“I should think that if nothing else, you’d at least be flattered to have a girl chase you.”
I’ve seen two Westerns lately that I need to write about, both by John Ford. It took me a while to get past some biases about Westerns (familiar shoot-em-up/romances playing in technicolor on my grandfather’s boxy television), but I’ve really come to adore them. No two are alike, and they give me a deep sense of satisfaction that only comes when I see a movie that really feels like it’s about people. And Westerns typically feel that way for me.
The film follows lawman Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) in the lawless town of Tombstone, covering the events leading up to the famous OK Corral shootout. Earp takes up the open position of town marshal to avenge the recent death of his brother at the hands of a group of local outlaws. While in town, Earp develops a complicated rivalry with local gunman Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) and takes interest in Holliday’s ex-lover, a woman named Clementine (Cathy Downs).
I love how genuine this movie feels. Ken Jennings describes the film by saying, “John Ford redeems himself from having created John Wayne by giving us the real ideal of American masculine cool.” This notion, along with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, has me fascinated. Masculinity in the American Western is somewhat deconstructed in the film, and Earp is presented a pseudo-“John Wayne” performance. There’s a calmness, sometimes discomfort, to Henry Fonda’s performance this is contrasted with Holliday’s hot temper, and there is great on-screen chemistry between the two.
The romance of the film is also interesting. Earp is an awkward suitor, in contrast to the suave perfection of a typical John Wayne performance. Clementine is smart and confident, compared to Chihuahua, who feels like commentary on the shallow writing of women in Westerns. There’s a Shakespearean duality of Earp/Clementine and Holliday/Chihuahua to contrast romantic maturity and make commentary on Hollywood romance. The ending is also surprising and honest, leaving me with a smile on my face.
I’m adoring the Westerns I’ve been watching lately, and I can only hope the trend continue. It’s a beautiful, versatile form that lends itself to wonderful stories. My Darling Clementine is a grounded story of love and revenge that never loses its cool. I’d highly recommend.
Films Left to Watch: 827