Often hailed as the greatest of John Ford’s Westerns, this simple black-and-white film has a ring of authenticity: Ford had known Wyatt Earp and claimed to have based his staging of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral on the man’s stories. Historians have pointed out inaccuracies, most notably the move of Tombstone from southern to northern Arizona so Ford could shoot in his beloved Monument Valley. The film is so filled with details of frontier life and the sense of the untamed West succumbing to civilization, however, that the on-screen legend seems more accurate than the truth. This was Henry Fonda’s first film after returning from World War II service and the fourth of six he would make with Ford (most notably 1939’s YOUNG MR. LINCOLN and 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath). Ford cut dialogue from the script relating to character and theme, because he knew Fonda’s silences were more eloquent than any language. Ford’s Earp becomes one of the great icons of the West, joined by memorable turns from Victor Mature as the hard-drinking, romantic Doc Holliday, Walter Brennan in a rare villainous turn as Old Man Clanton, Linda Darnell as Mature’s fictional love interest, Chihuahua, and the young Cathy Downs as Clementine, who comes to Tombstone in search of Mature and stays to run the local school and win Fonda’s heart.
(d. John Ford, 97m, Digital)