Don’t worry in advance about not “getting” director John Ford—or even Westerns in general. If ever there was a gateway drug to the happy addiction of Hollywood oaters, this is it. You won’t have to reckon with big galoot John Wayne; rather, it’s wiry Henry Fonda (a quiet, appealingly thoughtful presence) who leads the action, a fictionalized account of the old Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. And even if you don’t know what that was, let Fonda’s taciturn mood wash over you and you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
Essentially, the main character is the land—not exactly a new idea when it comes to Ford, but still a handy concept that’s particularly noticeable in My Darling Clementine. The abstract grandeur of Monument Valley sets up the movie’s tale of revenge within a mythic context (location shooting was unusual during an era of studio-bound stagecraft). Actually, the film’s most lasting impact might have been on gobsmacked Sergio Leone, maestro of the spaghetti Western, who both captured and subverted what he saw. Consider this the burning bush.
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