Movie Review – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Posted: September 13, 2014 in Movie Reviews
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Black and white movies has a charm of its own. Next to Hitchcock’s Technicolor work I prefer the black and white films. If Technicolor is about its feel, black and white is about its truthfulness. Characters are either black or white. There are no layers and story is to the point. I was suffering from cold and didn’t want either a PTA or a Lynch film which was in my list a long time to blast my mind. The Man who Shot Liberty Valance proved the perfect fodder for me to sit back and relax. Another good thing about the movie is the title. I like these long titles involving a character’s name. The best being The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. One other name I could think of is The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and etc. These titles attract me more than having a text after the character’s name like Sweeny Todd, Indiana Jones etc. But the same couldn’t be said about the movies. It’s just with the titles.

the man who shot liberty valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance satisfied all the above criteria and much more. See the cast, James Stewart, John Wayne and Vera Miles. Isn’t it enough to watch a movie? What makes it more appealing is I haven’t seen any of John Wayne’s movie in spite of having heard a lot about him. I don’t know why but I had always hated American western films. After the advent spaghetti westerns by Eastwood and co was when I started taking westerns seriously. Nothing much to be said of James Stewart. He reprises his boy scout role of Mr. Smith goes to Washington and he does it with élan. This guy is a neat actor. There’s a saying that an actor should never be bigger than the movie. Stewart would fit in it perfectly. He’ll never do things which he doesn’t want to do.

So having not known about John Wayne much I was of the opinion that it was a James Stewart movie. I was watching it from that angle for the initial few minutes where a senator, one Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) arrives for a funeral with his wife. We see them being familiar with the characters. The press ask them for a story of why a person in such position wants to attend a funeral in that petty place. Ranse starts with the flashback and that’s the story. One good thing about not knowing the characters is we see a few characters who seem to be well acquainted with Ranse’s wife Hallie (Vera Miles) but we don’t know who they are. As we don’t know them as actors we don’t immediately find of who that is in the flashback. Only at the end of the movie I was able to find out who is who. In that way the pleasure remained till the end.

In the flashback you see Ransom being robbed by one Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) almost to death. He’s a typical villain who’ll evoke no sympathy. We don’t see his face in the first scene and in the immediate scene we see a cowboy who takes Stewart to home. I was confused as to why the man who almost killed the guy would take the same guy home and nurse him. It took me a while to understand that its two different people. It also didn’t seem to have been done intentionally. Maybe ford was of the opinion that everyone would know these guys well before the film. Other than that one confusion it was a pretty neat film.

Stewart tries to educate the village, Wayne tries to protect the village. That courtesy extends up to Vera Miles in both the case. As we already know that Hallie is going to end up with Ransom it’s just a matter of how. The film doesn’t intrigue much till the climax where Ransom displays a sudden act of heroism and you see a twist in the story. And in the last twenty minutes when there is election the movie takes a sudden turn and ends up being sarcastic. Even though that part was fun to watch it ended up not fitting the story. It was like a climax scene taken out of a different film.

But all is well that ends well. We see all the characters who were there in flashback in the mortuary, the reporters decide not to publish the story and they take the train back. If you had noticed the train arrives in the first scene and departs in the last one with the frame remaining the same. Nice little touch by John Ford there.

Even though this movie made me a fan of John Wayne I was more impressed by his man Friday Pompey (Woody Strode) who always guards his back no matter water. A kind of quiet Joe Pesci act.


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