Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil ride into Tombstone and leave brother James in charge of their cattle herd. On their return they find their cattle stolen and James dead. Wyatt takes on the job of town marshal, making his brothers deputies, and vows to stay in Tombstone until James' killers are found. He soon runs into the brooding, coughing, hard-drinking Doc Holliday as well as the sullen and vicious Clanton clan. Wyatt discovers the owner of a trinket stolen from James' dead body and the stage is set for the Earps' long-awaited revenge. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
If you're looking for a straight-forward, fairly factual presentation of the events leading up to the 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral', watch 'Wyatt Earp', or 'Tombstone'...But if you prefer your history more spiritual, and want to see a master storyteller paint a visual canvas of a West that may never have existed, but SHOULD have, then this film should be a treasured part of your video collection!
John Ford knew Wyatt Earp personally, and was familiar with the events surrounding the Tombstone shootout, but one of his greatest assets as a director was his ability to look beyond simple facts, and focus on what 'made' a legend. 'My Darling Clementine' is a story of icons, of Loners, accepting their own weaknesses and limitations, yet willing to risk their lives and abilities to aid others, then to walk away, allowing Civilization to grow. It's a classic theme of most great westerns, particularly in Ford's work (he would return to it in 'The Searchers', and 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'), as well as other directors ('Shane', 'A Fistful of Dollars', 'Unforgiven', and 'Open Range' are a few examples).
Wyatt Earp (wonderfully portrayed by Henry Fonda) and his brothers have an aloofness that makes their characters both deceptively simple, yet enigmatic at the same time. At the film's start, Wyatt's a cowpuncher who had walked away from the responsibilities of being a lawman, finding satisfaction with his brothers in the hard work and solitary life of the range. When the Clantons (led by Walter Brennan, in one of his greatest, yet most vicious roles), first approach the brothers on the range, they accept the old man's invitation to get a taste of city life, but it's clear that it will only be a brief stay before they move on, and Wyatt brushes aside any overtures of friendship.
Wyatt's lack of desire to commit to a larger community is stressed when he subdues an armed, drunken Indian with his bare hands in a saloon (based on an actual event in Earp's life), then turns down the city council's plea to accept the Marshall's badge. Only after a brother is murdered do the Earp brothers decide to clean up the town, as it had become 'personal'.
In counterpoint to Earp is another 'loner', Doc Holliday (sensitively portrayed by Victor Mature), an intellectual who fled the South, and had found his solitude through his guns, his gambling, and his illness. While Wyatt is a true 'Man of the West', however, Holliday is simply a lonely man with no place to go, only comfortable at a poker table. He is doomed, more by his own shrinking world, than by the disease that forces him to cough into his handkerchief.
The scenes of Wyatt in Tombstone are wonderful, as Civilization grows up around the uncomfortable stranger. Yet he toys with the idea of settling into this world, through his polite yet obvious attraction to Doc's lost love, Clementine. The scene of the outdoor church dance, where the stiffly formal Earp dances against the vista of a West being 'boarded in' is symbolic of what his own life, and the West, itself, was becoming, and is classic Ford!
The climactic shootout at the O.K. Corral is both powerful and raw, ultimately fulfilling the Earps' commitment to a world that needed their aid, and ending the downward spiral of Holliday's life, in a heroic and theatrical gesture.
It's often asked why Wyatt leaves, afterward, when Clementine and Tombstone are so attractive...The answer is simple, really; his work is finished, and his participation was no longer necessary. Civilization could now grow, unimpeded. The Loner would have no place there. Like Ethan, or Shane, or 'The Man With No Name', he must return to the solitary vistas that are his true home.
John Ford has truly created the 'Stuff of Legends' with this beloved classic!
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