The Walk to the Dance

John Ford’s Tombstone, Arizona in My Darling Clementine (1946)

I wasn’t feeling all that well late this afternoon, so I switched on the television to Turner Classic Movies (TCM). They were just starting John Ford’s My Darling Clementine, one of the best Westerns ever made. It’s one of those films I’ve seen so often that I could anticipate the actors’ lines and gestures seconds before they appeared on film.

The film contains a whole sequence of what I call privileged moments. These are scenes that send shivers up my spine irrespective of how many times I see the film. The most incredible ones in My Darling Clementine appear in the middle of the film. Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is lazing in a chair on the porch of his hotel, and Morgan (Ward Bond) and Virgil (Tim Holt) Earp are about to leave to visit the grave of their brother James. The Earp brothers notice a number of buckboards filled with people streaming into town. It turns out there will be a dance commemorating the building of a church.

Wyatt Earp Lazing in His Chair

Clementine Carter is about to leave on the outgoing stage, after having been told off by her old beau Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), but it is late that day. So Wyatt and Clementine walk down the main street of Tombstone to the church dance. This scene is conveyed in four or five shots that are among the best in any film I have ever seen. They arrive at the dance, and the church deacon invites them to dance. The scenes of the dance are again Ford at his best, with Wyatt’s stiff movements with the lovely Clementine in his arms. Folded in his arms during the dance is Clementine’s jacket.

Wyatt and Clementine at the Dance

These privileged moments are de rigeur for a film to be considered one of what I consider to be a great film. In future posts, I will try to sketch some more of these scenes—but only as I see the films again and the scenes are fresh in my memory.