National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Weekly Video Picks

BY John Prizer

February 10-16, 2002 Issue | Posted 2/10/02 at 2:00 PM


My Darling Clementine (1946)

Director John Ford (Stagecoach) is Hollywood's poet of the American West.

His movies explore the period's myths and cultural archetypes with passion and a unique intelligence.

My Darling Clementine is his expressionistic re-creation of the events leading up to the real-life gunfight at the OK Corral, where Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) face off against Ike Clanton (Walter Brennan) and his murderous clan.

The legendary confrontation has been the subject of countless films (Tombstone, Hour of the Gun, Wyatt Earp, etc.).

This is the best. Ford sets the fascinating friendship between lawman Earp with the cardsharp Holliday at that moment when the West is being transformed from frontier anarchy into civilized communities.

Ford's narrative hook is the search of prim Boston school-teacher Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) for her fallen ex-boyfriend Holliday during the days before the shoot-out.

The action is thrilling and the rugged landscapes have a primal beauty.

But it's the complexity of the moral decisions Ford's characters must confront that makes the movie great.

12 Angry Men (1957)

The American justice system depends on the jury system and the assumption of a defendant's innocence until he is proven guilty. 12 Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet (Serpico) and adapted by Reginald Rose from his television play, dramatizes how one juror can make a difference.

A teen-age Puerto Rican is accused of knifing his father to death. The prosecution asks for the death penalty. It looks like an open-and-shut case. On the first ballot the jurors vote 11 to one for conviction.

The lone hold-out (Henry Fonda) insists they examine the evidence more closely.

Some jurors (Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall and Martin Balsam) resist for reasons of prejudice, anger or fatigue. But they slowly realize that a man's life is in their hands, and they become personally involved.

All the action is set in the jury room. The filmmakers skillfully build up the tension as the audience comes to understand the mind and motivations of each juror. The result is both educational and inspiring.

In a day when movies resort too often to special effects thrills in place of character, drama and story, 12 Angry Men is a special treat. It has the feel of a play with the reality-factor of the cinema.

Boycott (2001)

The 1955-56 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott was the beginning of the civil rights movement as most of us understand it. Nonviolent civil disobedience was used by blacks and their white allies to protest the morally unjust laws that enforced segregation in the South.

Boycott, a cable-TV movie directed by Clark Johnson and adapted by Daniel Farrell III and Timothy Sexton from Stewart Burns’ book, emphasizes the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jeffrey Wright) in organizing the demonstrations and his emergence as a national spokesman for the movement.

Rosa Parks, a local black, is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. When she refuses to pay the $10 fine, the one-day protest turns into a protracted boycott that leads to the U.S. Supreme Court finding Alabama's bus-segregation laws unconstitutional.

King and his young wife are presented as vulnerable human beings rather than political icons. The film-makers cleverly mix the dramatic material with documentary footage, black-and-white re-creations and eyewitness testimonial interviews.