My Darling Clementine
John Ford takes on the legend of the O.K. Corral shoot-out in this multilayered, exceptionally well-constructed western, one of the director’s very best films. Henry Fonda cuts an iconic figure as Wyatt Earp, the sturdy lawman who sets about the task of shaping up the disorderly Arizona town of Tombstone, and Victor Mature gives the performance of his career as the boozy, tubercular gambler and gunman Doc Holliday. Though initially at cross-purposes, the pair ultimately team up to confront the violent Clanton gang. Affecting and stunningly photographed, My Darling Clementine is a story of the triumph of civilization over the Wild West from American cinema’s consummate mythmaker.
The theatrical version of John Ford’s My Darling Clementine receives a new transfer (taken from a new 4K restoration), and is being released by The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray. The dual-layer disc presents the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 in 1080p/24hz.
The new restoration and transfer is certainly impressive, improving drastically over Fox’s own previous DVD edition. Looking very filmic the image delivers sharp details with crisp, cleanly defined edges, and renders the film’s very fine film grain perfectly. Close-ups present a wonderful amount of detail in faces and costumes, as do the gorgeous vista shots that appear throughout. Contrast levels looks decent enough, maybe a little dark in some interiors, but whites and blacks are nicely balanced and gray level shifts are clean and natural.
The print is in stunning shape, with only a few minor scratches and marks remaining. It’s certainly the cleanest I’ve ever seen the film. Mixed with the filmic transfer this release easily presents the best looking presentation of the film yet.
Limited a bit by age, the lossless PCM mono track is otherwise fine. Spoken lines are easy to hear and the film’s music sounds fine enough, a little edgy when it tries to reach higher ranges. The track has also been cleared up and doesn’t present any problems with noise, drops or distortions.
Criterion’s edition of My Darling Clementine first features a new audio commentary by Ford biographer Joseph McBride, who covers a variety of subjects around the film. He of course talks about the historical accuracies of the film (which are very few) and then the various versions of the film, offering a fairly concise history, and comparing the theatrical version to the pre-release version at certain moments, the only alternate cut that still exists. He talks about the relationship between Ford and studio head Daryl F. Zanuck and the falling out that occurred after Zanuck cut My Darling Clementine down, and he also talks about the working relationship between Ford and star Henry Fonda, with the two also experiencing a falling out later on. He mentions the influence of the war on the film (this was the first film for most of those involved since the Second World War) and of course comments on Ford’s compositions and striking vista shots. He can drone on a bit here and there, but McBride, though prepared, at least doesn’t feel like he’s reading from a script making it at least feel a little more spontaneous.
Like the previous Fox DVD Criterion next includes the 103-minute pre-release version of the film. It should be stressed (as McBride notes in his commentary) that this does not represent the director’s cut of the film but is rather a sort of stop-gap between Ford’s original cut and the final theatrical release that Zanuck put together. The first 19-minutes are the same (more than likely because the first reel of the pre-release version is gone, so the theatrical cut is used in its place) but after this there are some subtle alterations and some completely new sequences, along with the removal of some music cues (which McBride says was more than likely Ford’s intent.) It’s noticeably different in tone, a bit darker and slower than the theatrical cut, and retains the “handshake” at the end that even Zanuck apparently preferred (it was changed to a kiss after test audiences reacted in an unwanted manner: they laughed), offering an excellent alternate cut of the film.
As to the presentation I am sad to say the same amount of work that went into the theatrical cut did not go into this one. This version was scanned at 2K, and not 4K like the theatrical cut, but that’s actually not too much of an issue as detail levels are still very good. Unfortunately to fit all of the content on the disc Criterion has heavily compressed this version of the film onto the disc (though longer the file actually is about half the size of the main feature’s) and I suspect this feeds into some of the problems that pop up: some noise is present and banding gets particularly bad in some of the night sequences. What’s most disappointing is that it doesn’t appear much if any restoration work has been done: damage is heavy, the film littered with tram lines, scratches and marks. The Dolby Digital soundtrack on the other hand, though flatter in comparison to the main feature, holds up decently enough.
Criterion then carries over the fairly extensive 41-minute version comparison that was found on the original Fox DVD. This version goes over the history of the film’s production and the disagreements between Zanuck and Ford over the final edit of the film. The feature then goes through a number of differences between the pre-release and theatrical cuts. It’s a rather extensive and fascinating piece, which also gets into detail about actually restoring the pre-release version to have a better flow: since it was a sort of stop-gap there were some illogical jumps that had to be adjusted to fix the flow. This includes scene insertions from other sequences and so on. It’s a well done feature and one I’m glad Criterion pulled over. Worth watching if you haven’t viewed it yet.
We then get a new feature in the aptly titled Print the Legend, an interview with western scholar Andrew C. Isenberg. Isenberg tries to give a more accurate history of Wyatt Earp, explaining how the Earp legend had been built up over the years, primarily through Earp himself, who befriended people in Hollywood who retold his stories through books and films. On top of this he also tries to explain the reasoning behind the gunfight at (or outside of to be more correct) the O.K. Corral. He then talks about the various films based on Wyatt Earp and explains why My Darling Clementine is his favourite, despite the fact it’s probably the least historically accurate of all of the films. Though I think most know that the Earp legend is mostly bull, the piece, which is really quite fascinating, does admittedly remove any fun to be found in the stories. The feature runs 14-minutes.
Further offering some contextualization and history Criterion then digs up an 8-minute excerpt from a 1963 episode of the NBC The David Brinkley Journal, covering the town of Tombstone. The piece gives a brief history on the town and the silver boom that brought in a large number of prospectors and eventually Wyatt Earp. After getting some details about some of the buildings a local professor talks about the real Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, though doesn’t go into as much detail as Isenberg does in his piece. The segment also visits some of the notable tourist spots, such as Boot Hill cemetery, where we see some of the humourous tombstones (“Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a .44, no Les, no more”).
Following that excerpt is an excerpt from a 1976 episode of NBC’s Today called “Report on Monument Valley.” The excerpt only runs 6-minutes but, like the previous feature, gives a decent history of the location during its short running time. On top of giving a historical outline of the area it covers Henry Goulding’s part in bringing the area to John Ford’s attention (better covered in Criterion’s release of Stagecoach) and goes into detail about the people living there at the time.
Tag Gallagher next provides a new 18-minute video essay on the film called Lost and Gone Forever. The essay gives a brief overview of the production and how Ford apparently knew Earp and then moves onto other subjects, from the film’s parallels to WWII, the separation of the various storylines, similarities between this film and others in Ford’s filmography (Young Mr. Lincoln in particular), and even examines some of Ford’s framing choices, such as a nicely done moment involving the Clanton boys coming into the frame to intimidate Fonda’s Earp. As usual with Gallagher’s essays it offers a nice analysis of Ford’s film and the little decisions he made throughout.
Also included is a short film by John Ford’s brother Francis. The film, Bandit’s Wager, is a 1916 silent film that also presents John Ford in a small role. The 14-minute film’s premise revolves around a bandit who wagers a woman he comes across that she will one day freely kiss him and then the series of heavy coincidences and plot contrivances that follow that lead to this prophecy being realized. It’s an interesting inclusion, though I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the film itself. Sadly it looks like it comes from a standard definition master, looking to be upscaled and laced with artifacts.
Following this is the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film, condensing the film down to 58-minutes and still featuring Fonda and Downs, and then adding Richard Conte as Doc Holliday. As usual you also get all of the ads within. The supplements then close with the film’s theatrical trailer. The included insert then features a lengthy essay by writer David Jenkins that examines the charge that the film is an “anti-western”.
It’s a fairly packed edition (and probably should have been a two-disc release, at least to give both versions of the film, the pre-release version specifically, more room to breathe) but most importantly they’re a nicely well-rounded set, covering the film’s production, the actual history of the film’s subject matter, and offering a nice scholarly angle.
Sporting an exceptional transfer and some superb supplements, Criterion’s edition of My Darling Clementine is the definitive one to get, and comes with a high recommendation.