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My Darling Clementime: Fox Studio Classics

What really happened at the O.K. Corral? There's no lack of historical texts concerning the infamous 1881 shootout in Tombstone, Ariz., between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday against the Clanton clan and the McLaury brothers. But for most Americans, the history of the Old West does not reside in history books, but rather on celluloid. In fact, our very perception of history on the American frontier has been so colored by Hollywood that, were we actually transported back in time, it would bear little resemblance to our expectations. Filmmakers in the 20th century appropriated the dust-blown communities of the desert southwest to create visions of America that were as much contemporary as they were historical — endorsements of manifest destiny, progress, and cultural supremacy, and often embodied by the most indelible of American icons, the lone hero. It comes as no surprise that legendary lawman Wyatt Earp has figured prominently in Hollywood lore. Since his earliest film appearance (in Fox's 1939 Frontier Marshal), the historical figure has appeared in nearly 30 films and been played by more than two dozen actors. John Sturges's 1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas has remained a popular favorite over the years, and Sturges followed it up with a sequel a decade later, Hour of the Gun. The 1993 Tombstone starring Kurt Russell has developed a cult following, while Kevin Costner's 1994 Wyatt Earp was an extensive biopic, although at the expense of some folks' patience. All of these titles have succeeded with varying degrees of entertainment value and historical accuracy. But none have achieved the poetic elegance of one of the earliest Wyatt Earp films, John Ford's 1946 My Darling Clementine.

Henry Fonda stars as the famous U.S. marshal, who has abandoned his lawman's career in Dodge City and set out on a cattle drive to California with his three brothers. Just outside the town of Tombstone, Earp meets local cattleman Clanton (Walter Brennan), who offers to buy his herd. Earp refuses, and sets off with two of his brothers for Tombstone in order to get a much-needed shave. But once in town, Earp discovers it's a lawless community run by an ineffective mayor and spineless lawmen. As soon as a drunk Indian starts shooting up a saloon, it's clear that Earp is the only man around who has the nerve to go inside and clobber the guy. But he refuses the marshal's job — until he discovers his herd has been rustled and his youngest brother shot dead. It's not long after that Earp tangles with local gambler Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), while the young, pretty Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) catches his eye, and wins his affection. But Earp never loses sight of his goal — to find the men who killed his brother. At first, evidence held by Holliday's girl Chihuahua (Linda Darnell) seems to implicate the doctor, but soon it's apparent the Clantons are behind the deed, leading to a day in American history that has now transcended into myth.

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For such a beloved western, it's not hard to suspect that My Darling Clementine was just as influenced by the postwar climate as the era's most famous film genre, film noir. Ford's Clementine was only his second picture after taking a five-year break during the war (shooting documentaries for the American government), and despite its attractive blend of action and resolve, it retains a somber, almost defeated tone throughout. The tale of Tombstone has always retained its appeal thanks to two archetypes: The relentless, justice-driven Wyatt Earp, and the sad, alcoholic, doomed Doc Holliday. Despite bearing no resemblance to the historical figure (who was blond and slender), hefty Victor Mature conveys the appropriate blend of menace and volatility that has overtaken the doctor's deep-rooted Southern nobility. But in Clementine, even Wyatt Earp seems to bear psychological scars — it isn't altruism that causes him to hogtie the drunk Indian and eventually take on the job of marshal, but instead deeply personal, selfish reasons, in part rooted in vengeance. He is considered to be the leader of the community, but he exists strangely outside of it. In one of the most iconic of all Fordian scenes, the city's church-raising dance, Earp is reluctant to attend, and he dances with Clementine after a great deal of hesitation. And it's no accident that Fonda — among the day's most beloved leading men — wears black throughout most of the movie, looking more like a screen villain than a champion of Fordian values. After the shootout, order has been restored, and Earp quietly leaves Tombstone. There is no fanfare, no sendoff — only Clementine bids him goodbye, and Ford entrusts her, not Earp, to embody his optimistic view of the American frontier.

Fox's DVD release of My Darling Clementine, part of the "Fox Studio Classics" imprint, features a solid transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a restored black-and-white source-print that's nearly pristine, with good low-contrast details and hardly any collateral wear throughout, while the monaural audio is provided on a DD 2.0 track. Supplements on Side A include a commentary from film historian Scott Eyman and Wyatt Earp III, as well as the original theatrical trailer. Side B contains an exceptional bonus for the movie's fans, the "pre-release" cut maintained by the UCLA Film and Television Archive — this version runs about six minutes longer than the theatrical cut and includes additional scenes and an alternate score. The featurette "What is the Pre-Release Version?" (41 min.), narrated by film preservationist Robert Gitt, compares the two existing cuts, while a stills gallery rounds out the feature-set. Keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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