Legends of the Old West

Jim, my husband, a history buff, as well as a writer, recently finished reading “The Last Gunfight” by Jeff Guinn.  It is subtitled “The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K Corral – And How It Changed the American West.”  It is a densely packed tome of the events leading up to the main event in Tombstone, the characters, and they were characters in life and myth, involved, and the trial afterwards.  Yes, there was a trial, as Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday were prosecuted, but not convicted, for murder.

Old cowboys never die. They’re still around today. Photo by: Lance and Erin

Jim so thoroughly enjoyed the colorful account that he suggested we watch John Ford’s 1946 “My Darling Clementine.”  He had seen it many times, but it would be a first for me, despite being a Wyatt Earp fan.  Growing up I had faithfully watched Hugh O’Brien (sans moustache, if I remember correctly, and so handsome) as Wyatt Earp on the show by the same name.  We ordered it from Netflix.

In the opening scene Henry Fonda as Wyatt and his brothers are driving their cattle across the desert. Monument Valley with its towering pinnacles of rock and impressive mesas and buttes looms in the background.  When the Earps run into the Clantons for the first time, Old Man Clanton tells them that Tombstone is just over the next ridge.  Oh, that made me laugh.  I had been to Monument Valley. I had visited Tombstone.  And I knew that they were at opposite ends of the grand ol’ state of Arizona.

From that point on the liberties taken with geographical, biographical, and historical details begin piling up. The Earps were many things, but never cattle owners. They never met Old Man Clanton, as he died in New Mexico two months before the deadly confrontation. Doc Holliday was a dentist, not a surgeon, although he operated on one of his girlfriends to try to save her from a fatal gunshot wound. Virgil, not Wyatt, was Marshall of the western town, while Wyatt rides off, if not into the sunset, then with hope in his heart, having fallen in love with Clementine, another of Holliday’s girlfriends. The list goes on.

Yet My Darling Clementine is a classic. It’s visually stunning and entirely engaging. Film critic Bosley Crowther wrote, “Every scene, every shot is the product of a keen and sensitive eye.” Director Sam Peckinpah considered it his favorite Western. In 1991 the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

If you want the facts, just the facts, ma’am, read the book.  If you’re looking for romance, and, despite the violence, that’s what the story of the Wild West is, watch a movie, particularly one in black and white.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


Some old cowboys riding the rails… to the end of the line:


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