Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Best Western

Just finished watching John Ford's great film My Darling Clementine, about the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday in Tombstone. You know the story, right? There have been countless movies, including the exuberant and colorful 1993 romp Tombstone, in which Val Kilmer gives a knock-out brilliant performance as Doc Holliday.

I've loved Tombstone since I was a tyke, and I've always been fascinated with the Earp/Holliday/Gunfight at the O.K. Corral story, and with the legends of the American West in general. I can't think of any other artist--filmmaker, writer, anyone--who has a greater and more senstive feel for the West than John Ford. He might well be the greatest American director; in any event he's certainly up there with Howard Hawks and Orson Welles. My Darling Clementine might be his greatest movie.

Obviously I won't give anything away here (go rent it now); I just wanted to note the film's grace and artistry. At times the film seems like Expressionism turned loose in the American West: strange shadows, crooked angles, crowded low-lit saloons, desolate lonely landscapes across which the occasional horse-drawn carriage or mysterious rider will pass...

Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp not as a tough-guy sword of justice but as a mild-mannered lawman concerned about bringing civilization and order to a lawless, wild people. His relationship with the dying, cultivated scoundrel Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) is the most interesting and touching thing in the movie. What separates My Darling Clementine from all other Westerns more than anything, aside from its aesthetic beauty, might be its focus on the feminine principle, captured in the very title. In some ways it's the most "feminine" of Westerns.

The character of Clementine, an old love from back East that Doc left behind and that Wyatt developes feelings for, represents grace, elegance, and civilization. The final shot of the movie tells you all you need to know about her purpose in this rough landscape.

Really don't want to say much else; I just wanted to express, I don't know, my gratitude to John Ford. Just watch it. Here's a great scene:

After you watch the film read Roger Ebert's wonderful essay on it (it's a favorite of his too).


Note: I'll have a full review of U2's No Line on the Horizon up later this week, I promise.

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