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76 Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The 
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Post “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962)
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962)

An aged multi-term Senator, Governor and attorney, Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) returns to the small town of Shinbone, where his life of politics began, for the funeral of Tom Donaphin (John Wayne). Donaphin, in one selfless and ‘anonymous’ act, made Stoddard’s entire life, love and accomplishments possible. This is an effective tale of the evolution of the old gun-as-law, mid-1800’s West, into the modern civilized order of the early 20th century. The aged Stoddard tells the story to a newspaper reporter as we view the past. I enjoyed the tale and the entire premise of a man’s life following one defining, if not false, moment, but this movie is not without its flaws.
Recalling that Stoddard tells the story, his awareness of occurrences where he was not present befuddle at best. How can he have any memory outside of his witness? This left me straining. Again, as with previous Wayne-credited-Westerns, I found supporting characters that existed only for comic relief and seemed distressingly out of place. The marshal is one such character and his over-the-top portrayal of a spineless mooch would be more suited to “Wimpy” from “Popeye’s” world. He was beyond caricature and loudly chewed the scenery with his mouth open. The villain, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) is so nasty; he would rival Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen in his near-comic portrayals of delicious evil. (Okay, I liked that a little.)
Ford’s vision is superb. Few can sculpt and frame a scene a beautifully as Ford. I liked the premise and the visuals, but this film will remain somewhat low on my want-to-see-again Westerns list.


Awf Hand gives 3 out of 4 stars losing a star for strained credulity and that annoying sheriff. Although, visually this may be some of Ford’s best black and white work.


Thu Nov 04, 2010 3:36 pm
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Post Re: “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962)
I love this movie, especially Lee Marvin's performance. Usually in films, the John Wayne character is manifestly stronger than his opponent. This is one film where the villain actually matches up to the hero and you don't know who would win. In fact, it causes the Wayne character to shoot Valance in the back. I think that this has a lot to say about hero-making, much in the same way that the Assassination of Jesse James... would later do.

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Thu Nov 04, 2010 4:42 pm
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Post Re: 76 Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The
Thanks for combining the threads. I was in a real rush yesterday and didn't think to search for a previously started one... :oops:


Fri Nov 05, 2010 8:26 am
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Post Re: 76 Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The
What really struck me about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was the ambiguity of the film's message. We start off with a clear conflict - what good are laws without enforcement? Stewart's character is a staunch supporter of law and order. Wayne's plays the epitome of Western badass: he steals scenes with his witty one-liners and knows that a gun is the only true defense on the frontier. As things develop, one side isn't really favored over the other until Stewart stands up to Lee Marvin's character in a duel. I would say that at this point, Tom Doniphan (Wayne) has won the debate, but the film keeps going. When the delegates meet to choose a representative to send to Washington, it is evident that Stoddard's (Stewart) method is the only option moving forward. Overall, it is clear that both philosophies have their own uses based on the situation. This point by itself is not a major revelation, but what fascinates me is that it's conveyed through a Western (by Ford no less). Westerns, at least in my experience, are generally black and white with their morals. Good guys vs bad guys, sheriff vs outlaws, and occasionally outlaws vs worse outlaws (or corruption). These films are usually clear cut. Not so here. Even in the final scene, while Stoddard and Hallie are on the train together, we learn that Hallie has never gotten over Doniphan (Ford admitted this in an interview).

It seems that a common complaint is how cartoony all of the characters are. Honestly, this didn't bother me. Every character was written to be an archetypal caricature. Why else do you think the frontier sheriff was cowardly and impotent? I enjoyed the comic relief; it showed that the film didn't have to take itself too seriously to get its point across. This is something I think that The Searchers suffered from. While it is a better movie, I think it fell flat in certain scenes because its level of seriousness crossed the line into dumb.

Finally a few comments on casting. This is the film John Wayne should be remembered for. I'm not even that big of a John Wayne fan. Also, James Stewart was too old for the part of the young lawyer. He would have been perfect about 30 years earlier. He does his best, and there is some great passion in his acting. It reminds me of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, just set in the West.

3.5/4.


Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:34 pm
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