A Bitter Tale for Wyatt and Clementine
To be honest I have lost track of the number of movies I have watched which are based upon the story of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the OK Corral, but rather than being bored by these movies they continue to entertain because each one is different. Of course the underlying storyline is the same with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday fighting the Clantons but each one is different, be it a different chain of events or the characters having different traits. One of the most different for me is John Ford's "My Darling Clementine" which paints a very different picture of Wyatt Earp from how he comes to be in Tombstone, his friendship with Doc Holliday through to the actual characteristics of Earp himself. Out of all the versions I have watched "My Darling Clementine" is one of the most unique whilst still keeping the essence of the well known story.
Having been trailing cattle across country Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda - On Golden Pond) and his brothers pitch up on the outskirts of Tombstone. Leaving youngest brother James (Don Garner) to watch the Herd Wyatt, Morgan (Ward Bond) and Virgil (Tim Holt) head into Tombstone but on their return to discover not only has their herd gone but James has been murdered. Taking on the job of Marshall Wyatt and his brothers set about finding his brother's murderers and with the help of legendary gambler Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) things lead them to the Clanton clan especially when they discover that a cross which James wore has been given to Doc's girlfriend Chihuahua (Linda Darnell) by one of the Clanton's.
The thing about "My Darling Clementine" is that whilst the underlying storyline is that same with Wyatt Earp becoming Marshall of Tombstone and ending up in a battle with the Clanton clan the actual chain of events differ from other retellings of the story. For example we meet Wyatt and his brothers herding cattle across country, pitching up near Tombstone for the night. It's a different introduction to the story as is the fact that Wyatt initially rejects the offer of becoming Marshall until he discovers his younger brother James has been murdered. And the differences continue because whilst Wyatt has heard of Doc Holliday he has never actually met him. It means that whilst those familiar with the storyline will know how it ends up will find the route to the gunfight slightly different. And making it different is also the romantic element with who Wyatt ends up falling in love with.
Now I don't know the truth about Wyatt Earp, I don't know whether he did end up in Tombstone having pitched up with his herd nearby. I do know that he died only 17 years before Ford made "My Darling Clementine" and so maybe the picture which Ford paints is closer to the truth or at least maybe he makes the character of Wyatt more similar to the man himself rather than the version we have witnessed in more recent movies. And it is the character of Earp himself which is another difference because rather than being this tough man who brings law and order we have a more laid back version. Yes Wyatt is equally recognizable as a brave man, willing to take on anyone but he is not a man of violence, preferring to go about things in a more level headed manner. It makes Ford's version of Wyatt Earp more interesting than the action hero figure he became in those later movies.
Being a different version of Wyatt Earp allows Henry Fonda more flexibility in his portrayal and he does it so well. Fonda delivers this laid back aspect to Earp perfectly making him not only this level headed peace keeper but also some one who is wise with experience, someone who is looking for the simplest way to sort out an issue rather than reaching for a gun. Yet at the same time he also infuses Earp with a subtle toughness so that whilst we have this man who isn't trigger happy we also know that he isn't scared to make a stand and reach for his gun if needs must. In a way it reminded me of a tougher version of James Stewart's Destry in "Destry Rides Again".
Another difference is in Doc Holliday because whilst this version of the gambler and gun fighter is ill with consumption he is not the sickly beast which Val Kilmer magnificently delivered in "Tombstone". But whilst not such an ill version of Doc Holliday it is still a good version with Victor Mature making him a man who is on the edge, a man who like Earp is not trigger happy but is far more ready to sort things out in the old fashioned way. And along with a slightly different Doc Holliday, which Mature delivers brilliantly, his storyline is slightly different with various love interests.
Where as other versions of the gunfight at the OK Corral have drawn on the other characters more such as Wyatt's brothers and the Clanton clan, John Ford's version pretty much focuses on Wyatt and Doc. It does mean that the likes of Ward Bond, Tim Holt, Linda Darnell and Cathy Downs end up being supporting actors although with Cathy Downs playing love interest Clementine it does add another angle, a different slant on the storyline which other versions haven't given us.
What this all boils down to is that "My Darling Clementine" is a very entertaining version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral thanks to the differences which John Ford delivers. The different chain of events, the different romantic subplot and the more laid back character of Wyatt Earp makes it very different to other movies which cover the same story. But at the same time you still have the important elements, the friendship between Wyatt and Earp plus of course the big gunfight which John Ford delivers with a sense of beauty as well as action. To put it simply if you think that all movies about the gunfight at the OK corral are the same then you must watch "My Darling Clementine" to see a different version.