The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceDirected by John Ford
Written by James Warner Beliah and Willis Goldbeck from a story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Paramount Pictures/John Ford Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Jason Tully: Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.

John Ford delivers another classic Western late in his illustrious career.

The story is framed by the visit of Senator Rance Stoddard (James Stewart) and wife Hallie (Vera Miles) to Shinbone for the funeral of their old friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).  The Senator is big news wherever he goes and the local newspaper editor demands to know why he is in town.  So begins the story in flashback starting when Rance arrived in town, a law book in his hand, many years ago.

Before Rance even arrived, he was robbed, humiliated and left for dead by the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).  He is nursed back to health by Hallie and her family.  He vows to see Liberty jailed.  Tom informs him that a gun is the only effective way of dealing with this very bad man.

The rest of the movie follows the love triangle between Rance, Tom and Hallie and the conflict between Rance and Liberty.  With Andy Devine as a cowardly marshall, Edmund O’Brien as the former newspaper editor, Lee Van Cleef as Liberty’s sidekick, and a host of Ford regulars.

When two giants like Wayne and Stewart occupy the same screen, you’re bound to get something at least interesting.  Ford makes the movie also meaningful and beautiful.

This one is more intimate than Ford’s other Westerns and I missed the director’s classic desert vistas.  It explores the fact v. legend motif first introduced in Fort Apache (1948).  The acting is all first-rate.  I’d be interested in knowing why the song and its music were not used in the film.  Recommended.

Edith Head was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

The missing theme song, sung by Gene Pitney and set to stills from the film

4 thoughts on “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

  1. It really is a hell of a good movie. This is one of those films like The Ox-Bow Incident that is a western only on the surface. It’s a much deeper and richer story in the guise of a western, the sort of movie that people who claim to not like westerns might still find interesting.

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