By Mark Bell | October 20, 2014

Criterion’s latest film class on a disc digs into John Ford’s classic “My Darling Clementine,” a movie full of historical inaccuracies and bereft of the violence that’s typical of many modern westerns. However, it’s also a work that showcases the director at the height of his talents, with a lead actor (Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp) who likewise demonstrates why his career was a storied one.

True, Fonda’s Earp is a departure from the version we’ve seen onscreen many times since this film’s release in 1946. In fact, the accompanying essay by film critic David Jenkins notes that Earp is a hero “who, for a surprising portion of the film’s run time, sits jack-legged on a porch, waiting patiently for those around him to meet with their own inexorable demise.” Jenkins also describes “My Darling Clementine” as an “anti-western” with a “death-waltz tempo,” save for the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral that serves as the story’s climax.

However, as Jenkins notes, that’s the point of this movie. Ford did not set out to simply direct a sequel of sorts to his 1939 film “Stagecoach,” nor to make a western that might serve as a prototype for those made after it. Jenkins writes: “So the film we see is merely a cozy point of convergence, with swirling metaphysical gravity and back-porch nostalgia attained through the way in which Ford frames the story as a curious detail on an epic canvas, or a single, gorgeous constellation amid a blanket of stars.”

This Blu-ray release features a 4K digital restoration of Ford’s theatrical version of the film, along with a high-def copy of a slightly longer pre-release version that actually contains footage not even shot by the director. It’s included as an historical curiosity — unsurprisingly, it was not as meticulously restored as Ford’s preferred version. A 42-minute version comparison guides you through the changes.

The theatrical version has a new commentary track recorded by film professor Joseph McBride, who, as in many similar Criterion tracks, discusses the movie’s place in history, Ford’s career, the historical inaccuracies in the story, and much more. If you’re a fan of commentaries that sound like you’re sitting in a film class (I’m one of those folks), this track is for you.

The film class vibe continues in “Lost and Gone Forever,” a 19-minute video essay by scholar Tad Gallagher that looks at the movie’s themes and how they’re demonstrated through the characters’ relationships.

A smattering of other items round out the bonus features:

  • A 1947 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film, with Fonda and Cathy Downs (Clementine) returning for their roles.
  • A 14-minute short western, “Bandit’s Wager,” that was directed by Ford’s brother, Francis.
  • A pair of news reports: one from 1963 that focuses on the town of Tombstone and another from 1975 that takes viewers to Monument Valley.
  • A new interview with Andrew C. Isenberg, author of a Wyatt Earp biography, that talks about the infamous lawman’s legacy and some of the myths surrounding his life.
  • The original trailer.

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