The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Director: John Ford


I have to say that I am not a fan of Westerns and therefore have not seen many (I can only think of Calamity Jane, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and Brokeback Mountain … which is a Western in the loosest sense of the word!) The lead is John Wayne under the direction of John Ford – both names synonymous with the Western genre – so I was kind of expecting greatness. 

The opening 10 minutes have a sense of melancholia and loss about them. It doesn’t have the same sweeping vistas and epic scale that are associated with the Western genre and consequentially has an almost claustrophobic feel to it. Kim Newman says it was “shot in black and white on a soundstage to avoid the lyricism of Ford’s Monument Valley epics” (1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 404)- this results in the film having a tangible sense of enclosure.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is basically a love triangle which results in a betrayal. Hallie, played by Vera Miles, is another strong female character – you seem to get them more often in the Western genre. However despite being more than capable of running a ranch the women still always seem to need rescuing or protecting by the men.

Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang are blatant bully boys and destined to come to a sticky end – even if it wasn’t already obvious from the title! James Stewart and John Wayne, as Ransom Stoddard and Tom Doniphon respectively, are at loggerheads from the very start with different views on how to resolve issues but always linked by their shared love of Hallie. I don’t know if it is just because I don’t enjoy Westerns or when the film was made but it seems to me almost a caricature of cowboys and prairie women.

As I haven’t seen any of Ford’s earlier films I cannot really compare the change in his directorial style that Newman alludes to when he says “as if explaining away the evasions and downright lies of his earlier Westerns, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance finds John Ford concluding that if the legend is better than the truth, then you should ‘print the legend'”(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 404).

I have to say that this hasn’t gone very far at all in convincing me to watch any other Westerns (though undoubtedly I will as there are a number in 1001 Movies You Must Watch Before You Die) and I still wouldn’t choose to watch a Western.


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