Release Date(s)1946 (October 14, 2014)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (Criterion - Spine #732)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
My Darling Clementine sits high upon a pedestal as one of the most well-made western films ever. There shouldn’t be any doubt of that. After all, John Ford directed the film (with a slight bit of help in the editing room by Darryl F. Zanuck), and John Ford was one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. And while it wasn’t the first film to tackle the subject matter at hand (nor was it the last), it’s certainly one of the more interesting and entertaining tellings of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
My Darling Clementine fell right smack in the middle of the pack of successful John Ford movies at the time. He had already made films like The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach, and How Green Was My Valley, and had continued success throughout much of his career afterwards. But it was also a special time when John Ford was more of a collaborative director than he was later on when he became more independent. His work had his unmistakable stamp on it, but he took more ideas from others, such as Darryl F. Zanuck, who Ford considered to be the best editor he had ever worked with. Zanuck was not only one of the founders of 20th Century Fox and vice president of production at the time, but he also had a background as a writer, producer, and editor, working closely on many of the films that 20th Century Fox released. His contributions to My Darling Clementine are immeasurable and are talked about in greater detail in the extras of this release.
The film itself is John Ford’s usual style: scenic vistas with interesting characters and strong visual framing. That’s not to say that the film is in any way superfluous. Far from it. It carries just as much weight as any other Ford film, particularly with the characters. Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Wyatt Earp is one of cinema’s great performances. Fonda always seemed to have one in pocket during this stage of his career and his performance in this film is no exception. There’s also Victor Mature, whose Doc Holiday is just as menacing as he is compassionate. He walks a fine line between those two extremes and walks it quite well. Both of these and other performances are even more interesting in the prerelease version of the film, which is roughly six minutes longer than the theatrical version. Some additional lines of dialogue are present and help to broaden character moments a bit. The changes that Darryl F. Zanuck made before the film’s release were, I think, crucial, and iron out the pace of the film a bit more as well. But it’s still nice to see these lost character moments.
For history scholars, the story of the film is full of inaccuracies, and is based primarily upon the biography “I Married Wyatt Earp” by Stuart Lake and two previous films, both titled Frontier Marshall (one from 1934 and the other from 1939). Accuracy doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things though. The story doesn’t have to be accurate to be entertaining, and is it ever. I personally see something new in it every time I watch it. It’s your basic western, sure, but then again, it isn’t. There are far too many reasons why, mostly the framing of shots and the tendency of characters to not act out typical western tropes and clichés, particularly the female characters. It can all be summed up in one sentence: My Darling Clementine is another masterpiece from John Ford. There’s little more to say than that.
The Blu-ray presentation of the theatrical version of My Darling Clementine boasts a superb image without being completely flawless. Image stability, as well as depth and detail, are quite strong with a light layer of grain that’s very pleasing. There are next to no film artifacts on display, nor is there any film damage to be seen. Being scanned at 4K quality, the restoration efforts on the film are amazing and commendable, but I suspect that the damage was extensive enough to warrant the use of more aggressive digital clean-up than usual. This isn’t a major complaint, by any means. But while some detail in the image will leave you breathless, there are some moments in the darker areas of the frame that don’t carry as much detail. This isn’t all the throughout the film, by any means, but mainly when the lights are turned down low, such as the moment when Wyatt Earp confronts the Clantons for the first time. As for the prerelease version of the film, it didn’t get the tender-loving care that the theatrical version did, which isn’t a surprise. It’s mainly here for archival purposes anyway, and isn’t constituted as a formal alternate version of the film. It contains many of the things that were cleaned up from the theatrical version: debris, warps, stains, etc. It’s a mostly stable image with a fair amount of detail though, I’ll give it that. Both versions carry acceptable levels of brightness and contrast, as well.
For the soundtrack, both versions come with their original English LPCM mono soundtracks. For the theatrical version, it sounds absolutely terrific. Dialogue is quite clear and both score and sound effects are mixed together well. For a mono track, it has a lot of depth to it. The prerelease version's soundtrack doesn’t sound identical to its theatrical counterpart and contains a significant amount of background hiss. All of the dialogue, score, and sound effects are as good as they can be, but the soundtrack pales in comparison to the theatrical one. Again, the prerelease version isn’t meant to be an alternative film, but more of a curiosity. There are also subtitles in English on both versions for those who might need them.
In addition to the prerelease version of the film, along with some text about the two versions, there’s quite a bounty of extras to dig through for this release. There’s an audio commentary with film scholar and author of “Searching for John Ford” Joseph McBride; a Version Comparison analysis by preservationist Robert Gitt of the UCLA Film & Television Archive; the Print the Legend interview with western scholar and author of “Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life” Andrew C. Isenberg; an excerpt from the David Brinkley Journal program about the city of Tombstone, Arizona; an excerpt from the Today show from 1976 about the history of Monument Valley; Lost and Gone Forever, a video essay by film scholar and author of “John Ford: The Man and His Films” Tag Gallagher; Bandit’s Wager, a short western film from 1916 by John Ford’s brother Francis; the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of My Darling Clementine; the film’s original theatrical trailer; and finally, a fold-out insert booklet with an essay on the film by author David Jenkins. Missing from the previous 20th Century Fox DVD releases of the film (Studio Classics and Ford at Fox) is an additional audio commentary with Wyatt Earp III and author Scott Eyman; a featurette about the two versions of the film; still galleries; and the 1939 version of Frontier Marshal. The latter extras aren't missed all that much, but it's unfortunate that the commentary wasn't carried over.
All in all, I’d call this another home run from the folks at The Criterion Collection, despite those missing extras. My Darling Clementine is a film that was in sore need of a Blu-ray upgrade, and they’ve done a bang-up job of putting one together. Highly recommended, of course.
- Tim Salmons