Archive Treasures 50th Anniversary Celebration, a double bill of two beloved John Ford classics, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949).
I've ranked SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON in my Top 10 Favorite Films for many years now, and I'll have more to say on it later. (Update: Here is my review of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON.) It took me longer to warm up to MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), as I found it slower going when I first got to know the film as a child, but over the years I've also come to love it deeply. I'm not sure what I found more beautiful tonight, Monument Valley in black and white or color! I guess it's a tie.
Prior to this year I had never seen MY DARLING CLEMENTINE on a big screen, and what makes 2015 even better is that I had the opportunity to see not one but two different versions of CLEMENTINE in a theater. I definitely made up for lost time.
Last spring I saw a digital restoration of the film's theatrical release at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival. I've planned to write about CLEMENTINE since that occasion, but seeing 16 films in a short time span makes it a challenge to set aside time to devote individual attention to each title! (Incidentally, I did write about CLEMENTINE briefly here nine and a half years ago.) It couldn't have worked out more beautifully, though, as tonight I saw a 35mm restoration of the 102-minute pre-release version of CLEMENTINE.
And as a postscript, it seems serendipitous that just a week ago I also saw FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939) at the Lone Pine Film Festival. I reviewed that 20th Century-Fox film, starring Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp, nine years ago; in some ways the Scott version of the story is very different, but certain incidents seem to have inspired the Ford version. In a documentary I watched today, it was said that Ford watched FRONTIER MARSHAL as part of his preparation.
In a parallel story, a lovely woman from Doc's past, Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), arrives in Tombstone. She tries to persuade Doc to return to his past life in the East as a doctor; meanwhile Wyatt is tentatively attracted to her.
Monument Valley two years ago -- and even other movies combine to give it added weight. For instance, anyone who loves Ford films and hears "Shall We Gather at the River?" will automatically think of THE SEARCHERS (1956) and other Ford movies, which adds even deeper emotion to the film at hand.
Like other great Westerns such as WINCHESTER '73 (1950) or any number of Ford films, most of the shots seem to be works of art in and of themselves. The clouds in the sky over Monument Valley, as filmed in black and white by Joe McDonald, are stunning, and there are so many similarly remarkable moments of visual poetry.
The famous sequence where Wyatt escorts Clementine to the unfinished church, followed by the dance, is surely one of the great scenes of the American cinema. It's exquisitely beautiful, in and of itself, and at the same time it somehow reaches further back into real American history, seeming to capture the spirit and optimism of the true American pioneers; one almost feels, for a fleeting moment, that one is actually looking backward in time. It's layers such as that which make the film so lovely; that scene in particular never fails to move me to tears, just as I will always cry at "Lest we forget" in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON.
Fonda and Brennan are perfection as Earp and Clanton, but the cast is filled with marvelous performances. Has there even been a better Doc Holliday than Victor Mature, with his deep, sorrowful eyes? That moment where he quotes Shakespeare...unforgettable.
This was one more outstanding film for Linda Darnell, who plays the tempestuous saloon gal Chihuahua; Darnell deserves greater credit for what she brought to a series of excellent movies throughout her career at Fox.
Tim Holt in recent years, on this viewing I noted what an assured and charismatic performer he was here, his first postwar film. Holt may have had a supporting role, but my eye would often settle on him among a crowd of actors. Virgil taking on the Clantons singlehandedly, a foolhardy moment despite Wyatt urging him to go after Billy, might have been the only weak spot in the screenplay by Winston Miller and Samuel Engel; going in the Clanton house without backup was a boneheaded move, leading to the only moment in the film I can't watch.
Ward Bond, of course, is right there as Morgan Earp, with his own moments to shine, whether it's ordering an enormous breakfast of "blood rare" steak, bacon, and "a big pot of coffee," mindlessly spooning sugar into his coffee as he stares at the lovely newcomer Clementine, or gunning down Old Man Clanton in the final moments.
The supporting cast also includes Alan Mowbray, Jane Darwell, J. Farrell MacDonald, Roy Roberts, Russell Simpson, Francis Ford, Mae Marsh, Fred Libby, Jack Pennick, and Harry Woods.
I have to mention how nice it was to see that UCLA's restoration credits card included a thank you to Blake Lucas, a great friend of this blog who helped to call UCLA's attention to the differences between the pre-release and theatrical versions, inspiring the preservation of the pre-release edition.
There's also a scene which was done originally with just natural sounds rather than music, which I preferred. For the most part, though, I think the music which was put in for the final version, such as when Clementine arrives on the stage, was spot-on. Zanuck also cut out some extraneous crowd scenes which added little to the narrative or the setting.
The most notable change is the final scene; in the original, Wyatt simply shakes hands with Clementine, but as that stark farewell disappointed a large preview audience, a scene where Wyatt kisses her cheek was shot and edited in. While the background for the close-up insert looks awkward, I agree with the scene's sentiment. As I watched the prerelease version, I felt it was very uncertain -- even unlikely -- that Wyatt would ever return to Tombstone or see Clementine again. I prefer the slightly more optimistic version which I've enjoyed for most of my life.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE has been issued for the home viewing market in many editions. In 2004 it was released on DVD as No. 14 in the Fox Studio Classics series; both the prerelease and theatrical versions were included. It was also included in the giant Ford at Fox set.
More recently it was released on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection. Again, both versions of the film were included.
It's also had a release on VHS, and it can be rented for streaming from Amazon.
Most highly recommended.