#325- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Quick recap: An aging senator recounts his younger days in the town of Shinbone and the tale of the man who shot Liberty Valance.

Is THIS the man who shot Liberty Valance??
No. That’s actually 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.

You’d think this would be the man who shot Liberty Valance because here he is shooting a gun but once again, WRONG

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

 

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#309- Destry Rides Again

Quick recap: Destry, played by James Stewart, plans to whip a Wild West town into shape without the use of guns or regular beatings.

Who could say no to someone with such sharp fashion sense?

Fun (?) fact: In a continuation of me not always being able to tell Gary Cooper from James Stewart, Cooper was originally offered the role but turned it down because he wanted more money. Even movie executives were aware that the two actors are basically interchangeable.

Seriously, James Stewart is adorable and I kind of love him now.

My thoughts: We’ve got another Western! This one is different because it apparently parodies the classic Western, although I didn’t really see that. Most of the movie, especially the beginning with everyone shooting their guns in the air and punching random people, reminded me of a few weird trips to Six Flags. I guess the characteristic of Destry not owning guns was different, but he seemed to threaten with them a lot or just make his other deputies do it for him. I thoroughly enjoyed myself,don’t get me wrong, and I was glad to see this was much more lighthearted than the spaghetti Westerns I’ve been watching as of late. But it’s the plot holes that eventually got to me, as they always do.

The main lesson in Destry Rides Again, if there is one, is that violence isn’t always the answer. Destry’s father was a sheriff with a huge reputation of whipping towns into shape and here comes his son who doesn’t carry guns, always has a story about someone who learned a lesson and prefers milk over alcohol. But the thing is, the audience never really sees  Destry’s plan come into action so it’s hard to tell whether violence would’ve worked just as well. The villain, Kent, bullies everyone from the beginning and Destry always throws him off somehow, like conceding Kent has won a ranch in an obviously fixed poker game. It made me think there was a huge complicated plan to win the ranch back but there really wasn’t. Destry decided to focus on finding the body of the previous sheriff to indict Kent but even that continued to backfire. The only thing he had a hand in was wooing Frenchy, the town’s loose woman and causing her to rally the women to put a stop to the madness. It was a great twist and I loved how pissed off the wives were, but that wasn’t Destry’s plan. He couldn’t have known that would happen. And yet, at the end of the movie he is considered a hero and loved by all.

I really loved James Stewart’s portrayal of Destry. I thought the ‘aw,shucks’ personality would grate on me, but it never did. Marlene Dietrich, who played Frenchy was also great, although the musical numbers didn’t do much for me. She really played up her accent so the songs were hard to understand sometimes. Still, the performances were entertaining and I enjoyed watching something a little light for once.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The General

 

#305- Man of the West

Quick recap: Gary Cooper plays former outlaw, Link, who must go back to his wild west gang when his train leaves him and two other passengers behind.

probably thinking about why he keeps getting thrown into roles he is too old to play

Fun (?) fact: Gary Cooper was 10 years older than Lee J. Cobb, who played his surrogate father, Dock Tobin.

And these two were supposed to be the same age, according to characters in the movie

My thoughts: As you have probably picked up on, Gary Cooper’s age was an issue for me in Man of the West. Now, before I get into my spiel, I just want to go on record and say that I am not ageist. There are plenty of  actors who have played meaningful roles, if not some of the best roles of their career when they were in their 50s and 60s. Gary Cooper did a fine job in this film, in fact. But the role shouldn’t have been given to him. And it really wasn’t his to begin with, looking at trivia. Jimmy stewart was originally cast but he had a falling out with the director and seeing as how there were literally only two men in Hollywood at the time, Cooper was chosen. I don’t know, maybe this is Gary Cooper’s thing, being in a role meant for a much younger man. He did the same thing in Sergeant York, but that was mostly because the real Sergeant York insisted on him. A few years after Man of the West Cooper would be dead so maybe he wanted one last role. I don’t know, but it really took away from the impact of the film, seeing him fit into something not meant for him.

Story wise, Man of the West was no better or worse than other Westerns I have seen. It was darker than I expected, especially that rape scene at the end.  A lot of innocent people died and in the end, good triumphed, so no surprises there. What did surprise me was that I thought I was going to see a buddy movie, from the synopsis I read. The singer Billie and the Gambler Sam were Link’s companions when he was stranded by the train. I thought the three of them would become best pals and fight the bad guys together, but that’s not at all what happened. As soon as Link introduced him to his old gang, Sam was told to dig a grave and Billie was told to strip. Zero fun was had by all. I really did like the role of Link, despite his age. Cooper added a lot of depth to the character and there was this melancholy mood of his that really resonated with me. I’m glad there was a happy ending, but with almost everyone dead, I don’t know how happy it really was.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Forrest. Forrest Gump

#298- Once Upon a Time in the West

Quick recap: A mysterious harmonica player seeks revenge for the death of his brother and also protects a widow who has lost the only family she has ever known.

Henry Fonda as Frank

Fun (?) fact: When Henry Fonda was chosen as the bad guy, he arrived in Italy with dark contacts and a mustache. Director Sergio Leone made him get rid of the costume because he wanted the audience to recognize his blue eyes and be shocked Fonda was a bad guy.

Some of the scenes in this movie were some of the most beautiful I’ve experienced so far

My thoughts: Once Upon a Time in the West is a Western, but it’s on a different level of Western than our American versions. Think of Shane like Caillou and Once Upon a Time in the West as Game of Thrones. That’s actually a perfect analogy because that’s about as much as I hated Shane.

Sergio Leone directed this movie as well as The Good, the bad and the Ugly, so I knew what I was getting into, but still, this movie seems much darker. In one of the first scenes, bad guy Frank shoots an entire family, including a young boy. I thought Frank might take the boy in or something or at least let him fend for himself until someone discovered the massacre, but nope. The following scene as the widow looks at each body of her family was incredibly hard to watch. I’m not sure what I imagine when I think of the Old West (mainly because I don’t think about it too often) but it’s something darker than Rio Bravo but not as dark as this.

It’s difficult to put into words what I loved about this film because everything just fit together so well. It’s a masterpiece. The music is perfect and as I’ve mentioned above, the scenery is beyond amazing. Sergio Leone captured the desolation of the West in a way no one else has. The only thing I didn’t love was the plot. It was too complicated for what I’m used to for a Western. At the end of the day, Frank was a bad guy but also just a henchman for the powerful and rich. It’s a great metaphor for today but I guess I was wanting something a little more simple. Still, it’s an essential film. At the very least, watch the first 15 minutes or so as the bad guys wait for the train. You just can’t get better filmmaking than that.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. You better believe there will be plenty of Simpsons GIFS for that review.