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.

Serendipity: The Flip Side of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp (Center) in Nome

I’ve been reading a fair number of books about Alaska lately and surprised to come across the following about famed lawman Wyatt Earp’s time in Nome. My assumption was that Wyatt Earp was a pretty straight arrow. After all, hadn’t Henry Fonda played him in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946), and didn’t his pallbearers include William S. Hart and Tom Mix? Then I read this passage in Brian Keenan’s Four Quarters of Light: An Alaskan Journey (New York: Broadway Books, 2004):

“That’s Wyatt Earp’s old home,” Mike informed us. I knew from some background reading that the famous frontier marshal had amassed a fortune in Nome [worth $3 million in 2017 dollars] and had headed back to the States. I was surprised the cottage was in such a state and wondered why. “Image isn’t everything,” Mike replied, “and a lot of folk up here don’t look too kindly on Mr. Earp. The truth is, he arrived here in 1898, a bald, bespectacled, paunchy man in his fifties. Well past his prime. He was mean, tightfisted and malicious, and his wife was as ugly in looks as he was in personality. [Not so: See pictures below.]  He built the Dextor [actually, Dexter] Saloon in town and he sucked the life’s blood out of the 20,000 miners and their families who shivered and died in tents trying to scrape a few ounces of gold off the beach. He bailed out after two years with an absolute fortune. If Nome was ever a seedy, ruthless and ugly place to be in, it was because of professional con men like Wyatt Earp and many like him.”

Josephine Marcus, Mrs. Wyatt Earp

Below is a picture of Dexter’s Saloon, which Earp ran in partnership with C. E. Hoxsie:

The Dexter Saloon Owned and Operated by Earp and Hoxsie

There is an interesting article about Earp in Nome entitled “Wyatt Earp’s Alaskan Adventure” that appeared in True West Magazine in 2014. You can find it by clicking here. Apparently, Earp also ran a brothel on the premises. Below is another picture of Josephine Earp, which leds me to suspect that her services could have been used in this other venture as well”

Josephine Earp—At Wyatt’s Brothel?