The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

DailyView: Day 59, Movie 101

I have been enjoying some Jimmy Stewart movies recently and how could you go wrong with a good Western. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance not only has Jimmy Stewart, but also features the one and only John Wayne.

The film begins with Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) returning to a Western town where he spent some of his younger years to attend the funeral of one of his friends, Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). While there, Ransom recounts the story of how he met Tom and got involved with the outlaw/hired gun Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).

On his first trip to two, Ransom’s stagecoach was hijacked and robbed by Liberty Valance and his crew (which included Western veteran, Lee Van Cleef). Valance gave Ransom a beating to go along with the robbery. Tom and his handyman Pompey (Woody Strode) discovered the badly beaten lawyer and brought him to the doctor. Once recovered, Ransom started washing dishes at the local eatery with Hallie (Vera Miles) and he set up his own law practice.

The area was in conflict over the idea of becoming a state or remaining a territory. Ransom was nominated as a delegate to go and make that decision. Liberty Valance wanted to be a delegate too, and challenged Ransom to meet him in the street that night.

This was a fun movie. Jimmy Stewart was his typical top self here, taking the stand for law and order. John Wayne was at his most John Wayne-ish, using his famous phrase “pilgrim” when speaking to Ransom. The relationship between these two men turned out to be an important one, and was built on mutual respect for one another. They could not have been further apart personality or philosophy wise, but their friendship was the center of the movie.

Although it was not just the friendship that was the key here, but the differences between our two heroes. Tom was more of the ‘solve the problem with the gun’ type where as Ransom was the ‘let the law find the answer’ and these philosophy of the Old West were at conflict throughout the movie. Both men eventually came to see the importance or the necessity of the other’s world view.

There were plenty of other well known Western stars involved here, including Lee Van Cleef from the Dollars trilogy, Denver Pyle from Grizzly Adams, Oscar-winner Edmond O’Brien, John Carradine, the comedic Andy Devine, and Ken Murray.

The legend of the shooting of Liberty Valance lets the movie play with perception and reputation as well. There are a bunch of themes in the movie and it balances them with fun, some oddball humor and two excellent performances from two of the biggest movie stars of the time. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was an exceptional Western.

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