Forget the title. My Darling Clementine isn't a soppy nostalgic musical, rather it's one of the finest Westerns ever made, directed by Western director-supremo John Ford and telling the story of one of the most potent of all Wild-West legends - the story of Wyatt Earp and the shoot-out at the OK Corral.
For me, there's only a handful of truly great Westerns. High Noon, of course. And The Hanging Tree, The Big Country and the quintessential 'modern' (post-WWII) Western, Bad Day at Black Rock. This belongs in their company.
Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp. He's served his time as Marshall at Dodge City, and has retired from law-keeping. He and his three brothers are now in the cattle business - driving a herd across America to sell in Mexico.
But Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) has different ideas. While Wyatt and two brothers hit Tombstone for a night on the town, Clanton and his sons rustle the cattle and murder the youngest Earp.
That was a bad move. Wyatt takes on the vacant job of Marshall of Tombstone, and sets out to find who murdered his brother. And into the picture comes the town's unofficial Marshall (in charge of girls and gambling), the consumptive Doc Holliday, with Victor Mature (whom I usually loathe) giving an outstanding and surprisingly sensitive performance.
Ford's trademark scenery serves as a noble backdrop to a drama which he allows to unfold gradually, almost languidly, as if we're at first listening to a folk-song. He concentrates on the slow development of relationships between Earp and Holliday, and also between Earp and the Clementine of the title, Catherine Carter, the girl from back-East who has been pursuing Doc Holliday - or, rather, her romanticised vision of him.
Clem doesn't find the Doc Holliday she's expecting. He's a gambler, not the surgeon she was hoping he still would be. And he's tubercular. And to cap all this, he has a fiery, tempestuous saloon-girl mistress, Chihuahua, played by Linda Darnell in another bravura performance to match Fonda and Mature.
But Ford is the star. He makes this movie an elegy for the Old West. There's as much here about comradeship, tenderness and parting as there are the fast explosions of gunfire at the end, which leaves most of the players dead in the dust. It's a consummate movie, and it fully deserves its place in cinema legend.
Ford filmed this on location in Arizona. The cast lived rough. And the film is imbued with the grit of reality. And if you watch the film for subtle references, it's clear that Ford is saying goodbye to the Old West. The effect of Clementine on Wyatt Earp is an effect of civilisation reaching the fringes of society. A church is being built, with a dance being held to celebrate it. And the barber has a brand-new state-of-the-art combination barbering/dentistry chair, brought in all the way from Chicago. The times, they were a changin'.
Ford shows us this, draws some complete and complex characters and tells us a rattling good yarn, and all in just 97 minutes. This film comes from when directors knew how to pace a movie; when quality wasn't measured by running time. It's a lesson in film-making.
The Dolby Digital two-channel mono soundtrack is pretty basic. Clarity of dialogue is good, but there are periods when the sound is quite harsh. It's time for sound restoration.
It's interesting (well, almost interesting) to switch channels to the French audio track during quieter moments in the film. The French use of background music is very different, with the music far more pronounced than on the English track. And it's very effective, even if not the original sound-design.