We enjoyed a Henry Fonda double feature today, following THE MALE ANIMAL with one of Fonda's greatest roles, Wyatt Earp in John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. The film is, in short, a story of good vs. evil as well as a depiction of the hard work of taming the West.
When I was younger I didn't especially care for this film, as I found it a bit meandering and slow, and the dark night scenes didn't play well on my old TV.
Watching CLEMENTINE anew for the first time in many years, in a beautiful DVD print, I gained a new appreciation. I was struck with the feeling that the film is pure poetry, art in motion. It's a series of beautiful set pieces. The scene where Wyatt takes Clementine (Cathy Downs) to the church social is justly celebrated -- the music, the beautiful cloud-filled sky, Fonda's gallant but slightly awkward dancing, the depiction of the church-going folks who are bringing civilization to the West -- the loveliness caught on film causes the eyes to mist.
Fonda is nothing less than perfect as the marshal of Tombstone. The film co-stars Linda Darnell, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt, and many Ford regulars, including Ward Bond, Jane Darwell, Russell Simpson, and Francis Ford.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is available on DVD as No. 14 in the Fox Studio Classics series. The DVD contains both the standard release version and a longer "alternate" prerelease edit of the film, a documentary on the differences between the two versions of the film, a trailer, and a commentary by Ford biographer Scott Eyman and Wyatt Earp III.
This movie is also available on video.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is a uniquely American masterwork, as significant and important in its way as any great painting or piece of literature. Highly recommended.
2015 Update: I've posted an expanded review of this film after seeing two different versions on a big screen this year.