The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Directed by John Ford
Written by James Warner Bellah & Willis Goldbeck

John Ford is a legendary director, both for the volume of his work and the quality of it. He is credited on IMDb as having directed 146 titles. That number is insane. But what is more is that he made so many well-known, held in high regard, films. Personally I have only seen The Searchers and Stagecoach, but if that, coupled with this, is any indication of the capabilities of John Ford, than he is one of the best storytellers ever. But the one thing I have noticed is that the stories have all been engrossing too. There are some films where you can appreciate the filmmaking, yet the story just isn’t your thing, Requiem for a Dream would be the perfect example of this for me. John Ford, therefore, is very similar to Frank Capra to me. Though I have seen few of his films, it is evident that he is a great director who makes films that seem like they are made just for my own personal enjoyment as the stories being told are just the kind I like to hear, in this case, westerns.

John Ford is a legendary figure in film, no doubt, but so too are the lead actors here, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, both giants in the history of the business and both two of my favorites, Stewart especially. This pairing seems like a dream come true, both of them in the same film, wow! So anyway, the film itself. I loved the way in which it was told, with the mysterious return of the senator to Shinbone for the funeral of unknown Tom Doniphon. The entire story is told as a flashback, as Senator Stoddard tells the newspapermen. Fantastic. And it starts with the touch of a stagecoach, could it be? the same stagecoach Stoddard rolled into town on those many years ago? I mean Ford peppers the film with nice little touches like this. I do want to comment on the acting for a moment though. Apart from the big shots previously mentioned, the acting is somewhat hammy and distracting at times, especially the Marshall. But I found that in Stagecoach as well. And maybe it is just Andy Devine, but I even, only at times, found Jimmy Stewart to be, well too Jimmy Stewart, and I love his shtick.

Basically I love westerns and the stories they can tell and this film is no difference. The tale of a man whose entire reputation is based on killing a man he didn’t kill and getting the girl and the big job in Washington as a result of it. He stole the thunder of another man, another man who sat by and let him take it so as just to better the lives of the people around him, because he understood, he gets it, and he is being completely selfless in this situation, which is a hard thing to swallow, which is probably why he tries to burn his house down. It really is a sad story, but then again life is full of stories like this one. Stoddard was a good man, a man with ideals who stood up for what he believed in and he treated women right and had the people’s interest at heart. It is not his fault he got famous accidentally. But it all goes out to poor Tom Doniphon, the real man who shot Liberty Valance, the real man who deserves the recognition. But as the famous line goes, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And so goes the story of Ransom Stoddard. For me, I think what made this film, and the director John Ford in this instance, was the closing shot with its realist look at the train rolling away. The way that the grain looks like you are there, unlike the rest of the film which looks like a staged movie, which is fine, I get it. But this change in the last frames of the film was a great touch, because it made it feel so real. Anyone know what I’m trying to say?

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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