My Darling Clementine will always be my favorite motion picture from legendary director John Ford. There’s something so simple and elegant about the film, and the somewhat recently released Criterion Collection Blu-Ray features a stunning digital transfer, no blemishes to speak of, the shimmery and wonderfully detailed black and white cinematography filling the 1.33:1 frame in all its Academy-ratio glory. Despite the compromised post-production process, the film still stands as one of Ford’s most assured and distinctive works, the funereal tone creating a dreamy and melancholic atmosphere to the old west proceedings. Henry Fonda’s performance was laid-back brilliance, always allowing the story to come to him, instead of trying to dominate each scene with blustery acting techniques.
Victor Mature’s work as the alcoholic Doc Holliday is the stuff of cinematic dreams-come-true; it’s one of my favorite performances of all time and every time you observe his work in this film you are able to find new, sad grace notes. Light on gun-slinging but rich in subtleties and character, the movie sort of feels at times like an anti-Western, which is interesting given that it was made during the genre’s full swing and not during the revisionist period. Kevin Costner tipped his hat to My Darling Clementine repeatedly in his underrated 2003 film Open Range, which also features a gripping and deadly shoot-out at the finish. I love contemplative westerns where the dialogue is rich and the relationships are complex – My Darling Clementine fits that bill while also providing unforgettable imagery and projecting a quietly lethal sense of finality.