The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

1962 Western

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Senator Ransom Stoddard and his wife arrive in the town of Shinbone to go to the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon. Some newspaper men harass the senator about his visit until he sits down and tells them the story of his very first visit to Shinbone, a visit which starts with being beaten and robbed by a bully of a rancher named Liberty Valance. This treatment inspires Stoddard, an up-and-coming lawyer, to introduce a little law and order to the Western town and its surrounding ranches. He also opens up a school to teach the children and illiterate adults to read. But Stoddard's reasoning and the information in his law books doesn't change the ways of Valance and his posse, and inevitably, Stoddard will have to stand up to him. Doniphon, local tough guy who says "Pilgrim" far more than the average cowboy, doesn't think Stoddard's got what it takes. Doniphon also doesn't like that Stoddard seems to be interested in the girl he plans to marry.

This is great Western drama that often looks like a parody because of far too many gigantic personalities--an overacting Jimmy Stewart, at times almost seeming like somebody else doing a really poor and over-the-top Jimmy Stewart impression instead of an actual Jimmy Stewart; burly John Wayne being all John Wayne-y; Vera Miles hyper-playing her stock female Western character; Lee Marvin as the titular bad guy, ugly and mean and a little too hammy; Andy Devine squealing his lines as the sheepish sheriff with the great name Link Appleyard; Bobcat Goldthwait as one of Valance's men; a stutterer; the newspaper editor Dutton Peabody played theatrically by Edmund O'Brien, a guy who apparently is trying to prove here that he is classically trained or something; and finally, an overly-grandiose orator at the convention late in the film. It's personality overload, and it all adds up to something completely unrealistic and unintentionally comical. I do really like the story and its conflicts though. The Hallie-Tom-Ransom love triangle could have been developed better. The Liberty-Tom-Ransom hate triangle is great though. Nothing needs to be said by any of the characters to show the audience that Tom and Liberty don't like each other and maybe have a bit of a history. And Jimmy Stewart's anger, anger that I'm would please any diehard Stewart fan, contrasts so well with the cool and cocky Marvin. I really like some individual scenes, my favorites being scenes that I think a lot of directors might have reshot. There's a scene where Jimmy bumps his head and then continues on with his lines. He drops or knocks over things, and messes up his lines more than once, but, even if it's not intentional or written into the script, it really adds to the character, this geeky lawyer who you are positive won't be able to kill the tough bully in the end. Ultimately, I like what this movie has to say about Wild West myth-making, the "printing of legends," and the clash between the Wild West philosophies and the big city ideas that Stoddard brings to Shinbone. But come on. Watch the "pick up my steak" scene over again, and try to convince me that it's not funny.


cory said...

There is a lot that has to be swallowed in this. For starters, Stewart is way, WAY too old for this role (a career habit, and the only thing I could ever fault Jimmy for). Wayne does say "pilgrim" so many times that it passes funny and becomes a reason to pull for Marvin (though if you pretend Wayne is simply substituting pilgrim for another word... say, dickhead, then it's awesome).

But the good far outweighs the bad. Jimmy is his usual great outraged everyman. Wayne brings real weight and believability to his man's man, and Marvin is so tough that even Lee van Cleef is just a flunky next to his badness. The supporting cast you mention is a lot of fun, and there are some great ideas Ford touches upon. A 17 for this bigger-than-life intimate western.

Barry said...

I always loved this movie. I got past the ancient Jimmy Stewart thing easily enough, but this is not his movie....(even though we think he is the title character for a large part of the film)

This is John Waynes movie, all the way through, and it shows how great a director Ford was when you get to those last scenes and find out that Wayne is the title character and Wayne is the one that really gave up everything.

It doesnt hurt that John Wayne gives, what I believe to be, his best performance. He is pissed off at the universe and hardly a hero, and he conveys every emotion of a over the top mans man who has outlived his time. It was Unforgiven before Unforgiven.

I give this film a solid 19. I am affected enough by the Stewart age thing to take away a point, but otherwise its a great movie.

Thats right, Pilgrim.