Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Movie Review: My Darling Clementine

My Darling Clementine (1946) 10/10
Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his brothers are passing their cattle through Tombstone when Billy Earp is murdered. Wyatt accepts an offer to become Marshall, and deputizes his surviving brothers, so that he can find the killer. Directed by John Ford.

I was excited when I saw this movie was going to be on; there's a shrinking list of really acclaimed Westerns I have yet to see, and My Darling Clementine didn't disappoint. It was as exquisitely beautiful as you'd expect a John Ford Western to be; masterfully filmed, every frame perfection. Ford captures all the subtle and broad, clumsy and graceful movements that add up to rich characters in a beautifully made movie. I think my favorite moment is this: Wyatt Earp has taken to sitting in front of the hotel, watching the town, leaned way back in a chair with one long leg up on a post in front of him. This is so much his habit that someone runs to get his chair when he sees Earp coming (itself a lovely touch). Then, in one scene, while thinking about taking the eponymous Clementine Carter to a dance, Earp stretches out his arms and, still leaning back in the chair, does dance steps on the post.

I could talk about the themes of this movie, about trying to reach past yourself, about finding beauty, all that, but to me, I'm pretty sure what I'm going to remember is that this is the movie where Henry Fonda danced on the post; a purely visual elegance.

My Darling Clementine also makes total hash of the historical fact. I have a book I like a lot called Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. As the title suggests, it treats a host of movies with a historical basis to a comparison with the facts. The chapter on Wyatt Earp and the shootout at the OK Corral actually encompasses seven movies (although many more could have been included). Having read this book, and seen numerous other films with these characters, I was very aware of the factual errors. I mean, all movies stretch or strain fact somewhere, and Westerns more than most, but My Darling Clementine doesn't even try! It ignores such basics as which Clantons and Earps were even at the OK Corral, who lived, and who died.

They're arguing over the need for historical accuracy (or lack thereof) over on the IMDb message board for this film. Does accuracy matter when the film is so great? Or at all? If you don't intend to be accurate, why use the names of historical figures and events at all? Ford knew Wyatt Earp, who hung around Hollywood at the end of his life, and would tell people that his portrayal of the events of the OK Corral was accurate because he heard about it from Earp himself. But then, when people complained about the inaccuracies, he fell back to "Well, did you enjoy the movie?"

All these arguments are interesting, but while you're arguing, see My Darling Clementine, because it really is amazing.

(Oh, my cross-post, Oh, my cross-post...)