The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – 1962

vlcsnap-2014-07-29-20h55m57s17So I’m in the Post Office in downtown Miami today. I’m in the line against the wall where people wait as the Postal Employee searches for packages, or as it’s also known, “nap time”.

A man behind me is waiting also. He’s an American (or as he would also be known in Miami, a “foreigner”). The person in front of me is a Miamian of Spanish descent. The Postal Employee is dealing with several different package slips, and asks the Miamian if she scanned his yet. He says something like, “I don’t know, you’re the one trying to deal with too many things.” He doesn’t say it in a particularly mean way, but it’s also clear he has no sympathy for the Postal Employee. At this point the American says to the Miamian, “There’s no need to be rude.”

In the small sphere that belongs to myself, the American, and the Miamian, the piano player has stopped playing, the crowd at the bar turns silent, and the Miamian slowly turns his head and says to the American (back in real life), “This isn’t any of your business.”

Yes, I have been transported back to the Old West. I am in a town called Shinbone. Unfortunately, it’s not really. Because if it really was Shinbone, there would be a convenient pane of thin window glass I could jump through unscathed to safety.

vlcsnap-2014-06-26-23h08m03s93Shinbone is the mythical Western town where The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance takes place. A truly epic John Ford directed Western.

Not epic as far as locations and vistas are concerned, as was The Searchers (1956). Most of the movie was filmed on back lots and sound stages, and in black and white. Ford said it was for artistic reasons; others say it was budgetary. But it’s epic in its story and screenplay.

Jimmy Stewart plays Rance Stoddard, a lawyer who arrives in town full of ideals. He believes law and order has the ability to transform the Wild West into civilization. Before his stagecoach arrives into Shinbone, it is held up by a gang led by Liberty Valance (brilliantly played by Lee Marvin). Rance is also beaten, but is brought into town by local rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) and nursed back to health by Hallie (Vera Miles).

So begins a mesmerizing story of two friends with different viewpoints of dealing with the same problem. And both attracted to the same girl.

Thrown in are: the local cowardly town marshal (played by Andy Devine), the newspaperman (played by Edmond O’Brian), a large assortment of scene-stealing supporting actors, all framed by the story of the beginnings of politics in the Western frontier. All of this combined makes for a true thinking man’s Western.

vlcsnap-2014-06-26-23h09m20s116Based on a story by Dorothy Johnson (who died in 1984, the same year Jenny and I were married 30 years ago – WHAT’RE THE ODDS OF THAT!?) and with a screenplay by James Bellah who also wrote Fort Apache (1948), and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), this is a movie that must be listened to, not just watched.

But as you watch it, scenes appear that show John Ford to be a true artist with the camera. But he’s smart enough to know that with a script this good, letting the camera hang back and capture the verbal drama is in itself art.

So next time you have one of those Wild West moments at the Post Office, when you get home, if you get home, enjoy the drama of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in the safety of your humble abode.

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One thought on “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – 1962

  1. A wonderful, wonderful film………….would definitely be in my top 10 Westerns ever made. Jimmy Stewart is Jimmy Stewart……..perfect for this role and practically every role he ever played. John Wayne is a dream……..anybody who says the man couldn’t act cannot call himself a film buff! He is superb in this film……..such a tragic role and he handles it perfectly. He makes a grown man cry. Andy Devine & Edmund O’Brien are perfect supports for the ‘good guys”, in fact Edmund O’Brien is a revelation! Woody Strode as Pompey is also a treat as Wayne’s employee.
    As for the “bad guys”, Lee Marvin is exhaustingly evil……..they don’t get much better than this……….one of the great evil characters in the history of film! Strother Martin, a great character actor, brings his “a game” along as well.
    Vera Miles is also very good…….without really having a lot to do!
    Very highly recommended……….one of Ford’s best!

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