The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the 31st title to join the Paramount Presents line and does so on a beautiful 4K Ultra HD disc.
John Ford is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time when it comes to the moments between “action” and “cut.” This is one of his later period films and it teams up two of the biggest stars of the era. However, it would come to be the best of this latter period in his career. Where Ford and John Wayne worked together frequently, this was the first time that Wayne is teamed up with James Stewart. Better late than never, I suppose. The era was changing because at this point in time, Westerns were beginning to become more expensive to produce. An actor like Wayne could get a film greenlit but Ford, per the documentary, couldn’t just do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. He was an older 67 at the time of production and the industry was changing around him.
Both Ford and Stewart were in their mid-50s when they were portraying youngsters during events that took place 25 years earlier. In a perfect world, perhaps Stewart would bookend the role at the beginning and end of the film. But when it comes to the flashback that takes up the bulk of the film, they should have gone with younger casting. Alas, not casting big names in the title roles would prevent them from getting butts in seats. After all, nobody would pay to see James Stewart in ten minutes of screen time, right? I suppose the studios could have found younger actors for these roles but oh, well. Interestingly, Vera Miles was age-appropriate casting during the flashbacks while being made up for the “present day” footage.
The gist of the film is that Senator Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles), arrive back in Shinbone for the funeral of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). When newspaper editor Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young) wants to know what brought them to town, Ranse takes him aside and tells the journalist what happened with Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). In the flashbacks, we see Ranse and Tom have a different point of view. Ranse wants to bring law, order, and education to Shinbone. Tom doesn’t agree with this because he knows it would mean losing his girlfriend, Hallie.
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” newspaper editor Maxwell Scott tales Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard. If they printed the truth, it would hurt him but then a man like Tom Doniphon wouldn’t be lost to history. While this line is one of the iconic lines in the film, it’s certainly something to think about today. If I knew that my career were based on a lie, I would feel a lot of guilt. Perhaps this is where Ranse was in his life as he came back to Shinbone to bury Tom. Here’s a man who became governor, U.S. senator, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and could very well be the next vice president. Instead, he confides in his wife Hallie that he’s considering retirement and moving back home to Shinbone. They never disclose which state.
Lee Marvin–who was cousins four times removed with Robert E. Lee–is a character actor. Liberty Valance would become–per Leonard Maltin–a signature role in his career. It was one of the biggest roles of his career to date. Three years later, the actor would win an Oscar for spoofing this role in the hysterical Western comedy Cat Ballou.
When you think of what represents a John Ford picture, this film is unlike what’s come before. There’s no capturing the vast beauty of the West on screen. You have the customary shootouts but audiences don’t get the chance to see these beautiful landscapes that are a genre requirement. Or in this case, the MGM backlot because Ford only used the Paramount soundstage. Instead, we get a lot of scenes that are in one room or another. Ford is very much an old-fashioned filmmaker and preferred to shoot in black and white. He argued that you couldn’t capture the shoot-out in color. One can only wonder what this film would look like in color.
As The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance marks its 60th anniversary, it is a defining Western and the best of John Ford’s later career. I’m a political junkie so I certainly enjoy the aspect of the film that looks at the free press, the debate on statehood, and how education plays a role during this era in time. Listen, John Ford may have been an asshole behind the scenes when it came to his treatment of John Wayne but he knows how to film a Western.
- Filmmaker Focus – Leonard Maltin on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance—NEW!
- Feature commentary by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, along with his archival recordings with John Ford and James Stewart
- Selected scene commentary with introduction by Dan Ford, along with his archival recordings with John Ford, James Stewart and Lee Marvin
- The Size Of Legends, The Soul Of Myth
- Changing Of The Guard (Chapter 1)
- The Irascible Poet (Chapter 2)
- The Hero Doesn’t Win, The Winner Isn’t Heroic (Chapter 3)
- Most Things Happen By Accident (Chapter 4)
- The Great Protector (Chapter 5)
- Spotlight – Lee Marvin (Chapter 6)
- Print The Legend (Chapter 7)
- Original Theatrical Trailer
DIRECTOR: John Ford
SCREENWRITERS: James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck
CAST: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray
Paramount released The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in theaters on April 22, 1962. Grade: 4.5/5
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