James Stewart and John Wayne -- Together for the First Time.
"The Citizen Kane of westerns. Christopher Null, FilmCritic.com
|A tenderfoot lawyer and a powerful rancher are rivals in love who stand together against a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.|
"...regarded as an American classic by virtually every Ford scholar; one of the great Westerns. Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide
"Arguably, the best John Ford film ever, certainly one the very best, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is an American classic. Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle
"Remarkable John Ford Western. Michael E. Grost, Classic Film and Television
"Superb John Ford--a western classic--with strong Wayne, Stewart, Marvin in tow. Steve Crum, Video-Reviewmaster.com
In John Ford's stark, melancholy swan song for the conventional frontier Western, aged Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) returns to the small town of Shinbone with his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles), for the funeral of his friend, Tom Doniphan (John Wayne), where he recounts for reporters his relationship with the man. His arrival in the town years earlier as a newly minted lawyer had been welcomed with a vicious beating by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), a flamboyant thug hired by powerful business interests fearful of the lawyer's intentions to stump for statehood. Doniphan, a rancher and feared gunman, finds Stoddard unconscious, takes him into town, and continues to protect him, particularly after coming to realize that the woman he loves cares more for the lawyer. Despite Doniphan's warnings that the only law in the region comes at the end of a gun barrel, the stubborn lawyer insists on teaching the illiterate townspeople about the rule of law in a democratic society. When Stoddard is elected as the regional delegate to the territorial convention, Valance baits the politician, a notoriously inept gunman, into a showdown. | |The film, which plays like a Western version of Freud's CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS, reflects the aging director's ambivalence about many of the beliefs that had animated his earlier work. Shot on two soundstages because of a limited budget and Ford's poor health, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE blends a stripped-down look with an intentionally fractured, ambiguous narrative to stand as a haunting elegy for the fearless gunman, the endless wilderness, and the loss of freedom their vanishing betokens.
Cast & Crew
||Edith Head, Nominee, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White
"...Director John Ford's last masterpiece, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, features a killer cast..."
"...John Ford's valedictory to the Old West...with Wayne wringing a surprising amount of pathos out of his role..."
Sight and Sound
"[O]ne of Ford's most moving films. It boasts three superb performances."
"[O]ddly stirring and ahead of its time."
"[The film offers] a bittersweet look at the closing of the frontier by focusing on two strikingly different men who help one town choose law and order over the chaos of the open range."
ReelViews 10 of 10
"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"...That single quote, uttered by newspaperman Maxwell Scott (Carlton Young), encapsulates the primary theme of John Ford's last great Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Truth is only meaningful as long as it agrees with what the public wants to hear. When heroes don't exist, it is necessary to invent them. And, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. A clear-eyed deconstruction would likely reveal that what most of us accept as "history" is a patchwork of real events, exaggerations, and tales so tall that Paul Bunyan would likely blink in amazement...What many Americans know about the Old West, they learned through movies directed by John Ford starring John Wayne. Over a period of more than three decades, these two men collaborated on about twenty features, many of which not only fell under the umbrella of, but helped to define, the Western genre. Indeed, every Western made after Ford's era (which ended in 1964 with Cheyenne Autumn) was inspired or impacted, in one way or another, by Ford's contributions...I have never been a huge fan of Westerns. I guess it's the general apathy of my generation towards the genre that is partially responsible for its virtual disappearance from multiplexes. But, in part because it does not conform to the mold, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has an appeal that extends beyond the category into which it has been pigeonholed. This is a smart, thoughtful motion picture that uses an engrossing, character-driven story to emphasize an insightful theme. Along with The Searchers, it represents John Ford at his most accomplished. And it is one of the best Westerns Hollywood has ever produced.
- James Berardinelli
DVD Times 10 of 10
A harshly poetic study of the gulf between myth and reality, John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the finest films ever made in America. Nominally a Western, it's actually a thoughtful study of history; both the passing of the old into the new and the process by which legend becomes translated into fact. All of the themes which obsessed Ford throughout his career are blended here into a pure and deeply moving elegy to a time long gone, complemented by iconic performances from the leads and some brief but equisitely tense action sequences...Ford's direction is relaxed but with his usual relish for character - such as the Shakespeare quoting newspaper editor - and for small historical details - references to sodbusters and bushwhackers will perplex some viewers but are entirely appropriate for the period. There are few of his expansive landscapes in this largely interior film since it was largely shot in the studio but it never feels enclosed or claustrophobic. The monochrome photography by William Clothier has a harsh beauty which is also just right for this sad, reflective film. It's hard to imagine a reason to criticise The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It takes the best of Ford's westerns and points forward to the elegaic westerns of Peckinpah and Eastwood, managing to be entertaining and genuinely thought provoking in the process. Better still, you don't even have to listen to Gene Pitney's hit song, which doesn't appear on the soundtrack. It's certainly slow moving and perhaps a little too sentimental for some viewers, but Ford's vision of the West comes through with immense grace and power. Unreservedly recommended, this is essential viewing.
- Mike Sutton