The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Release Year: 1962
Director: John Ford
Writers: James Warner Bellah (screenplay), Willis Goldbeck (screenplay), Dorothy M. Johnson (story)
Starring: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray, John Carradine, Jeantee Nolan, John Qualen, Willis Bouchey, Carleton Young, Woody Strode, Denver Pyle, Strother Martin, Lee Van Cleef, Robert F. Simon, O.Z. Whitehead, Paul Birch
Rating: Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Costume Design – Black & White.
A senator (James Stewart) who built his career on shooting the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), returns to the West to burry an old friend and tells the story of what really happened.
The 12th out of 14 collaborations between John Ford and John Wayne, and arguable the best, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is often cited as one of the greatest Westerns ever made and with good reason! The films seems to have it all. It is one the face of it a story about the nature of greatness and justice, of the clash between the free range and its hired gun mentality and the rule of law, and in a way a beautiful tribute and farewell to the West, a bittersweet parting with lawlessness and that something lost along the way. Combine this with the two greats Wayne and Stewart together on screen and surrounded by a stellar supporting cast and you have an undying classic. The four time Oscar winning director John Ford (The Searchers, 1956) here applies all his talent, combining a dramatic storyline with wonderful and often surprising moments of humour and makes it all look stunning. Ford’s trademark play with light and shadows is used here to great effect, and it is said he decided to make the film in black and white (his last such film) in order to accentuate the effect. Stewart (Anatomy of a Murder, 1959) seems the perfect choice for the idealistic lawyer thrown into a situation in which his law book cannot save him. Wayne (Rio Bravo, 1959) gives a great performance as a fearless ranch owner, the only one in town not afraid of the eponymous Liberty Valance. With his characteristic drawl and no-nonsense attitudes, he struts on to the screen and steals every scene he is i. But there is so much more to Wayne than what the parodies will lead you to believe, and he is here given ample opportunity to show it. Between the two men is one lady, the beautiful Vera Miles (Psycho, 1960), and around them a whole village of wonderful characters, from the cowardly sherif Link Appleyard (Andy Devine), over the trusted and able Pompey (Woody Strode), to the idealistic but drunken newspaper man Peabody (Edmond O’Brien). But no great film is great without a villain to play up against the leads. Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen, 1967) is great as the vicious Liberty Valance, a much more believably crazed gunslinger than we encounter in most films. As the title gives away, the film revolves around the death of Liberty Valance and the consequences it has, and Marvin makes the audience look forward to the moment when the town of Shinbone will finally be rid of him; our only regret that moment brings this wonderful film to an end. If you have a friend out there who readily dismisses the Western as a genre worth giving the time of day, this is a good one to show them. An unmissable classic!
The first example of John Wayne calling someone “pilgrim”, one of his trademarks.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is often considered one of John Ford’s best films and was a box office succes despite a gross miscast. James Stewart (53) and John Wayne (54) were supposed to be playing characters in their early 20’s. John Ford considered casting a younger actor for Stewart’s part but feared it would highlight Wayne’s age.
When a drunken Dutton Peabody (Edmond O’Brien) stumbles back into his newspaper office he recites part of the “St. Crispin’s Day speech” from William Shakespeare’s Henry V. In the play Henry gives this speech to his men before a battle in which the English forces defeats the superior French forces. Peabody’s recital thus foreshadows the upcoming showdown between Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) and Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).
Picture Copyright: UIP