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My Darling Clementine (1946)
In The Devil Finds Work, a 1976 book-length essay about the movies, James Baldwin writes that while as a kid he admired James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, "the only actor of the era with whom I identified was Henry Fonda. I was not alone. A black friend of mine, after seeing Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, swore that Fonda had colored blood. You could tell, he said, by the way Fonda walked down the road at the end of the film: white men don't walk like that! and he imitated Fonda's stubborn, patient, wide-legged hike away from the camera."
Samuel G. Engel
Academy Award Nominations:
None. But it did win the Silver Ribbon Award for Best Foreign Film from the Italian Syndicate of Film Journalists.
"What kind of town is this when a man can't even get a decent shave in peace?"
Don't know about Grapes of Wrath but Fonda's walk in My Darling Clementine is just this side of effeminate. It's a delicate walk, as if he recently turned his ankle. Which is not to say that Fonda ain't cool because he is. There's an even, level tone to everything he does: from the way he talks to, yeah, the way he walks. Maybe that's it. Fonda's slow, steady walk it's as if he's balancing everything, keeping everything in mind. Lines that other actors would say with shock or anger, Fonda enunciates with slight disgust, as if he's this close to writing off the human race. Arriving in Tombstone, Earp tries to get a shave but an Indian starts shooting up the town. No one does anything, so Earp enters the town saloon, clobbers the Indian, and drags him back to the townsfolk. With shaving cream still covering half his face, he says, in that slow Fonda drawl, "What kind of town is this when a man can't even get a decent shave in peace?"
Answer? The kind of town that needs a new Marshall, which is what Earp becomes when his cattle is rustled and his youngest brother, James, is killed. James had a pendant for his girl back home and near the end of the movie Wyatt finds it. He shows it to his brother Morgan (the ubiquitous Ward Bond) who asks, "Where'd you get that?" Fonda's response ("Doc Holliday") is again spoken with more disgust than anger. It's as if he's saying, "Can you believe these people?"
The story, of course, revolves around the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, one of the more famous incidents (thanks to Hollywood?) of the American West, but throughout the movie there isn't much confrontation between the Earps and Clantons. Doc Holliday is always a more immediate problem. Fonda's love interest, Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), doesn't really grab your attention either she seems plain and dull but Fonda's quiet, gentlemanly pursuit of her is endearing. Some dry humor is tossed in, but what recommends the movie, beyond Fonda's performance, is John Ford's direction and Joseph MacDonald's cinematography. My Darling Clementine is one gorgeous Western.
November 28, 1999
© 1999 Erik Lundegaard