The Wild West

12 December 2016

Discuss the thematic implications of Doc Holliday and Granville Thorndyke (the Shakespearean actor) in “My Darling Clementine. ” What is Ford trying to say about the relation to the civilized East to the unsettled West. (Clementine vs. Chihuahua is relevant here. ) The Wild West: An Analysis of Post-Civil War Tension in John Ford’s “My Darling Clementine” Following the end of the United States’ Civil War, new territories had becomes states, notably what is now known as the West.

The West, iconized by its Cowboys, gunfights, and horses in the years that followed the Civil War, made its way to the silver screen as one of the first genres of movies to be produced. The genre is popularized as a “Western” and is devoted to telling the stories or myths that prevailed the American Old West in the latter half of the nineteenth century. John Ford, one of the film industry’s most celebrated directors, was one of its pioneers.

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His notable Western, “My Darling Clementine”, portrays Post-Civil War East-versus-West differences through its clever plot and use of characters. Ford, or “the King of Westerns”, a Maine-born director, made his way to the West by following his brother Francis to California in 1914 and joining him in the cinematography industry. Starting as a minor actor, Ford was not too successful until he was shooting behind the lens, rather than in front. In 1939 Ford released his first Western with sound “Stagecoach”, appreciated as one of the best Westerns produced.

He then carried on and released many Western movies such as “The Searchers”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “Red River”, “My Darling Clementine” and many more. In his Westerns, Ford emphasizes the occupation of the wilderness and the relegation of nature in the name of civilization, which was mostly the case in the Old West. A motif in his films are his implicit comparisons between the East and West, exemplifying a civilized world where law, order, education and manners reign in contrast to chaos, anarchy, persistence and the battle of the fittest that were the essence of the West at that time.

He depicts the landscape of the old West as vast valleys, lonely isolated homesteads, Native Americans sites, small frontier towns and deserted areas to show the wilderness where the old Westerners resided, such as the Tetons and Monument Valley. Another illustration of the West in Ford’s movies is his portrayal of the hostile element that thrived in the area, using guns, duels, violence, human bloodbaths, bank robberies, showdowns, outlaws, sheriffs, stampedes, cattle drives and cattle rustling – to depict the uncivilized West. Distinctive clothing is also one of the devices he relied on to create such an uncivilized, Western portrait.

Men from the East appear sharp in fine suits whereas Westerners wear denim jeans, boots and hats. In the Western context Ford portrays – late 1800s, Texas – the law was implemented by a single man who takes on the role of both the sheriff and the jury. Arrests, executions and the such are all decided on by he who governs the town. Moral integrity, courage, principles, self-sufficiency, gun skills are all main characteristics of a Western cowboy which opposes to the educated, sophisticated portrait of a man coming from the East.

John Ford explicitly shows such a contrast between the East and the West in one of his Western productions, “My Darling Clementine”. Henry Fonda, one of the leading roles, acts as marshal Wyatt Earp in Tombstone to find out who murdered his brother. Victor Mature plays the role of a doctor, Doc Holliday from Boston, who comes to Tombstone as an outlaw. According to his girlfriend Chihuahua (acted by Linda Darnell), Holliday runs the town. This is shown when Chihuahua meets the marshal in the tavern, slaps him and yells out that “this is Doc’s city”.

As the story develops, a fond friendship between Doc and the marshal unravels. The differences between the marshal and Doc seem to personify the discrepancies between the East and the West. From the first scene where Doc is in the bar where he meets the marshal for the first time, the viewer can clearly identify the elegant black coat on Doc. For the others, it is the usual rugged look – denim and hats. The eloquence shown by the Eastern character among the Westerners bluntly shows Ford’s point-of-view on the East.

In another scene where Doc and the marshal find Granville Thorndyke, the Shakespearean actor, John Ford portrays the educational advancement in the Eastern character of Doc Holliday as he knows and wants to listen to the Shakespearean poem. The poem is of great importance to Doc as it relates to what he is experiencing in his personal life. In his personal life, Doc is repetitively seen coughing, a gesture that implicitly foreshadows Doc’s disease. This is asserted when Clementine Carter (acted by Cathy Downs), Doc’s ex-lover comes all the way rom Boston and asks him to come back with her to fight the disease and perhaps even cure him. The Shakespearean actor Thorndyke is seen reciting one of Shakespeare’s most well-known poems from Hamlet with the renown “to be or not to be, that is the question” line. The poem discusses battle versus fate – either fighting to overcome the disease that one has, or succumbing to the destined fate. In the poem, the passage “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer […] Or to take arms” explicitly asks whether it is better to be stoically submissive to life’s difficulties or courageously energetic against them.

When Doc recites the last verse of the poem in the movie, “[…] thus conscience does make cowards of us all” he seems to explicitly condemn ethical awareness for preventing action. Shakespeare’s intended message is for one to bear those ills they have, but Doc has cowardly backed out and found it tiring to deal with the issues that have affected his life. He has abandoned his East coast occupation and headed West to drink himself into oblivion. He even says to Clementine that “everything about John Holliday is dead, so is his love for Clementine Carter, his ambitions and dreams. As he recites the final verses of the poem, the viewers observe the Westerners, specifically the marshal, looking at him, surprised that he knows such cultured and sophisticated poetry. In addition, one of the most straightforward discrepancy put forth by John Ford between the East and the West that is observed in the movie is the disparity between the two main women – Clementine and Chihuahua. Clementine is portrayed as a nurturer, a lover, an illustration of the evolution of civilization with her clothes and her proper manners.

On the other hand, Chihuahua is portrayed as wild and stubborn, a lover to Doc who has a higher interest in her own conveniences, she represents the undomesticated West. Clementine comes to the West for the sole purpose of bringing Doc back to Boston where he can be well-treated and perhaps even cured. Clementine’s attractiveness, poise and elegance shown the moment she appears in the movie is laid forthright as even the expression on the marshal face indicates so.

The manners in which she speaks and behave distinguish her from the girls of the west, especially Chihuahua who shows how disrespectful she is in the first scene in the bar with the marshal. In addition, Chihuahua’s untamed acts are even more put upfront when she enters Clementine’s room and starts packing Clementine’s luggage so she can leave claiming that she is “Doc’s girl”, and when she sleeps with one of the Clanton brothers because she got mad at Doc after following him and getting rejected many times.

In contrast, Clementine did not emulate Chihuahua’s acts because she believes in a “Women’s Pride” as she told the marshal, and that she came for Doc once, but she won’t offer herself another time. Clementine represents the elegance and development of the East in the movie. This is evident in the scene where she changes the marshal by making him go to the barbershop, cleaning him up with cologne and hence pushing him to take care of himself in terms of being presentable and elegant.

This attention from the marshal to Clementine signifies hope for peace and growth in the West, and the possibility of it becoming a place where kids like James can “grow up and live safe”, as the marshal says in front of his youngest brother’s grave. The snubbing of Chihuahua as he sits on the porch symbolizes the end of the untamed wilderness of the West. Civilization, embodied by Clementine and the East, is about to reign in the wild West. In a nutshell, John Ford’s Westerns portray a wild uncivilized West.

In “My Darling Clementine” particularly, he highlights it more with the integration of civilized and developed Eastern features in characters such as Clementine and Doc Holliday as discussed before. Ford flagrantly shows the contrast between the East and West by comparing characters such as Clementine and Chihuahua, or maybe even Doc and Wyatt Earp. Nevertheless, in Ford’s creation of a bond between the marshal and Clementine, he symbolizes the West rising to the level of the civilized East, and letting go of the wilderness and undomesticated environment that lasted centuries in “The Wild West”.

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The Wild West. (2016, Dec 22). Retrieved November 7, 2019, from https://newyorkessays.com/essay-the-wild-west-2/
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