My Darling Clementine

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This article is about the John Ford Western. For the song, see Oh My Darling, Clementine. For the 1943 Roy Acuff film, see O, My Darling Clementine.
My Darling Clementine
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Samuel G. Engel
Written by Samuel G. Engel
Winston Miller
Sam Hellman
Stuart Anthony
William M. Conselman
Based on Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal
1931 novel 
by Stuart N. Lake
Music by Musical Direction:
Alfred Newman
Cyril Mockridge
David Buttolph (uncredited)
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release dates
  • December 3, 1946 (1946-12-03)
Running time
97 min.
103 min. (director's cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million[1]

My Darling Clementine, a 1946 film regarded as one of the best Western movies made by director John Ford, stars Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp during the period leading up to the gunfight at the OK Corral. The ensemble cast also features Linda Darnell, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt, and Ward Bond.

The title of the movie is borrowed from the theme song "Oh My Darling, Clementine", sung in parts over the opening and closing credits. The screenplay is based on the fictionalized biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake, as were two earlier movies, both named Frontier Marshal (released in 1934 and 1939, respectively).


In 1882 (in reality, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral happened on October 26, 1881), Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil, and James Earp are driving cattle to California when they cross Old Man Clanton. When they learn about the nearby boom town of Tombstone, the older brothers ride in, leaving the youngest brother James to watch over the cattle. The Earps soon learn that Tombstone is a lawless town without a marshal. Wyatt is the only man in the town willing to face the drunk Indian shooting at the townspeople. When they return to their camp, they find the cattle rustled and James murdered.

Seeking to avenge his brother's murder, Wyatt returns to Tombstone. To identify the perpetrator, he takes the open position of town marshal and meets with Doc Holliday and the Clanton gang several times. During this time, a young woman from Boston named Clementine Carter arrives in town, and is given a room at the same hotel where both Wyatt and Doc Holliday are residing.


Plot devices[edit]

The final script of the movie varies considerably from historical fact to create additional dramatic conflict and character. Clementine Carter is not a historical person, and in this script appears to be an amalgam of Big Nose Kate and Josephine Earp. Unlike the movie characters, the Earps were never cowboys, drovers, or cattle owners. Important plot devices in the film and personal details about the main characters were all liberally adapted for the movie.[2]

Old Man Clanton actually died prior to the gunfight and probably never met any of the Earps. Doc was a dentist, not a surgeon, and survived the shootout. James Earp, who was the first to die in the story, actually lived until 1926. The key women in Wyatt's and Doc's lives—Wyatt's common law wife Josephine and Doc's common-law wife Big Nose Kate—were not present in Lake's original story and were kept out of the movie as well. The film gives the date of the gunfight as 1882 when it actually occurred in 1881.[3]


In 1931, Stuart Lake published the first biography two years after Earp's death.[4] Lake retold the story in the 1946 book My Darling Clementine,[4] for which Ford acquired the film rights. The two books have since been determined to be largely fictionalized stories about the Earp brothers and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and their conflict with the outlaw Cowboys: Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and his brother Frank McLaury. The gunfight was relatively unknown to the American public until Lake published the two books and after the movie was made.[4]

Director John Ford said that when he was a prop boy in the early days of silent pictures, Earp would visit pals he knew from his Tombstone days on the sets. "I used to give him a chair and a cup of coffee, and he told me about the fight at the O.K. Corral. So in My Darling Clementine, we did it exactly the way it had been."[5][6] Ford was working on his last silent feature, Hangman's House, in 1928, which included the first credited screen appearance by John Wayne. Wayne later told Hugh O'Brian that he based his image of the Western lawman on his conversations with Earp.[3][6] Ford did not want to make the movie, but his contract required him to make one more movie for 20th Century Fox.[7]

In their later years, Wyatt and Josephine Earp worked hard to eliminate any mention of Josephine's previous relationship with Johnny Behan or Wyatt's previous common law marriage to Matty Blaylock. They successfully kept Josephine's name out of Lake's biography of Wyatt and after he died, Josephine threatened to sue the movie producers to keep it that way.[8] Lake corresponded with Josephine, and he claimed she attempted to influence what he wrote and hamper him in every way possible, including consulting lawyers. Josephine insisted she was striving to protect Wyatt Earp's legacy.[9]

After the movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (in which Ireland also appeared) was released in 1957, the shootout came to be known by that name. Since then, the conflict has been portrayed with varying degrees of accuracy in numerous Western films and books.

Production notes[edit]

Much of the film was shot in Monument Valley, a scenic desert region straddling the Arizona-Utah border used in other John Ford movies. After seeing a preview screening of the film, 20th Century Fox studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck felt Ford's original cut was too long and had some weak spots, so he had Lloyd Bacon shoot new footage and heavily edited the film.[3] Zanuck had Bacon cut 30 minutes from the film.[7]

While Ford's original cut of the film has not survived, a "pre-release" cut—dating from a few months after the preview screening—was discovered in the UCLA film archives; this version preserves some additional footage as well as alternative scoring and editing. UCLA film preservationist Robert Gitt edited a version of the film that incorporates some of the earlier version.[10] Perhaps the most significant change is the film's ending; in Ford's original version, Earp awkwardly shakes hands with Clementine Carter. In the version released in 1946, Earp kisses her on the cheek.[11]

Critical reception[edit]

The film is generally regarded as one of the best Westerns made by John Ford[12][13] and one of his best films overall.[14]

At the time of its release, Bosley Crowther lauded the film and wrote, "The eminent director, John Ford, is a man who has a way with a Western like nobody in the picture trade. Seven years ago his classic Stagecoach snuggled very close to fine art in this genre. And now, by George, he's almost matched it with My Darling Clementine ... But even with standard Western fiction—and that's what the script has enjoined—Mr. Ford can evoke fine sensations and curiously-captivating moods. From the moment that Wyatt and his brothers are discovered on the wide and dusty range, trailing a herd of cattle to a far-off promised land, a tone of pictorial authority is struck—and it is held. Every scene, every shot is the product of a keen and sensitive eye—an eye which has deep comprehension of the beauty of rugged people and a rugged world."[15]

The Variety reviewer wrote, "Trademark of John Ford's direction is clearly stamped on the film with its shadowy lights, softly contrasted moods and measured pace, but a tendency is discernible towards stylization for the sake of stylization. At several points, the pic comes to a dead stop to let Ford go gunning for some arty effect".[16]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 100% approval rating with an average rating of 8.9/10, based on 28 reviews.[17]

In 1991, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry; it is among the first 75 films entered into the registry.[3] Fifty years after its release, Roger Ebert reviewed the film and included it in his list of The Great Movies.[12]

In 2004, Matt Bailey summarized its significance: "If there is one film that deserves every word of praise ever uttered or written about it, it is John Ford's My Darling Clementine. Perhaps the greatest film in a career full of great films, arguably the finest achievement in a rich and magnificent genre, and undoubtedly the best version of one of America's most enduring myths, the film is an undeniable and genuine classic."[18]

In popular culture[edit]

Director Sam Peckinpah considered My Darling Clementine his favorite Western,[19] and paid homage to it in several of his Westerns, including Major Dundee (1965) and The Wild Bunch (1969).

An episode of the TV series M*A*S*H*, Col. Potter uses this movie to help boost camp morale; leading to the entire viewing party to a mock-but comedic-massacre during the climactic gun fight which is then "broken up" when a bus carrying wounded soldiers arrives at the camp.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stanley, Fred (May 5, 1946). "The Hollywood Wire: In the Clear; More Hollywood Items; Boy Meets Girl". New York Times. p. X1. 
  2. ^ "Never Let the Truth Get In the Way of a Good Story". Signal Intrusions. March 8, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d Nixon, Rob. "The Big Idea Behind My Darling Clementine". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Goodman, Michael (July 30, 2005). Wyatt Earp. The Creative Company. p. 95. ISBN 9781583413395. 
  5. ^ Hutton, Paul Andrew (May 7, 2012). "Wyatt Earp's First Film". True West. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Gallagher, Tag (1986). John Ford: the Man and His Films. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-0-520-06334-1. 
  7. ^ a b Faragher, John Mack (1996). "The Tale of Wyatt Earp: Seven Films". In Carnes, Mark C. Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. New York: Henry Holt. pp. 154–161. 
  8. ^ Rosa, Joseph G. (1979). The Gunfighter: Man or Myth?. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-8061-1561-0. 
  9. ^ Earp, Josephine (November 19, 1935). "Earp's widow admits her financial destitution to his biographer" (Letter to Stuart Lake). Retrieved 10 November 2011 – via Shapell Manuscript Collection. 
  10. ^ Turan, Kenneth (April 5, 1995). "Unearthing Hollywood Treasures – Movies: The annual extravaganza from UCLA's Film and Television Archive offers a cornucopia of treats". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  11. ^ Arnold, Jeremy; Steiner, Richard. "My Darling Clementine(1946) – Home Video Reviews". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 27 January 2014. 
  12. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. "My Darling Clementine". Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Maltin, Leonard. "Leonard Maltin Ratings & Review". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Eggert, Brian (October 7, 2008). "My Darling Clementine (1946)". Deep Focus Review. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  15. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 4, 1946). "Darling Clementine With Henry Fonda as Marshal of Tombstone, a Stirring Film of West". The Screen. New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2008. 
  16. ^ Schoenfeld, Herm (October 9, 1946). "My Darling Clementine". Pictures. Variety. p. 14. Retrieved 27 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "My Darling Clementine". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  18. ^ Bailey, Matt (July 11, 2004). "My Darling Clementine". Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  19. ^ Erickson, Steve (December 25, 2012). "The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine (1946)". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved 21 November 2013. 

External links[edit]