Quick recap: An aging senator recounts his younger days in the town of Shinbone and the tale of the man who shot Liberty Valance.
Fun (?) fact: There’s no set reason why director John Ford chose to film in black in white but the prevailing idea is that both John Wayne and James Stewart were playing characters 30 years younger than their actual ages and it would’ve really shown in color.
My thoughts: I’m afraid I’m starting to get a little burned out on James Stewart. He always seems to play the good guy, even when he’s accidentally an asshole. This film is perfect proof of that. Spoiler Alert: Stewart, who played Ransom Stoddard was not actually the man who shot Liberty Valance. To his credit, he didn’t know about it initially and the man who ACTUALLY did the killing gave him his blessing to go on being the legend, but still. Tom, played by John Wayne, was the real man who shot Liberty Valance and this story is about him.
As far as I can tell, having watched a total of two John Wayne films to date, Tom is your basic character. This movie is even the first time Wayne refers to someone as ‘pilgrim’ so that was a fun surprise. And it made sense, because Ransom made a pilgrimage to Shinbone after his run-in with Valance, albeit against his will in the beginning. Tom is a tough guy with a heart of gold and all he really wants is to settle down with his girl Hallie, who SPOILER ALERT, is not his girl at all. Much to everyone’s surprise, apparently, she is a strong independent woman who would like to choose her own destiny. Destiny that leads to Ransom. So, really, this is a classic case of jealousy but the weird kind of jealousy that involves shooting and allowing someone to continue on to Washington to become a decorated senator while you die drunk and alone.
Unlike the moral ambiguity of the paragraph before, Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance is a straight up evil guy. Absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Like, he truly terrified me and that’s saying something. His comic opposite was the Marshall Link, who had some funny spots but when you stop and think about all the people he allowed to die because of being a coward, is much less funny.
Although Westerns typically all follow the same format of good guy/bad guy fight, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance manages to weave in a bunch of moral questions. Lee Marvin is absolutely bad but are Tom and Ransom absolutely good? Does it matter? And what does that do to one’s legacy? In a way, this is the western for people who aren’t too sure about westerns. Give it a chance.
Final review: 5/5
Up next: Badlands