Considered one of the finest westerns ever made, John Ford’s THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, like Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN (1992) shows a different side of the venerable genre, stripping away the veneer and showing the west on more human terms.
The film begins in 1910 with U.S. Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) returning to the frontier town where they met and married to attend the funeral of their mutual friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).
Interviewed by the local paper, Stoddard tells about his history with Doniphon and the film slips back 25 years to dramatize the events. Stoddard and Doniphon couldn’t be any more different. Stoddard is a lawyer and Doniphon is a rancher. One represents the new, the other the old. But they are really two sides of the same coin as they both are decent men who just deal with the world in different ways.
When outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) causes trouble for the town and instigates a duel with Stoddard, it is Doniphon that helps the young lawyer out in more ways than one might expect.
Stoddard triumphs over Valance and becomes famous for gunning down the infamous villain. This eventually leads to a political career and winning Hallie’s hand in marriage but things aren’t exactly as they might seem.
Certainly a great film, I still have a difficult time getting past the acting style of the time. I have also never connected with John Wayne as a hero and this movie further confirmed that. I can recognize that I’m seeing a well-made and important film, but it kept me at arms length and that’s a shame.
Ultimately though I did respond to the overall story and if you’re a fan of westerns old or new, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is one should eventually see for its impact on the genre.