body of his brother James, he coerces her to tell him that Billy gave her the gift. Billy plugs her and Virgil plugs Billy when he chases him back to the Clanton ranch; there the Old Man plugs Virg in the back and dumps his body in front of the marshal’s office, where he challenges the Earps to meet them at dawn at the OK Corral for a gun duel. There Doc dies as well as all the Clantons. With Doc no longer around as a rival Wyatt openly courts Clementine, who settles down as the town’s schoolmarm.

Fonda is just terrific, in a sensitive performance that conveys Ford’s intention of making him a folk hero who changes his life’s goals because he met Clementine rather than because of the historical gunfight. In Tombstone, there’s a new church, no more saloon of gambling and bad dance hall women with the removal of the vice-driven Doc Holliday and his coughing spells, and it looms as a place where a decent man can live a peaceful and fulfilling life as a family man and rancher. For Wyatt, even though he had to pay a heavy price, it seems it was worth taming Tombstone to have this new life and live in a place where the fresh air is clean.