Thursday 24 November 2011

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance [1962]

John Ford reveled in the making of Westerns, for what is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence if not an expression of his love affair with the genre? With its overarching themes of nostalgia and melancholia concerning the slow but sure demise of the iconic landscape, the movie remains a heartfelt and elegiac tone-poem to it. A popular US senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart), to the immense surprise of the local journalists, has made an unlikely stop at a dusty, godforsaken town with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles), in order to attend the funeral of one Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Upon the press-men’s insistence, Stoddard recounts his unlikely stopover in this town, through sheer circumstances, many years back; his love-hate friendship with Doniphon, one of the last true symbols for everything that the West stood for – ruggedness, courage and honour; and the events leading to and following the creation of a legend, that of the shooting down of the notorious outlaw Liberty Valence. The tales of the two principal characters have been exceptionally juxtaposed to provide a sense to the direction America took at the turn of the 20th century – while Doniphon, for all his machismo, charisma and larger-than-life persona, slowly disappears into anonymity and obscurity, Stoddard, despite being so out of place, even anachronistic, as a law-abiding citizen in the frontier town, goes on to become an all-American poster boy. Though not without its share of over-dramatizations and some clichéd tropes, this elegantly-paced and well-acted film does stand on its own as a superb Western.

Director: John Ford
Genre: Western
Language: English
Country: US


Jon said...

Fine recount Shubhajit. I like this more than you do though, and consider it one of probably the 10 best westerns ever made. Love the interplay and contrast between Wayne and Stewart. I like this one more each time I watch it. Lee Marvin is typically awesome as well.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Jon. Well, I too liked the movie :) Yeah, the interplay between Wayne & Stewart - two distinctly different personalities & characters, was indeed the hallmark of the movie. Especially loved the way the movie begun & ended - tonally, that is.

Sam Juliano said...

For me it doesn't rate with teh greatest Fords or teh very greatest westerns, but it is still a formidable work for all the excellent reasons you note here, and it does contain a landmark Wayne performance. Love teh capsule and the tone-poem suggestion therein.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. I'm on the same page with you on that. I too didn't find it an extraordinary work, but yes, that said, there's no doubting its artistic quality - a solid Western and a pretty enjoyably watch.