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RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 123 Minutes
• Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich
• Selected scene commentary by Dan Ford
• The Size of Legends, The soul of Myth (7-parts)
• Theatrical Trailer
• Galleries: Lobby cards, Production
“One of the greats delivers yet another masterpiece.”
Actors James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien
Director John Ford
“Senator Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart) returns to the city of Shinbone in the Wild West, to go to the funeral of his friend, Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). To a journalist, who’s wondering what the senator is doing in Shinbone, he tells how his career started as “the man who shot Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin)”.
The Man who shot Liberty Valance is without a doubt one of the saddest westerns I have ever seen. This realization does not come into play until the final scene where Ranse has come clean about that fateful night that changed several lives forever. This is a story that goes beyond the traditional western where the good guy is victorious in his pursuit of the bad guy, it is a story of innocence, love, regret, revenge, redemption and who better to tell this story than John Ford.
On the surface The Man who shot Liberty Valance is all about a man who simply wants to set the record straight once and for all, but that final moment opens the door for much more than that. See, Ranse wants to finally get the truth out and give his friend the credit he’s always deserved and yet after he is finished the truth it is not what the reporter wanted to hear and he ends with “if the legend becomes truth, print the legend”.
The film begins with a much older Ranse and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) returning to the town of Shinbone to attend the funeral of their friend Tom Doniphon. With the locals excited that a local hero has come back to town some are wanting Ranse to reminisce about that fateful night that Liberty Valance was killed. Ranse begins to tell his story of what led up to that night which changed not only his life but also his friend Tom. This is where the story now shifts to the past and one begins to see that Tom’s life had changed drastically and none for the better. Ranse rose to fame and power by becoming a Senator, Tom became a drunk and his life amounted to nothing and this is what makes this movie so sad. Tom was Ranse’s protector and supporter and what John Ford does so wonderfully is to showcase both characters rise and fall.
Casting Lee Marvin in the role of Liberty Valance was brilliant because he portrays Liberty with a ruthlessness that immediately captures your attention. Liberty has no redeeming value and Lee just turns in a performance that will have you cheering when he is finally gunned down. Of course the main feature of this movie are the performances by Wayne and Stewart. There is no other actor, even today, who can play the naive and likable character than Stewart and in this movie he does not disappoint. Now his character is not the sugar coated good guys that became a fixture in many westerns its just his innocence plays an important part early on as it helps to elevate the seasoned and kind role of Tom that John Wayne plays to perfection.
As with most of his movies when Wayne walks in a room he takes over the scene and even the legend that is Stewart takes a back seat, however it is not done in a way that reduces any of the other actors screentime. I think back then everyone involved in a Wayne movie just accepted the fact that the man is larger than life and it would be futile to try and out perform him. Whatever the case it is the friendship between Ranse and Tom that creates the perfect western which is more memorable than the relationship that Hallie has with both men.
The Man who shot Liberty Valance is a masterpiece of storytelling that could only be done by the master himself – John Ford.
A terrific set of extras worth watching a few times. Starting off with commentary by Peter Bogdanovich who has a lot of worthwhile things to say about this movie as he was on the set frequently and had discussed in detail with Ford various aspects of the film. The seven part documentary The Size of Legends, The soul of Myth is a definite must see as many involved with the movie give their perspective on making this film but also working with Ford, Wayne and Stewart.
The remaining extras are your standard package deal on DVD’s but they are a treat all the same to view.
9.0 out of 10