What you may not know about a great film: My Darling Clementine

Thanks to IMDb, I am able to provide some information about one of the greatest western films. It’s in my Top Ten, accompanied by (in alpha order) Fort Apache, Lonesome Dove, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Pale Rider, Shane, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Stalking Moon, Unforgiven, and The Wild Bunch.

Here are some of the trivia associated with My Darling Clementine:

o Walter Brennan disliked John Ford so much that he never worked with him again. One time when Brennan was having a little trouble getting into the saddle, Ford yelled, “Can’t you even mount a horse?” Brennan shot back, “No, but I got three Oscars for acting!”

o John Ford, who in his youth had known the real Wyatt Earp, claimed the way the OK Corral gunfight was staged in this film was the way it was explained to him by Earp himself, with a few exceptions. Ford met Earp through Harry Carey.

o Tombstone, Arizona, is not located in Monument Valley. John Ford “placed” it there because Monument Valley is where he liked to film his Westerns.

o John Ford wanted to shoot in Monument Valley, UT, which had proven to be the perfect site for Stagecoach (1939) and would quickly become his favorite location and the landscape most closely associated with his vision of the Old West. The real town of Tombstone, AZ, however, lies at the southern end of the state, closer to the Arizona-Mexico border. So he had a set for the complete town built at a cost of $250,000. Ford also chose Monument Valley because he wanted to bring some business to the economically depressed Navajo community there.

o John Ford was asked by a film historian why he changed the historical details of the famous gunfight if, as he claimed, the real Wyatt Earp had told him all about it on a movie set back in the 1920s. “Did you like the film?” Ford asked, to which the scholar replied it was one of his favorites. “What more do you want?” Ford snapped.

o Jeanne Crain was scheduled to play Clementine. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck ruled against her, writing in a memo that the part was so small that Crain fans might be disappointed by not seeing her in more scenes. That’s how contract player Cathy Downs got the part instead.

o Walter Brennan, John Ireland, and Grant Withers were required to do their own riding and shooting in the scene where the clan rides into town during a dust storm. John Ford used a powerful wind machine and told the actors to fire their guns close to the horses’ ears to make them ride wild.

o According to Henry Fonda in 1976, Darryl F. Zanuck’s first choice for Doc Holliday was James Stewart but he was overruled by John Ford, who didn’t believe Stewart could do the part.

o Vincent Price was considered for the role of Doc Holliday.

o The movie was featured in the TV series M*A*S*H episode M*A*S*H: Movie Tonight (1977). It was said to have been the favorite movie of Col. Sherman Potter.

o On 28 April 1947 Henry Fonda and Cathy Downs starred in a live radio version of this film, broadcast on the Lux Radio Theatre.

o Walter Brennan later lampooned his own Old Man Clanton portrayal in Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969).

o An alternate “preview” version of this film exists. In the 1970s 20th Century-Fox donated some film to the UCLA Film Archives. In 1994 it was discovered that the UCLA print was different from the one being shown on TV. It was about eight minutes longer with minor variations throughout and a slightly different ending. Both this archival 103- or 104-minute version and the 97-minute release version are included on the Fox DVD released on January 6, 2004, and the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray and DVD editions released in October 2014.

o Nights on location were very peaceful and quiet in this remote area of Utah. The only sound that could be heard most evenings, as on many other John Ford pictures, was the accordion music played by Danny Borzage, the musician brother of director Frank Borzage and a Ford favorite.

o Henry Fonda was John Ford’s first and only choice to play Wyatt Earp.

o Either because John Ford objected or was unavailable, Darryl F. Zanuck had Fox contract director Lloyd Bacon shoot the scene of Wyatt standing at his brother James’ grave. It’s an emotionally affecting scene and closely approximates Ford’s pictorial style, but it violates Ford’s presentation of Wyatt as a laconic man who doesn’t explain or justify himself. It bears connection and comparison with similar scenes Henry Fonda played in earlier Ford movies: Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

o Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that the film be recut and felt there was enough raw footage to make most of the changes. He also insisted he be allowed to do it himself without John Ford’s input, saying, “You trusted me implicitly on The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and How Green Was My Valley (1941). You did not see either picture until they were playing in the theaters and innumerable times you went out of your way to tell me how much you appreciated the editorial work.”

o Henry Fonda’s first film after returning from U.S. Navy service in World War II.

o Darryl F. Zanuck forced a reluctant John Ford to film the final kiss between Wyatt and Clementine.

o Reportedly, Lloyd Bacon worked uncredited on this film with Darryl F. Zanuck re-editing this film in response to preview comment cards.

o Henry Fonda did the same slightly awkward high-stepping dance in his earlier appearance for John Ford, Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). According to Winston Miller, Ford deliberately included the dance number again because “he thought it would make a good shot.”

o The location shooting took 45 days.

o When the Arizona location shoot was completed, John Ford and 20th Century-Fox donated the Tombstone set to the Navajo tribal council to be disposed of as they wished. It remained there until 1951, when it was sold and carted off for salvage.

o The only reported instance of John Ford’s famous temper flaring up during the writing phase involved the scene where Wyatt rides out after Doc to accuse him of killing his brother. Fox studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck suggested Ford have Doc on his horse rather than riding shotgun on a stagecoach (as scripted and eventually filmed). Zanuck thought it would be better just to have the two men confront each other and made the mistake of noting that, with the stage driver present, the scene might feel too “cluttered.” The remark launched Ford into a ten-minute tirade about his ability to direct scenes with any number of people in them that never felt cluttered. “He was volatile,” Zanuck recalled. “He could be the nicest guy in the world and he could be the meanest. You never knew which was going to happen.”

o As production neared, John Ford’s good mood grew, and he even displayed his humorous side in a letter to fellow director Frank Capra, who was using Ford regular Ward Bond in his latest picture, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Ford reminded Capra that Bond had already been contracted to appear as Morgan Earp and jokingly told Capra that members of the Clementine cast wholeheartedly approved of Bond working for Capra instead, even to advancing a collected $890 if that would help get Bond out of the Western. “Hank Fonda . . . offers to throw in a Radio Victrola, hardly used. A Mr. Victor Mature also offers in compensation . . . the phone number of a very interesting young lady.” Joking aside, the two directors arranged their schedules so that Bond could work on both films back to back.’

o John Ireland (Billy Clanton) played Johnny Ringo in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).

o The short four-note piece the cornet player plays (and repeats) to announce the start of the theatrical performance is the military bugle call for “Attention”.

o Diana Douglas claimed in her autobiography that she lost the role of Chihuahua to Linda Darnell when producer Darryl F. Zanuck said he “didn’t like her teeth.” Her ex-husband Kirk Douglas later played Doc Holliday in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).

o John Ford’s changes to Winston Miller’s script characteristically consisted of paring down several elements. Dialogue was cut, not only for Earp (whom Ford wanted to portray as laconic as Earp was in real life) but also for Doc, whose first appearance wearing an opera cape was also eliminated. He also cut a long speech at the church service and a catfight between Doc’s two women.

o John Ford contacted a priest from 86 miles away and brought him to the set, which was down a dirt road, to say Mass on Sundays, mandatory for all religions.

o “Sooner or later he wanted to dominate you,” Winston Miller later noted of working with John Ford. One day during the scripting phase, Ford asked him if he thought it would hurt him in the business if the film didn’t turn out well. “No, I’ve got other credits I can fall back on,” Miller replied, failing to recognize that Ford was actually fishing for a compliment. “Ford kind of dummied up for a while . . . He kind of froze; he wanted me to say, ‘Oh, no!'”

o Memorialized in TV’s “M*A*S*H” which depicted Col. Sherman Potter anxiously awaiting that evening’s movie showing of My Darling Clementine which he claimed was his “favorite movie”.

o This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1991.

o As dance hall owner Kate Nelson, Jane Darwell made her second on-screen appearance in a John Ford film, after her Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). She worked with Ford one other time previously as a voice actor only (along with Henry Fonda) in the director’s war documentary The Battle of Midway (1942) and then four other pictures after this, ending with The Last Hurrah (1958).

o While the character of Clementine Carter was by and large a product of the movie’s fiction, she did have a historical counterpart in Doc Holliday’s first cousin named Martha Ann “Mattie” Holliday. Mattie was the eldest daughter of Robert Kennedy Holliday and Mary Anne Fitzgerald. Although romantic relationships and marriage between cousins were common in the Southern United States of the nineteenth century, Mattie’s devout Catholic parents wholeheartedly disapproved. When Doc left Georgia in 1873, Mattie was distraught after separating from the only man she truly loved. His farewell to her surely was an emotional time and as a result she never married. There would be no other man for her after John. In 1883, unlike her cinematic counterpart, Mattie decided to enter the Sisters of Mercy Convent to become a Catholic nun. As Sister Mary Melanie she would become an elementary school teacher, exactly like her cinematic counterpart. Although Sister Mary never made a trip out west to bring Doc home, they corresponded via letters for the rest of his life. After Doc’s death in 1887 her letters were among the possessions of his sent back to Georgia. Most of these letters were burned after Sister Mary’s death in 1939 by her sister, who feared that the letters were tarnish the nun’s reputation. What those letters revealed may never be known, but Sister Mary was reborn on screen as Clementine Carter.

o This was the first movie John Ford directed as well as the first in which Henry Fonda appeared after the end of World War II.

o Sam Peckinpah considered this his favorite Western and paid homage to it in several of his Westerns, including Major Dundee (1965) and The Wild Bunch (1969).

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