Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire, joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara. Together with an old Indian fighter and a gambler, they help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher that is trying to steal their water.
When Senator Ransom Stoddard returns home to Shinbone for the funeral of Tom Doniphon, he recounts to a local newspaper editor the story behind it all. He had come to town many years before, a lawyer by profession. The stage was robbed on its way in by the local ruffian, Liberty Valance, and Stoddard has nothing to his name left save a few law books. He gets a job in the kitchen at the Ericson's restaurant and there meets his future wife, Hallie. The territory is vying for Statehood and Stoddard is selected as a representative over Valance, who continues terrorizing the town. When he destroys the local newspaper office and attacks the editor, Stoddard calls him out, though the conclusion is not quite as straightforward as legend would have it. Written by
Other reviewers, aside from seeing this as the end of the classic western, saw the plot as myth granting to one man that which was rightfully another's. I disagree. I see TMWSLV as a tale of a man stepping aside for the sake of a better man and a better world, at great personal cost.
I view Tom as someone who has lived a cynical life--kill it before it kills you. With the advent of Ransom he recognizes that there is a better way, and that Ransom, by defying evil from a position of weakness, is far braver than Tom, who has merely defied evil from a position of strength. Additionally, Ransom brings about an answer to the question "must the sword rule forever?" with a resounding "no," a denial that at first seems foolish to Tom, but who then realizes that things really should be Ransom's way.
And so Tom, knowing that one of them is the better man, allows that better man to receive the fame attendant to heroism; and in fact Ransom, for daring what Tom never did dare, is the true hero of the tale. Like all honest men must, Tom steps aside for the better man, knowing what it will cost him to do what is right.
An earlier reviewer said that the depiction of the politics was a parody; in fact, the politics of the early portion of the republics was even more lively (read: pugnacious) than is depicted in the film.
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