My Darling Clementine

(John Ford, USA, 1946):  According to John Ford, Wyatt Earp’s mythic authority was as much a matter of style and attitude as it was gunslinging, and the fight at the OK Corral was a necessary and final clearing of the scrub in civilization’s way. By the time it’s over, the sense of peace obtaining over the land is downright soothing. In this way, My Darling Clementine is Ford’s It’s a Wonderful Life: an act of postwar mollification, reassurance that all is calm and all is bright. But where Capra brings the big guns of sentiment, fear and anxiety to the battle for America’s recovery, Ford offers something altogether subtler and slyer: the west reconfigured as a place where peace flourishes like a well-tended garden, a west to be tamed and settled all along. This is where Henry Fonda comes in. Where Ford might easily have cast John Wayne in the role, and where Wayne could easily have cleaned up Tombstone by slugging it into submission, Fonda seems to prevail simply because of the serenity of his bearing. Benign paternalism is Earp’s leadership style, and relaxation is his management style. It’s the interruption of his shave that triggers his first act of civic bouncership — kicking a ‘drunken indian’ out of town — and for most of the movie Earp is observed just kicking back: playing cards, adjusting his hat, getting gussied up for the church dance and, most legendarily, balancing his porch chair on its hind two legs. Wayne could never have brought this kind of  laid-back ease to his Wyatt Earp, and result would have been a Tombstone more bullied than seduced into peaceability. (Then again, Fonda would have made a lousy Ethan Edwards.) Is there any wonder Fonda, only a few years from playing Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln, would go on to impersonate so many presidents, police chiefs, fathers and wronged men? The man radiated effortless entitlement, and Ford’s entire movie is about the calm hand of proper authority.  Yup, a masterpiece.  (Twentieth Century Fox Home Video)