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|Index||189 reviews in total|
97 out of 129 people found the following review useful:
The passing of the old ways, 30 August 2004
Author: evilsnack from Mountain Home, Idaho
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.
61 out of 74 people found the following review useful:
Honest, unpretentious and deeply moving..., 28 July 1999
Author: ironside (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Mexico
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nostalgic, sour and powerful, Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"
is one of the most memorable of all his Westerns... It's triggered off,
and that's the right phrase, as it turns out, by flashback... The old
device works well in the hands of the master... In fact, John Ford
couldn't have got the feeling he's after in any other way...
Ford seems to be mourning the Old West... It's a mixed feelingcomposed of pride, regret, and a sense of the inherent injustice of life, and certain forebodings about the future...
When a famous elderly Senator Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart), looking every inch the revered veteran political figure, gets off a train at a small Western town with his good lady (Vera Miles) you can tell by the way his eye roves for and rests on bits of time remembered that this is very much a sentimental journey He's come to pay his last respects to a friend of the long, long agoa small rancher in those days, played by John Wayne...
Dissolve into the distant storypresenting young tenderfoot lawyer Stewart, eagerly intent on bringing Eastern law-books to bear on the problems of the West His first taste of the West is a sound beating up, by a man called Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) who is a gunman employed by powerful cattlemen who oppose statehood for the Territory...
Nor does Ranse find any real custom even among the law-abiding... He starts his career, in fact, as a kitchen hand in a café where he's been taken by Tom Doniphon (Wayne) following his nasty experience with Liberty... Ford is at his 'domestic' best in this café which is run by a Swedish pair (John Qualen and Jeannette Nolan) and where Ranse's wife-to-be is one of the employees... Stewart, wearing an apron contrasted with Wayne, pure frontiersman, is something to see in that kitchen... And there's always an edge to their meetings...
It isn't hard to guess that before long the waitress, Tom's girl, is going to fail for the injured tenderfoot who takes on her education... Ranse eventually hangs up his sign in the office of the local newspaper editor, Dutton Peabody, a typical 'character', played by Edmond O'Brien, and from then on it's the story of a territory growing up and seeking statehood, with Ranse Stoddard maturing, too, as the natural leader of 'civilized' law and order aspirations...
But none of it could have happened without the removal of Liberty Valance... Ranse confronts him and the bullets fly but the bullet that actually drops him comes from another Winchester in the shadows... Ranse goes to Washington on the strength of ridding the territory of Liberty Valance, but he knows that the shot was fired by another man
It's another film about the right man being in the right place at the right time in order to advance the course of Western civilization... Skillful, undoubtedly, but in this case the right man never gets his just desertsif he ever wanted them, because the Wayne character in his way is just as much a part of the Old West as Marvin...
Herein lies the bitter essence of the film... Wayne, at heart, is as contemptuous of what Stewart stands fortalk and conferences and thick legal tomes as the gunman is And through him you feel Ford saying that the hard men who had it the hardest on the frontier are soon forgotten, and some of the frontier's simple virtues have been buried with them
"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is honest, unpretentious and deeply moving... In no other Ford Western does the audience feel so involved... The playing is brilliantfrom the smallest role to the beautifully interpreted ambivalent relationship of Wayne and Stewart...
Their acting style are quite different... Stewart had developed a standard repertoire of mannerisms that his public had come to cherish... Wayne's style was spare, clean and unadorned; he stood tall, very much himself... Certainly this film exemplifies a wonderful blending of three great talents, Ford's, Stewart's, and Wayne's, and their seamless mutual chemistry is one of the salient aspect of it...
50 out of 56 people found the following review useful:
"This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"., 2 August 2007
Author: mattyholmes2004 from United Kingdom
"This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the
legend". - Maxwell Scott, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance In John
Ford's most mournful tale, the legendary director asks the question
"How did this present come to be? Just how did an inferior race of men
whose only weapon was that of law and books defeat the old gunslingers
of the great West? Just what exactly happened to the Western heroes
portrayed by John Wayne when law and order came to town? How did the
wilderness turn into a garden? In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,
John Ford depicts a world where everyone has got everything they
wanted, but nobody seems happy with it
sound familiar to anyone?
Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) arrives to Shinbone on a train
with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) to visit the funeral of an old friend
named Tom Doniphon (John Wayne, remarkably the film opens where this
iconic star is dead). The newspaper men have never heard of him, so why
would such a powerful political figure visit the town to attend this
funeral of a "nobody"? Through the use of a flashback, Stoddard tells
us the tale of how he came to the town as a young lawyer but was
immediately attacked by the psychotic villain Liberty Valance
(terrifyingly played by Lee Marvin) who teaches him "Western law". The
rest of the film tells the tale of how the man of books eventually
defeated the race of the gunslinger and what sacrifices had to be made
for that to happen.
In truth, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is more of a melodrama than a Western. Gone are the vibrant landscapes of Ford's landmark movie The Searchers six years earlier, which was so proudly promoted as being in VISTAVISION WIDESCREEN COLOR and instead the film has given way to a bleak, claustrophobic black and white tale, with so many enclosed sets and not one shot of Monument Valley.
There's a lack of a real bar scene, lack of shots of the landscape, lack of horses, lack of gunfights. It's a psychological Western, probably unlike anything ever filmed until maybe Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.
Why is this movie so good then? In basic terms, it's about the sadness of progression and without giving way too much away the film tells a remarkable tale which truly does examine what Ford's view of the West as promoted in his earlier work truly meant. It's a tragic and pessimistic movie but it's a rewarding one, with huge replay value and one that leaves you with so many more questions than it does answers.
Do we prefer the legendary tale of our heroes or the truth? Are tales of people such as 'The Man With No Name' just more interesting than Wyatt Earp? Is living a lie as a successful guy better or worse than quietly dying as a hero? The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the most complex Westerns that has ever been put on film and is a remarkable film when you consider it was directed by a guy who made his living telling grandeur tales of the American West. Well acted, very well written and is one of the most rewarding Westerns for replay value in the history of the genre.
70 out of 97 people found the following review useful:
Ford's Last Big One, 28 July 2003
Author: Robert J. Maxwell (email@example.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
It's a sad movie in many ways. Ford is closing the book on his
meditations on progress here. The black and white photography itself is
rather depressing -- most of the scenes, including all the important
ones, seem to take place at night, in the dark. And what do they show
us? As Edmund O'Brien puts it, the West began with Indians and buffalo
and the only law was survival. Then the cattlemen moved in and took the
land over and the law was that of the hired gun. Now the West has been
settled by hard-working farmers and turns into a garden, once the power
brokers are out of the way. But it's a wistful garden. The cactus roses
have disappeared and been replaced by turnips. And the rowdy, raucous,
plain-speaking heroes and villains have been replaced by pretentious
blowhard politicians of th e sort that Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart)
The framing story begins with Senator Stewart and his wife, Vera Miles, coming back to Shinbone for the funeral of the uknown Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). "Where are his boots?," Stewart asks upon seeing Wayne's body laid out, "Put his boots on." (Ford claimed this incident was borrowed from Tom Mix's funeral.) A few of the old crowd are still around but the streets of Shinbone are empty and are a tired gray. Everyone is now old. Stewart patronizes Wayne's old retainer, Pompey (Woody Strode), giving him a handful of bills and saying, "Pork chop money." Some "garden"!
Ford could be a sadistic director. He asked Stewart what he thought of Woody Strode's old-age makeup: the white fringe of hair, the overalls, the slouch hat. Stewart said it looked okay, but Ford prompted him for criticism until Stewart finally admitted that, "Wahhll, it's a little Uncle Remus, isn't it?" It's what Ford was waiting for. "I designed that outfit myself, and that's exactly what I had in mind." He called everyone over -- cast and crew alike -- and said, "Mister Stewart here thinks there's something wrong with Woody's wardrobe. Maybe he doesn't like Woody's wardrobe. Maybe he doesn't like Negroes!"
Well, if the present is filled with nostalgia, the past is lively enough, and the flashback, which is to say most of the film, is full of action and gusto. People just don't eat in John Qualen's restaurant. They eat huge platters of steaks, beans, potatoes, and deep dish apple pie. The steaks come sizzling from the vast greasy grill and are large enough to hang over the edges of the over-sized platters. Lee Marvin and his henchmen (Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin) enact their villainy with relish. John Wayne is, of course, the hero of the tale. You can tell because, in addition to his John Wayneness, he wears the only black and white outfit in the cast, which draws attention to his figure whenever it is on screen. In fact, though, Wayne does a reasonably decent job of playing Doniphon after his fall. When he enters the political meeting toward the end, banging open the swinging doors, staggering slightly, bearded, shabby, his magnificent white hat replaced by a battered gray one, slightly bleary, he looks and acts like a man who has been defeated but has not yet died, putting up a brave front with nothing left behind to prop it up. He's not bad in this scene. For the most part, though, he plays John Wayne, the resolute, proud man of principle. Edmund O'Brien is the comic town drunk and editor, the Thomas Mitchell part, and is given some amusing lines, including quotes from Henry V. (Actually O'Brien was pretty good in MGM's "Julius Caesar," as Casca, making Shakepeare's lines believable enough.)
The principle Doniphon represents, however, is O'Brien's second stage of the West's development. He's not only a rancher but a gunman, soon to be replaced by farmers and lawyers, but it's only at the final shootout that he realizes it. He saves Stewart's life the old-fashioned way, then gives up any plans of marriage to Vera Miles, gets drunk, and drives himself and Pompey back to the ranch he'd planned as a home. He burns the ranch down. He and Strode had a problem shooting the arrival at the ranch. Wayne lost control of the horses and Strode reached over to help. Wayne pushed him brusquely out of the way and Strode fell from the wagon. Angry, he threatened Wayne, and Wayne responded the way Wayne would respond. Strode, a former fullback, was several years younger than Wayne and in good shape. Ford stopped the altercation by shouting that the movie needed Wayne's face in one piece.
For all its darkness, however, the movie reflects some of Ford's prejudices in his comic way. A pompous orator at the political meeting (John Carradine) announces in his stentorian public voice that he came here with "a carefully prepared speech" but is going to disregard it and speak the truth. Here he crinkles up the speech and throws it contemptuously to the floor. Someone picks the page up and uncrumples it to find it blank on both sides. The rhetoric is extremely funny -- "The bullet-riddled body of an honest citizen?" -- recalling Donald Meek in "Young Mister Lincoln." During a carefully choreographed spontaneous demonstration after the cattlemen's candidate has been nominated, a band plays, a cowboy rides up onto the speaker's platform and twirls a lasso, and there is a brief shot of the Chairman staring appalled at the cowboy's horse lapping water out of the chairman's pitcher.
But it's still a sad comment from Ford. His earlier work brimmed with hope for the future. Here, the future has arrived and it makes one long for the past. It's the way an old man might feel about life in general.
43 out of 50 people found the following review useful:
Ford's chamber Western, 22 August 2003
Author: John Simpson (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Hastings, U.K.
Some films are slow to give up their secrets first time round and need some time to elapse before they are revalued. An opportunity to see "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" after a gap of several years turned out to be an unexpectedly rewarding experience. It had never been one of my favourite Ford films; indeed I was always puzzled why many rate it so highly in the canon. Its rather plain black-and-white visuals smack of low production values and it has little of the grand operatic sweep of many of his other Westerns. I can now see that I was rather missing the point: "Liberty Valance" is that rare thing, a chamber Western, a quiet and elegiac reappraisal of the legends of the West made almost at the end of Ford's creative career with "Cheyenne Autumn" the only Western still to come. A U.S. senator played by James Stewart returns with his wife (Vera Miles at her most attractive) to the small Western town, where, as a young man, he tied to set up a law business, to attend the funeral of the man (John Wayne) who saved his life when he tried to rid the community of its villain, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Ford's Westerns had always been the stuff of legend. Now, towards the end of his career, he began to take the legend apart. The hero is not the one who goes on to become one of the town's most illustrious sons but the quiet man who fades into the background. It needs more than idealism to overcome evil, the film seems to be saying, Brute force has to be countered by brute force; moreover, true worth is not always rewarded or recognised by society. It is a bleak message that Ford is giving us. By homing in on character and plot to a far greater extent than usual, he gives us an experience that is often more akin to filmed theatre than cinema. There are unusually long sequences in studio built interiors, the diner, the bar and a theatre where an election adoption meeting is taking place. Outdoor sequences are few and far between. Instead of a large collective enemy such as marauding Indian tribes there is just the one baddy and his pair of sycophants. The pivotal action scene where Liberty Valance receives his just deserts takes place in a dark street and has none of the climactic sense of drama to be found in such shootouts as "My Darling Clementine" of Zinnemann's "High Noon". I can at last see that those very limitations that for so so long prevented me from appreciating "Liberty Valance" give it a sense of concentration and strength that the Western rarely achieves.
48 out of 63 people found the following review useful:
One of the great westerns of all time, 5 February 2004
Author: tjackson from Boston. MA
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Ford's 1962 film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is an ode to
the end of the classic western. It is a satiric look at the civilizing
of the once wild American west where Ford deliberately uses
stereotypical characters and situations to undermine and reexamine the
very myths that he helped create. Ford's world is one of moral
certainty and untamed villainy where legends are born and cowboy heroes
ride free amidst the broad natural landscapes of America's West. In the
west of Liberty Valance, the hero is not made nor born, but
manufactured by the media. As the editor of the Shinbone Star says;
"This is the West. When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend."
The legend concerns lawyer Ransom Stoddard, played in typical earnest aw-shucks fashion by Jimmy Stewart. Stoddard has been brought, bruised and beaten, to the western town of Shinbone following an altercation with a gang of stagecoach highwaymen, led by arch-villain Liberty Valance. As played by Lee Marvin, Valance is deadpan and over-the top evil. His uncompromising performance is one of the pleasures of the film. With his lethal black whip and his giggling and glowering henchmen (played by Strother Martin and Lee VanCleef), Marvin is unabashedly nasty and taunting at every turn. His nemesis is that stalwart icon of the heroic west, John Wayne as Tom Doniphan. His code of honor is as solid as his skill with a six-gun. Doniphan knows that might rules the west, and will inevitably vanquish evil. But Stoddard's mission is to see that justice is done through the more civilized rule of law. Of his nemesis Valance, Stoddard says; 'I don't want to kill him, I just want to put him in jail!' Not likely, in John Ford's west.
Into the mix come a parade of character actors whose vivid stereotypes have enlivened westerns for decades: Edmond O'Brien as the drunken but noble newspaper editor; Andy Devine as the whimpering, good-hearted, but cowardly sheriff; Woody Strode as the silent, noble black man, backbone of the west; and last and most essential is Vera Miles as Hallie, for whose heart our heroes compete. It is in that romantic triangle that the real heart of west may be won. In this way the Hallie, like the cactus rose she carries to Doniphan's funeral, becomes a bittersweet symbol for the loss and the hope of the new west.
Ford makes Liberty Valance into a western that seems to examine itself as a western. He removes the window dressing to focus on the intricate play of characters and symbols. Gone is the Technicolor of the Searchers. This is in stark black and white. Gone are the outdoor landscapes of Ford's west. Most of the film looks like it was on the back lot, and many scenes take place indoors. He moves his camera in on faces not vistas. The world of 1960's America was changing and beginning to reexamine the usefulness of certain cultural mythologies. The new decade was about people; the grand ideals of postwar America were being reexamined and were about to become even dimmer with the assassination of President Kennedy. America was beginning to be about recognizing unique individualities, about embracing change, about individual rights, strong women, sensitive men. Ford didn't like that much, I imagine. The film's characters are flawed and cartoonish. I suspect his film was a wry satire on his own mythology and a critique of what he viewed as a softening of American society. Some critics didn't get it, while others consider this one of his more remarkable films. There is no doubt that it is nothing short of brilliant the ability to balance the elements of satire and seriousness, comedy and melodrama.
As the train leaves Shinbone, the truth forever gives way to the legend. The conductor leans over to light Stoddard's cigar saying; 'Nothing is too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.' In that moment we are incredibly moved. This is, after all, about the creation of stories. But in those stories there live truths about human nature that are universal and forever.
27 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
Who's The Better Man Here? Answer: Neither., 22 June 2007
Author: jvincent1 from United States
I just read the comments of someone from August 30, 2004, who had reached the conclusion that John Wayne's character had stepped aside "for the better man," played by Jimmy Stewart. From my view, nothing could be farther from the truth. For all Ransom Stoddard's disdain for frontier violence, in the end, he was left with no choice but to pick-up a gun to finally silence Liberty Valance, something Valance knew better than to do with Wayne's Tom Doniphon. Call Stoddard the idealist and Doniphon the realist, but don't call him the better man. In 1946, John Ford directed My Darling Clementine, perfectly blending Wayne and Henry Fonda with his usual cast of characters to create a masterwork. Sixteen years later, he put Wayne together with Stewart (plus all the ol' gang) and made another peerless film. There was a time I didn't really "get" John Ford and John Wayne. One day, I awoke and now, the greatness of these two giants of the cinema is undeniable.
40 out of 64 people found the following review useful:
The greatest movie ever., 15 February 2002
Starring the greatest actor ever in Jimmy Stewart and the man who defined Western acting in John Wayne, one knew the movie was going to be good. But this movie tops them all. The movie continues through many great plot twists and unexpected events to arrive at a moving and stunning conclusion. Love, violence, politics, law, law-enforcement: this movie has it all. It is a western drama with action and even a little mystery topped off with a few comedic moments. Start to finish, you won't find anything like it anywhere else. Make sure you see this movie.
13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
John Wayne as Tragic Hero, 11 March 2007
Author: stephenclark1 from United States
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Ford was the first to see the potential in John Wayne and helped shape his image in a series of a classic westerns, including Stagecoach, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and The Searchers. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is the most subtle treatment of Wayne's character, and represents one of his most fully realized roles, approaching the tragic in its depth. The film deals with the passing of the American West's values of freedom and independence. In many ways it is a summation and re-examination of the whole notion of the West as promulgated by Wayne and Ford. The story begins at the turn of the 19th century. Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), is traveling by train to Shinbone, the town of his youth, for the funeral of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Stoddard is a senior senator with presidential aspirations. Doniphon is an unknown. Stoddard and his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles) go to the undertaker and stand before the plain box that holds Doniphon. Enter the local press. They must know why the Senator has gone out his way to attend the funeral of an unknown cowhand. There is an old stagecoach on blocks at the undertaker's—a reference to the stagecoach that marked Wayne's breakthrough role. Stewart hems and haws, dusts off the old stage. It looks like the one that brought him to Shinbone decades before. And so the retelling begins. It is the 1870's. Stoddard is a young lawyer journeying by stage to make his fortune out west. Bandits waylay the stage and Stoddard is beaten by the eponymous Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Stoddard is the symbol of eastern civilization, impotent in the face of Valance's lawlessness. In the next scene we see Doniphon entering Shinbone with the beaten Stoddard thrown into the back of his buckboard. Between the impotent Stoddard and the lawless Valance is the figure of Doniphon, the only man whom Valance fears, and pillar of the town, friend to the newspaper editor, beau to Hallie, and foil to the inept marshal (Andy Devine). Shinbone is a dysfunctional town. Legal authority, as embodied by Devine, is cowardly, gluttonous and corrupt. Stoddard, the man with the intellectual ability to bring law to the town, is devoid of authority. Doniphon, the man who has the physical power and respect of the town to give force to the law and bring order to Shinbone hews to a code of individualism that keeps him from committing to the notion of a civil society. The political climate is fertile; statehood is being discussed and will change everything, bringing the rule of law and threatening the open range. At the local meeting to elect representatives, Valance tries to disrupt the proceedings but is held in place by Doniphon. Stoddard nominates Doniphon as a man uniquely qualified to represent the region. If he accepts the nomination, he unites physical and legal authority, bringing order to Shinbone and relegates Valance to the periphery. But he refuses. Accepting such a role is incongruent with his notions of individuality. Stoddard and the newspaper editor are instead elected. Valance vows revenge. Instead of supporting Stoddard, Doniphon counsels flight. He arranges a buckboard to take Stoddard out of town before Valance arrives that night to have it out with him. Doniphon's abdication leaves Stoddard with the decision: leave the town in the clutches of Valance, or stand and challenge him. Stoddard calls Valance out. Valance toys with him, shooting the gun out of his hand. Stoddard picks up the gun. Valance takes aim. Stoddard fires. Valance falls dead. Miraculously, Stoddard has liberated the town, also winning the heart of Hallie. Wayne goes on a bender, drinking himself into a stupor, then burns down his home, symbolically burning his own hopes for the future. He has lost everything. But the depth of his loss only becomes apparent later. Stoddard goes to the state convention, heralded as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." On this wave of popularity, he is elected to represent the state in Washington, launching his career. As he is elected, Doniphon enters the hall. He is drunk and haggard. He calls Stoddard into a back room and confronts him. "You didn't shoot Valance, Pilgrim," he tells Stoddard, "Think back, Pilgrim." We dissolve to the gunfight in the street, this time from Doniphon's POV. He stands in an alley. As Valance makes his final shot, Doniphon shoots him, the shot simultaneous with Stoddard's, killing Valence, but in a manner without honor. In doing so, he loses his self- respect and violates the code by which he has lived. This illuminates his raging drunk. All is lost. Wayne approaches the tragic in this role. He was the best, but because of the limitations of his code, he defers acting against Valance and defers again. When leadership comes his way, he refuses. When events force him to act, he must do so in a manner that is dishonorable. Doniphon's only sin is that of pride—he will not stoop to the needs of the group and holds himself aloof. For this alone, he fails and ultimately transgresses against all he stands for. When Stoddard and his wife return to Shinbone for the funeral, their solemnity springs guilt. Stoddard has traded on the Valance shooting his entire career and he knows that he has lived a lie. Ironically, the reporter tears up the story at the end, saying "When the legend becomes the truth, print the legend." John Ford made the western what it is today. Here he gives us movie that is a complex and, at times sardonic, critique of the genre, while at the same time giving Wayne his deepest, most tragic role. There was not to be another western of equivalent depth until Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. It rewards repeated viewing and is a capstone to the career of Mr. Wayne.
22 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
"A Lawyer ....and a teacher....the first west of the Rosey Buttes.", 9 October 2005
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
Senator James Stewart and his wife Vera Miles get a telegram from their
old home in Shinbone about the death of a friend. They arrive in
Shinbone and go to a sparsely attended service. When prodded a bit by
the editor of the Shinbone Star, a paper he was once employed at,
Stewart sits down and tells the story of just how his political career
got its start.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is John Ford's final homage to the western film genre that made his reputation. It's maybe the most nostalgic of westerns he ever did. Beginning with the cast all of whom are way too old for their parts. But if you notice there's a kind of soft focus photography used on John Wayne, James Stewart, and Lee Marvin which masks their age. The skill of these players does the rest.
Stewart arrives in Shinbone, a newly minted attorney who has taken Horace Greeley's advice and the stagecoach he's riding on gets held up by the local outlaw Liberty Valance and henchmen. When Stewart protests Valance, played by Lee Marvin beats him with the butt end of a silver knob whip and leaves him on the road.
He's found by John Wayne who brings him to Shinbone to get medical attention. Stewart stays with restaurant owners John Qualen and Jenanette Nolan and their daughter Vera Miles who's Wayne's girl. Miles who can't even read or write takes quite a shine to the educated easterner.
But Stewart and newspaper editor Edmond O'Brien keep getting on Liberty Valance's bad side, especially when they come out publicly for statehood whereas the big cattle ranchers who hire Liberty Valance and henchmen want to keep this part of the USA a territory for as long as they can. This is all leading to an inevitable showdown.
Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance is one evil man. No subtle psychology here, no explanations of a mom who didn't love him or a girl that dumped him, he's just an evil guy who likes being evil. If Liberty has any redeeming qualities, despite repeated viewings of this film, I haven't found any. Marvin clearly enjoyed this part, but he never turned it into a burlesque of himself. That he waited for Cat Ballou to do.
John Wayne who by this time was playing more roughhewn types than he did when he was Ringo Kid in Stagecoach, gets back to that kind of a portrayal here. He's more Ringo than he is Ethan Edwards. But that's at the beginning. Over the course of the film he changes into something like Ethan Edwards, his character from The Searchers. What happens to make him that way in fact is the story of the film.
But actually the film really does belong to Stewart. He's on screen for most of it, he's the protagonist here and until almost the end, what's happening to him is what The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is all about.
Ford once again rounds out his cast with many of his favorite players in support. Andy Devine as the cowardly marshal, John Carradine as a pompous windbag politician, Woody Strode, Denver Pyle, Strother Martin, all who had appeared in Ford films before.
There are two to single out however. This was the last film Jack Pennick ever did with John Ford. You might not know his name, but he and that horse-face countenance appeared in just about every sound John Ford film there is. He has a bit role as a bartender. Pennick died after completing this film.
Edmond O'Brien made his one and only appearance in this film as Dutton Peabody, founder, editor, and owner of the Shinbone Star and as he said himself, he sweeps the place out occasionally. He's a regular character in Ford films, the wise friend of the hero who has a bit of a drinking problem. Kind of like Thomas Mitchell as Doc Boone in Stagecoach.
Like Stewart, O'Brien is an eastern immigrant who came west to be his own newspaper editor like his former boss Horace Greeley. Words are his weapons, like the law is Stewart's. It's no wonder that these two annoy Lee Marvin so. Even the fast draw hired gun can't kill public opinion.
When they're both chosen as Shinbone's Delegates to the territorial convention it is O'Brien who makes the nominating speech to draft Stewart for the job. It is one of his finest bits in his long and distinguished career. It encapsulates a lot of what Ford was trying to say about progress and progress in the American west. In the end it is the farmer, the merchant, the builder of cities will eventually triumph just about anywhere. Stewart and he are as much pioneers as Wayne and the others in Shinbone are, they're just the next logical step.
Progress always comes at a price. We see the price in the beginning and the end of the film, the scenes of Shinbone during the early Twentieth Century. The paved streets, the electric lights are there because of who came before and what they did. There wasn't room in the changing west for many like Wayne and Marvin, their time came and went, just as Stewart's time came and went too.
Actually I think the real winner in this film was always Vera Miles. She started out as an illiterate girl working in her parent's restaurant and wound up the wife of a United States Senator. That's progress too.
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