MY DARLING CLEMENTINE ( rating, * * * * ½ out of 5 )
Adapted from the book 'Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal' by Stuart N. Lake, writers Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller and Sam Hellman, and the great director himself John Ford, offer this most atmospheric depiction of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the most famous of shootouts in Western folk-lore.
The story basically covers the period when Wyatt Earp cleaned up Tombstone and wiped out the Clanton gang at the OK Coral. This is time-honored stuff. Nostalgic dramatizations that romanticized the Wild West while creating unforgettable heroes and notorious villains.
John Ford's handling of this motion picture is done with great care and obvious affection. Significant endeavor and attention to detail has gone into the period's reconstruction and the result is what can only be described as lyrical. A synchronous composition of sight and sound that produces a mesmerizing effect which in turn forces any viewer to fall instantly in love with this film.
Henry Fonda's portrayal of Wyatt Earp is without doubt the best that has ever been attempted and Victor Mature's Doc Holliday has him in rare form. Add cast members Walter Brennan, Linda Darnell, Ward Bond and John Ireland, and this film just crackles along.
There is one interesting irony I have noted. In John Ford's celebrated history as a director, particularly in the days when he was making silent films, the real Wyatt Earp acted as Ford's technical adviser bringing a new level of authenticity to gun play that Hollywood in the past had only guessed at. But in 'My Darling Clementine', the final shootout although well done, has a fantasy-like quality about it that avoids a sense of violent realism and adopts a surreal quality - as if seen through a dream.
Because John Ford knew all too well how to make a gunfight look believable, maybe this film allowed him to go beyond what was expected and to produce something a little special, and maybe it was shot in the way that Wyatt Earp wished it could have really happened. To successfully bend the rules, it really helps to have written them in the first place.
'My Darling Clementine' is a joy to behold. Sure, there are a few moments when minor cracks appear, but for pure entertainment value, it is unsurpassed. This movie is what going to the pictures on a Saturday afternoon was all about - those delightful matinee sessions when you'd load your arms up with confectionery, scramble for the best seats in the back row and experience the escapism that made growing up in the suburbs almost tolerable.