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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
A senator, who became famous for killing a notorious outlaw, returns for the funeral of an old friend and tells the truth about his deed.
|Studio :||Paramount Pictures, John Ford Productions,|
|Crew :||Art Direction, Art Direction,|
|Cast :||James Stewart Carleton Young Lee Van Cleef John Qualen John Wayne|
This movie is the proof that the world is becoming a sick and dumb place
This movie is magnificent!
One of my all time favorites.
It's simply great fun, a winsome film and an occasionally over-the-top luxury fantasy that never flags.
Indeed, as the famous quote from the movie sums it up aptly. A meticulously written Western Drama under the genius direction of 4 time Oscar Award winning director John Ford. Another brilliant performance from James Stewart who revives the magic of "Mr Smith Goes To Washington" as a senator with quite a story to tell and "The King of Western classics" John Wayne, who better to play the role of Tom Doniphon. Both the Legends coming together for the first time making it unequivocally a memorable experience. What impressed the most though, were the performances of two people which makes this movie one in a millions. First, Edmond O'Brien, a regular in John Ford movies, as Dutton Peabody, a drunkard with an Eagle's Eye for "News" and well didn't the town of Shinbone had plethora of it, what a performance! The Second, the heart and soul of this movie, "Liberty Valance" played by Lee Marvin, the fear and awe the character creates, sets up the movie quite beautifully. Lastly, Vera Miles as Hallie Stoddard providing the movie, the important romantic dimension, and everything looks so complete. It's one of those movies that stays in your memory forever. The sequence of events and scenes of the movie are so vivid even after several years. What would you not give to see movies like this, over and over again, a true 'Masterpiece'
Initially I'm not a fan of the western cinema but I do appreciate exceptional acting and chemistry among great actors. My Late Father-In- Law who was born in Europe had a fascination for the old west. Whenever I came over to visit him he had a western on the television. Western giants the likes of Cooper, Eastwood and Scott filled his last years of life as the Western Channel had an endless supply of movies for him to enjoy. One afternoon My Father-In-Law sitting in his regular perch overlooking 47th street in Queens,New York, in his familiar raspy voice said, "Hey Rob their a John Wayne movie and it's a classic lets go watch it. I"ll even order the Chinese food." That sold me. Not the film . The Chinese food. Paramount Pictures proudly presents The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The movie starts out with an elderly well dressed Senator, Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles)as they arrive via the locomotive to the town of Shinbone? Somewhere in the American Southwest. The Stoddards came all the Way from Washington D.C. to pay their last respects to an old friend and rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).The well dressed couple is recognized the moment they stepped off the train by a young reporter. The young journalist wants to know why the Senator returned to Shinbone? Then the Reporters's boss and the Mayor show up and take over the interview but the Senator says, "A man is more willing to give an interview in the comfort of the Shinbone Star office.", as he tells the others that he once worked there. The five convene at the Newspaper office as the Senator goes on about things in Washington (Not Shown). A familiar face of a generation before shows up. The paunchy cowardly Marshall Appleyard played by the colorful Andy Devine takes Mrs. Stoddard over to Tom Donophin's ranch via horse and buggy or what's left of the place out in the desert. Meanwhile the Editor wants to know why the special trip out west? Stoddard breaks down and confesses it's for a dear friend Tom Doniphin. The reporters asked why the long trip for a dead rancher? Stoddard gives in and tells the story and recounts the events that happened twenty five years earlier on that faithful night traveling westward involved in a stagecoach robbery and his first encounter with the beady eyed, mean and dastardly Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Valance and his henchmen rob everyone of their belongings which is too much for the young idealistic Attorney Ransom Stoddard to bear. With his life savings and huge supply of law books heads out west to serve justice in a gun crazy west? Valance holds up the stage and takes everything from our defenseless passengers. Stoddard tries to fight back but Valance whips the poor Lawyer to no end and leaves him for dead. Found and carried to the nearby Shinbone restaurant where he is tended to by Hallie (Vera Miles) and two Swedish immigrants the Ericson's Nora (Jeanette Nolan) and Peter (John Qualon). The Town seems in disarray with a Doc Willoughby (Ken Murray) who is a lush, The Newspaper editor Mr. Peabody (Edmund O'Brien)who quotes everything from Shakespeare to Greely for a nip at the bar.The chickenhearted Marshall Appleyard who I mentioned earlier has every excuse not to deal with the evil Valance. The only men with spines in that helpless hamlet are Tom Doniphin and his muscular sidekick Pompey (Willie Strode). Just love the "Pilgrum" characterization of the typical western tough guy as Wayne is a natural and handles the dialogue methodically. It appears that Wayne didn't sleep much during production as you see noticeable bags under his eyes. Probably spending the late hours after filming with Director John Ford doing excessive drinking and playing poker as fellow actors say,"What did you expect.Your in John Wayne's world." Stoddard is grateful to the Ericson's and Hallie for getting him back on his feet.. Stoddard wants to pay the town back by setting up a law practice and school as Stoddard is stunned to learn the most of the townspeople are illiterate. Doniphin has plans to marry Hallie as he and Pompey are fixing an extension on his Ranch a few miles out of Shinbone. Stoddard tells the stoic Doniphin that the law books will put Valance behind bars but Doniphin chuckles and says that guns put the man in check out here. Doniphin also notices that Hallie has her attentions to Stoddard teaching her how to read. In all truthfulness Doniphin could have blown away Valance from the start and there would be no story. This movie shot in black and white had such colorful characters that you didn't even notice the distinction. This makes for a great showdown as Marvin, Stewart and Wayne meet up for the showdown at sundown as the result of a dropped steak. Jimmy Stewart performance reminds me of the self righteous man he played earlier in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington film. Vera miles fresh off her role in Psycho gives a softer side yet she a sturdy woman who stands up well against the confident Wayne. Andy Devine's comedic timing adds for some reassurance during some rough scenes. Lee Marvin sustains his range of cold blooded hostility. Lastly our stand out performance goes to our alcoholic baritone Edmund O'Brien. As for the Duke is there anyone who could out take him? Maybe a lucky sock to the jaw by James Stewart. Now where's the Chinese food?
Director John Ford was a master of subtle symbolism. Example: as Ransom leaves the newspaper office to confront Liberty, he has a gun in one hand as he pulls down the "Attorney at Law" shingle with the other hand. Equally symbolic is Ransom, after learning Liberty Valance is coming to town, erases "Education is the basis for law and order" from the blackboard. The most powerful, and yet subtle, scene was Woody Strode's character Pompey stumbling over the words "all men are created equal." Pompey says to Ransom "I knew that, but I plumb forgot it;" Ransom responds "a lot of people forget that part."
With a remake in the works, it's time now to re-evaluate The Man who Shot Liberty Valance. Wikipedia informs us that the iconic film director John Ford considered it his favorite film. And critic Roger Ebert wrote that each of the ten Ford/Wayne westerns is "... complete and self-contained in a way that approaches perfection", and singled out Liberty Valance as "the most pensive and thoughtful" of the group.It begins with a much too long expository scene. Senator Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard (played by James Stewart made up to be well into his seventies) along with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) return to the frontier town of Shinbone, to attend the funeral of Stoddard's old cowboy friend, Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Oddly, the town newspaper editor never heard of Doniphon, despite his legendary reputation, made clear by Stoddard, who then relates both his and Doniphon's story, at the editor's behest.The presence of a telephone at the railway station in the opening scene suggests that the story begins a little after the turn of the century, possibly 1905. Stoddard relates how he came to Shinbone years earlier as an idealistic young attorney, where he immediately was drastically assaulted by Liberty Valance during a stagecoach robbery. Can we assume this might have occurred 25 years earlier, perhaps around 1880? Stoddard, as a young attorney, would probably have been about 30 years old (Stewart is miscast here, as he was a little over 50 when he acted in Ford's picture).Now the location of the story is never revealed, but a big part of the plot revolves around "homesteaders" and "big ranchers." The homesteaders (which include small landowners, small farmers, etc.) are in favor of statehood and the moneyed interests (cattle barons, etc.) oppose them. While historians inform us that for the most part the wild west was relatively non-violent (especially in comparison to what's happening today, particularly in the big cities), there was one bloody conflict, the Johnson County War, which occurred in Johnson, Wyoming, between 1889 and 1893, which may have been the model for the conflict alluded to in Liberty Valance.One glaringly major omission we notice right away is that the hated "big ranchers" are never seen during the entire narrative. Instead, the sadistic criminal, Liberty Valance, is made out to be their enforcer. It's hard to buy that idea since historically, the moneyed interests banded together and created an organization, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (the WSGA), which hired detectives to police the range—going after rustlers who were poaching on their land. But even if you buy the idea that a criminal like Valance might have ended up as some kind of private contractor for the WSGA, the idea that everyone in the town of Shinbone was a milquetoast (epitomized by the bumbling sheriff played by Andy Devine), and was afraid to stand up to someone like Valance is absurd. Here, only Tom Doniphon has the guts to stand up to Valance, along with Stoddard (who advocates a non-violent approach).After some small ranchers were falsely accused by WSGA detectives as "rustlers," and were killed, the homesteaders formed their own organization, the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stock Growers' Association (NWFSGA). As Wikipedia informs us, the WSGA hired 23 gunmen and 4 cattle detectives and ended up assassinating the head of the NWFSGA. Various dignitaries including a State Senator joined the gunmen and in response (now read this!) the Sheriff in the nearby town of Buffalo GATHERED A POSSE OF 200 MEN and ended up cornering the WSGA men at a ranch where there was a standoff for two days. Only the intervention of Federal troops on orders from President Benjamin Harrison prevented further bloodshed. So much for wimpy homesteaders!The cowardice of the townspeople in the film is contradicted by history, and the idea that Doniphon is the only man in town who can stand up to Valance, is absurd. There were tough characters on both sides of the range war, and a character like Valance would never have been allowed to get away with terrorizing the populace as is depicted here. Why Doniphon doesn't take Valance out before the climactic duel with Stoddard, makes little sense, considering Valance is already wanted for murdering two people during a robbery (not to mention the robbery of the stagecoach and Stoddard's brutal beating, recounted by the elderly Senator as the beginning of the "break into Act 2").Another plot contrivance which I find hard to swallow is the idea that a Senator from the frontier would have taken up the mantle of pacifism during that time. The wimpy Stoddard is such a pacifist that he walks out after being nominated to represent the pro-Statehood forces in Congress. Why does he walk out? Because he feels guilty that he violated his pacifist precepts by shooting Liberty Valance. It's only AFTER Doniphon reveals that it was he who shot Valance, that Stoddard has a change of heart. Now his guilt is assuaged and he can accept the nomination. The only thing good about this film is the twist that it was Doniphon and not Stoddard who shot Liberty Valance. After the duel, the rest is anti-climactic. Wimpy Stoddard goes on to become Senator and Doniphon takes to the bottle, after he fails to "get the girl." It's odd that macho John Wayne accepted the Tom Doniphon part. Perhaps he liked the idea that the macho Doniphon was a flawed character who could so easily self-destruct. I can't but help also suggest that "Liberty" is a parable about McCarthyism considering the film's release in 1962. Doniphon might have been a stand-in for McCarthy who took to the bottle after being censured by the Senate. The fight might have been justified but the methods weren't. Doniphon must pay a price—and it's the pacifist, Stoddard, who is ultimately rewarded.