This is a very straight western, with no major attempts at subversion or circumvention of the tropes of the genre, but what makes it special is that it's got a lot of heart to it. Ford's direction is beautiful. The desert landscapes with their cacti and buttes -- though familiar -- have great power to them. Unfortunately the female characters, especially the pitiful Chihuahua, are presented in a particularly misogynist way, which is a patch on an otherwise outstanding film.
I certainly appreciate the technical aspects and acting, but there's nothing about the story here that really captivated me. I personally prefer Tombstone (mainly for Val Kilmer's Doc Holiday, which was very much inspired by this film).
One of the greatest westerns ever made, and one of the most unique, in that violence is practically an afterthought; though there are several entertaining action scenes, the movie's primary themes are romance and friendship. Holliday and Earp engage in a sort of power struggle, but it's clear that they have a mutual respect and like for each other; they are genuinely decent. Somber and elegiac, a swan song for the old west.
Fonda is amazing in Ford's western, a director who clearly knows his way around the genre. One must have an inherent love for the genre to perfectly balance a dark and bleak atmosphere with subtle romance and a sense of friendship and hope (the character of Clementine being responsible for that aspect). If you loved "Unforgiven", don't miss this film !!!
Ford directs this with a very subtle touch, softly balancing many conflicting tones. It is unusually tender while avoiding sentimentality, and yet it's tough without overt masculine pretension. The leisurely pace is sprinkled with moments of tension-and-relief until the big finale, and there's a slight comedic element that works much better than the usual hokey John Ford stuff. A flawless cast, and really outstanding cinematography (with lots of chiaroscuro). Just an all-around great movie.
The chiaroscuro photography is gorgeous, especially the black and white shots of dawn and dusk, but the rest of it bored me to tears; I yawned and my ducts watered. Romance? I must of blinked because there was no emotional weight to be found... the mood picked up a little in the last ten minutes ore so, but it was too late for redemption.
Even those who think they don't like old westerns should give this a shot. It might just change your minds. It's a perfect example of the genre, with Henry Fonda (a stand-out in this) and Victor Mature in the familiar Wyatt Earp and Doc Hollyday roles. Yet, there's nothing familiar about the rest of this fresh and enjoyable film, exquisitely directed by one of the masters of the western, John Ford.
I liked it quite a bit up until the romantic element of the plot set in and crapified it. The female characters are usually poorly written in westerns, but here they stick out so much that the misogyny is unmistakable. Clem and Chihuahua are both pathetic caricatures of womanhood: whiny, needy and quite unreasonable. Chihuahua - also conniving and manipulative, to say nothing of her convincingly awful actress Linda Darnell. It is a beautifully shot movie, but the script is underwhelming.