Man Who Shot Liberty Valance The (1962)
This is one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time and I’ve avoided writing anything about it for a long time for two reasons: it’s been a while since I last watched it and more importantly I’m afraid I can’t do it justice. While I’ve written about other favorite films of mine the former reason is probably why I won’t be recounting its plot in any detail now. I did write briefly about this most essential of Westerns in my political campaign films essay but I’ve always felt that I should add something more formal to this website. So here it is:
It was directed by John Ford and it features a screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck that was based on the story by Dorothy M. Johnson. The titled story is told in flashback by James Stewart’s character Ransom Stoddard who’s now a United States Senator that has returned home to Shinbone to attend the funeral of his old friend Tom Doniphon played (in flashback) by John Wayne. Woody Strode plays Tom’s dependable ranch hand Pompey. While answering questions from reporters the Senator recalls the day he met his future wife Hallie (Vera Miles) in attendance and how he became known as "the man who shot Liberty Valance" a notorious outlaw played (in flashback) by Lee Marvin. However once the truth is revealed – that Ransom had been an educated nonviolent man ("a fish out of water") in the untamed West capable of standing up to the bully when it finally had to be done but incapable of stopping Valance even after the outlaw had been drinking (it was Tom that had done the deed from a side alley initially unbeknownst to Ransom to protect his friend and he had lost his girl Hallie sympathetic to the future Senator in the process) which was contrary to the "facts" as they were known – Carleton Young’s character speaks the famous quote: "This is the west sir. When the legend becomes fact print the legend."
The cast includes so many (Western) movie veterans that it’s a virtual "who’s who" of character actors: Edmond O’Brien as a newspaper editor Andy Devine and his insufferable creaky voice John Carradine John Qualen Willis Bouchey Young Denver Pyle Strother Martin and Lee Van Cleef (among others).
It is incomprehensible to me that such a masterpiece as this only received one Academy Award nomination (Edith Head’s B&W Costume Design was Oscar nominated)!
Added to the National Film Registry in 2007.