THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) B/W widescreen 122m dir: John Ford
w/James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray, John Carradine, Jeanette Nolan, John Qualen, Woody Strode
One of the greatest of director Ford's memory westerns, a moving and bitter meditation on immortality and survival. Stewart is cast as an idealistic lawyer who has become famous for killing a notorious badman (Marvin). Wayne incarnates his own myth with subtle melancholy. Don't miss this one!
From The Movie Guide: "Starkly photographed and often heavily screened for nighttime shots, Ford's picture of the West here is a gloomy one, often pitch black when the only thing that comes out of it is the beastly Marvin. Many cliches and stereotypes people the film; the crusading newspaper editor, for example, had been used in many an earlier western, notably DODGE CITY. Oddly Ford, the master of great western exterior scenes, shot the entire film on two Paramount sound stages. Auteur critics have found much worth in this elegiac film, though in some ways it revisits the themes of Ford's earlier FORT APACHE. The movie is certainly above average, thanks to the performances by Stewart and Wayne, but Marvin is so flamboyant a badman that he is simply a caricature, even more so than in his outlandish Oscar-winning turn in CAT BALLOU."
In Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (edited by Richard Roud), Robin Wood writes about John Ford and about THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE in particular: "Ford's last great film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is also the closest in his work (with Wagon Master, perhaps) to overtly symbolic drama. The heroine's divided allegiance to two men, lawyer-politician Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) and westerner Tom Doniphon (Wayne) is clearly also Ford's and, in a sense, America's. Ranse is an easterner, an educated, cultured man who wants to bring irrigation and roses to the desert; Tom is the embodiment of the 'Old West,' and his emblem is the cactus rose. The parallels between Ethan and Scar [in THE SEARCHERS] are echoed in the connections between Tom (whose authority is in his charisma) and Liberty Valance, the lawless brute and petty fascist; the existence of one permits the existence of the other. By killing Valance, and preparing the way for civilization and the rule of the law-book, Tom is in effect destroying himself.
"The main body of the film is told in flashback, and its present and past time are strongly contrasted. In the present, Tom has died forgotten and is given a pauper's funeral, and the town of Shinbone has become (in Peter Andrews' admirable phrase) a 'cemetery of Fordian values': all vitality is in the past. At the end of the film we are led to believe that Hallie (Vera Miles) in her old age is still in love with Tom. She and Ranse, as they ride away on the train, talk of returning to spend their last years in Shinbone. Whether they will ever do so or not is immaterial. The Shinbone they wish to return to no longer exists, its vitality sapped away by Ranse's 'civilization.'
"This account barely suggests the film's concentrated significance (very different from that of The Searchers, the move towards allegory making for clarity at some cost in suggestive resonance); but it perhaps conveys something of its sad, disillusioned nature. That disillusionment can scarcely be explained by Ford's 'Maybe I'm getting older.' It can be understood better in terms of the discrepancy between the America of Ford's hopes and legends --- whether the simple societies of Steamboat Round the Bend (1935) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953) in which good-nature triumphed over malice and prejudice, the Promised Land to which the miners of How Green Was My Valley emigrated or the Mormons of Wagon Master trekked, the civilized order confidently anticipated in the church dance of Clementine --- and the contemporary actuality, what America had become by the 1960s."
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design (Edith Head).