The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
It seems like a straight-forward spoiler title, but even that is called into question as the plot twists and turns.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a very complex Western that pits a traditional gun-slinging setting with a reformist mindset and the resulting tensions are intriguing and exciting. The movie stars two of the biggest stars ever, Wayne and Stewart, as conflicting protagonists with different views of how to handle a ruthless outlaw. The depth of the main characters immensely adds to the drama as the plot builds to a satisfying finish.
The film starts out with an aging senator from Washington returning to a small town in the West to pay respects to a deceased friend. The town’s newspaper editor is dumbfounded as to why a big wig from Congress would travel so far to attend the funeral of an unremarkable rancher. The story of how the two men met is told through flashbacks set nearly 30 years ago in the same small town.
Jimmy Stewart is Ransom Stoddard, the future senator, and freshly graduated law student bent on opening a small practice in the fairly lawless town of Shinbone. His stagecoach is robbed by the ruthless Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) who operates with impunity as the local sheriff is a fat, drunk man who is visibly scared of Valance. Ransom wants to bring the man to justice, but local ranch hand (John Wayne), the local hero, knows the only way to deal with a man like Valance is with a gun. The two man battle ideologies, Liberty Valance, and for the heart of a local women (Vera Miles).
The film is all about contrast. Jimmy Stewart is a small, intelligent, well-spoken lawyer from the East. John Wayne is a large, respected, local cowboy. The townsfolk respect both men in very different ways. One represents the changes of a modernizing, growing Western town, while the other symbolizes the traditional, independent, cowboy way of the old Wild West. The ideal of law enforcement, the town sheriff, is a travesty of authority, easily manipulated and scared. Even the title is a contrast, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance seems like a straight-forward spoiler title, but even that is called into question as the plot twists and turns, as each man becomes more polarized.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the kind of intelligent Western that can really draw in a viewer and is an excellent choice for a movie fan looking to start enjoying Western films. Great acting and direction sets an entertaining pace which makes it easy to see why this movie is considered a classic.