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Film / My Darling Clementine

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"This movie's a classic. It's got the three things that make a movie great: horses, cowboys, and horses."
Col. Sherman T. Potter describing this film on M*A*S*H

My Darling Clementine is a 1946 Western directed by John Ford. It is one of many, many film depictions of Wyatt Earp, and the first to be explicitly structured around the shootout at the OK Corral. Henry Fonda stars as Earp, with Victor Mature as Doc Holliday, Linda Darnell as Chihuahua, Walter Brennan as Old Man Clanton, and Cathy Downs as the (historically unattested) title character.

The film opens with ex-lawman Earp working a cattle drive with his brothers. But when his cattle are rustled and his youngest brother killed, he accepts the marshalship of Tombstone in order to investigate and legally avenge these crimes. This sets in motion a ripple of escalating tensions that finally leads him to confront the Clanton family at the OK Corral. Viewers familiar with the film Tombstone or with non-fiction accounts will recognize few particulars of the story, as the facts have been liberally rearranged.

Has nothing to do with the song — which does, however, serve as theme music.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Henry Fonda did the same slightly awkward high-stepping dance in his earlier appearance for John Ford, Young Mr. Lincoln. Ford deliberately included the dance number again because "he thought it would make a good shot."
  • The Alcoholic: Holliday. Also the actor Thorndyke, who is Played for Laughs.
  • Artistic License – History: The film diverges frequently from the known facts, particularly concerning the main characters' love lives and the timing and circumstances of various deaths.
    • The plot is kicked off by the murder of the youngest Earp brother, James. In reality, James was the eldest, was uninvolved in the feud, and long outlived both Virgil and Morgan. (The 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, though not a remake of Clementine, used James in a similar way.)
    • Old Man Clanton was real and was the leader of the Cowboy faction opposed by the Earps, but he died months before the O.K. Corral gunfight.
    • The movie's version of the shootout is overtly long and ranges across parts of Tombstone. In Real Life it took less than a minute and was contained entirely in the corral.
    • Doc Holliday is killed in the shootout, when in Real Life he died of his tuberculosis six years later.
  • The Bartender: Notable for this memorable exchange:
    Wyatt: Mac, you ever been in love?
    Mac: No, I've been a bartender all my life.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Chihuahua never sweats or appears disheveled — not even when she is badly injured and undergoing surgery.
  • Betty and Veronica: Clementine and Chihuahua — except their rivalry is only in Chihuahua's head. Holliday has definitely chosen Chihuahua.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Early in the film, Virgil spots James with his Celtic cross and cracks to Wyatt, "There goes that chingadera again." "Chingadera" is a Mexican Spanish word that translates out to "fucking thing" or "crap."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Justice is served and law and order have come to Tombstone and the West. However, most of the main characters have died. The hopeful news is that Wyatt may return to Clementine who is staying in Tombstone as a teacher.
  • The Chanteuse: Chihuahua is an Old West saloon singer version.
  • Chekhov's Gun: James's pendant ends up revealing who killed him.
  • Classically-Trained Extra: Granville Thorndyke. His reputation is that of a Shakespearean actor, and he never tires of quoting the Bard — but the play he is supposed to be appearing in is a trashy crime drama set in New York City.
  • Cruel Mercy: Invoked and then subverted. After the O.K. Corral gunfight, Wyatt Earp tells Old Man Clanton (who earlier killed Earp's brother James, and whose own sons have just been killed in the fight) that he's not going to kill him: "I hope you'll live a hundred years, so you'll feel just a little of what my pa's gonna feel." Then he tells him to get on his horse and get out of town. However, as Clanton is departing, he suddenly turns to shoot Wyatt, and Morgan Earp shoots and kills him.
  • Curse of The Ancients: The Deacon's favorite expression seems to be "dad-blast it."
  • Do Wrong, Right: Old Man Clanton's response after the near-shootout at the tavern with Wyatt: "When you pull a gun, kill a man."
  • The Dreaded: Judging from everyone's reaction upon meeting him early on (especially the Clanton family when they realize whose brother they just murdered), Wyatt Earp has this reputation from his Dodge City days.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Holliday, after Clementine comes back into his life.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Old Man Clanton's friendly and inviting towards Wyatt the first few times they meet. Wyatt doesn't buy it for a second.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: It's pouring rain when the Earps make it back to their camp and find James dead.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Holliday follows a rough night of Drowning His Sorrows with a surprisingly semi-comic scene in which he complains about all the noise.
  • Historical Domain Character: The Earps, the Clantons and Doc Holliday.
  • Hope Spot: Holliday musters all his skill to perform emergency surgery on Chihuahua. She endures it bravely and he goes off considerably heartened. The next time we see Holliday, he announces Chihuahua's off-screen death.
  • Important Haircut:
    • Played with. Wyatt Earp goes from scruffily bearded to neatly mustachioed shortly before he becomes the marshal of Tombstone, but there's no direct connection between these events. However, we don't clearly see his shaven face until he decides to accept the marshalship. (Earp's first heroic act occurs just before he is shaved: he literally already has lather on his face.)
    • Later on, Wyatt gets a fancy haircut, coincidentally just before his big morning with Clementine at the church dance.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Zig-zagged. Holliday doesn't die of tuberculosis in this version, but he does die because of his cough: it distracts him during the climactic gunfight.
  • In the Back: How Virgil Earp gets it from old man Clanton.
  • Jaded Washout: Granville Thorndyke shows hints of this, being a Shakespearean actor who is reduced to performing travelling shows on the frontier, and is clearly bitter about it.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: Earp does this to the drunken Indian at the beginning of the film.
  • Narrative Filigree: All over the place. The revenge plot only takes center stage in the first few and last few scenes; incidents in between include an obligatory musical number, a visiting actor who must be coaxed into the theater, and a church dedication that turns into a dance.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed / Expy: Very downplayed, but Clementine's romance with Wyatt (and his leaving with some hope that they'll get together some day) has strong parallels with Josephine, Wyatt's real-life second wife. Chihuahua fills in the role of Doc Holliday's love interest, in the absence of Kate.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of the Clantons in the hotel lobby when they realize who they've just made an enemy out of. Made all the better because Earp introduces himself from offscreen, and we only see the Clantons' faces change from mockery to apprehension.
    Old Man Clanton: Marshal! In Tombstone? Well, good luck to you, Mister...
    Wyatt: (offscreen) Earp. Wyatt Earp.
    group Oh Crap shot
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Holliday. When Clementine comes to town, she keeps referring to him as "Dr. John Holliday" — which leaves people momentarily confused until they realize that, oh, she must mean Doc Holliday.
  • Open Heart Dentistry: A bit of a meta-example: in real life, Doc Holliday was a dentist. In the film, however, he is a surgeon. This is explicitly established early on in order to justify having him perform surgery later in the story.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Wyatt cradling Virgil's body after the Clantons dump him in the street.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Holliday, whilst Drowning His Sorrows. It even has a double meaning; the reflection is in the glass over his framed medical degree.
  • Retirony: James Earp looks forward to quitting the trail and going home to marry his sweetheart, and even shows off the expensive necklace he plans to give her. He is murdered that night.
  • Satellite Character: The title character, Clementine Carter, exists for two reasons: to drop hints about Holliday's backstory and motivations, and to engage in a Token Romance with Earp. Subtly subverted at the end, when she decides to stay on as the new schoolmarm. By this point she is the only major character remaining in Tombstone: the rest have either died or left.
  • Scenery Porn: John Ford. Western. Required entry.
  • Schoolmarm: Clementine, at the end of the story.
  • Secondary Character Title: The main plot of the film is about the shoot-out and events leading up to it. Clementine is a Satellite Character who does not participate in these events.
  • Settling the Frontier: The major theme of the movie. Highlighted by the formal dance celebrating the growth of Tombstone's community.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Provided by Linda Darnell when an irate Wyatt chucks Chihuahua into a watering trough.
  • The Sheriff: Wyatt Earp, naturally.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare:
    • A long section in the middle concerns Granville Thorndyke, a ham-actor with a reputation as a Shakespearean: he skips out of his scheduled appearance in a modern play in favor of drunkenly quoting Hamlet in the local saloon. Midway through the "To be or not to be" soliloquy, he loses his place and asks for a cue. Holliday continues the soliloquy, imbuing it with a pathos drawn from his own death wish.
    • Because of Thorndyke's presence, Wyatt's circumspect, time-buying approach to revenging himself on the Clantons acquires shades of Hamlet's famous "hesitation."
  • Showdown at High Noon: Averted, as per history. (Which is not to say that the rest of the fight is historically accurate.)
  • Signature Item Clue: James Earp shows off a distinctive cross necklace shortly before being murdered; much later, Chihuahua is seen wearing it, making Wyatt think Holliday was responsible for James's death. (She was actually trysting with one of the Clantons.)
  • Spicy Latina: Of the two major women in the film, Chihuahua is the more glamorous and the more overtly sexual. She is also quite catty toward Clementine, even though she takes their romantic rivalry more seriously than Clementine does.
  • A Tankard of Moose Urine: In the extended pre-release version, Wyatt compares the champagne to "fermented vinegar."
  • That Man Is Dead: Holliday, when Clementine tries to bring up his (decent and respectable) past. It's more explicit in the pre-release version.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In Real Life, director Ford met Wyatt Earp when the retired lawman moved to Hollywood during its early heyday and would hang out on movie sets. Earp would tell stories about his adventures, including Tombstone, which Ford used to inform his Westerns.