“When Liberty Valance rode to town the womenfolk would hide…” So begins the song made famous by Gene Pitney about the gunslinger who terrorized the citizens of Shinbone and how he met his match in the guise of a mild-mannered lawyer. But who WAS the man who shot Liberty Valance?
One of the final films made in the last decade of director John Ford’s life, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is full of all of the things that made Ford one of the greatest directors of all time. The story begins with Senator Rance Stoddard (Stewart) and his wife, Hallie (a very strong Vera Miles) making a visit to the town of Shinbone, where a long time ago the two met and fell in love. While giving an interview to the local paper, Senator Stoddard begins to reminisce himself. We return with him to a stagecoach on a deserted road. Suddenly, a gang of baddies spring from the bushes and robs it. When one of the robbers gets rough with a lady passenger, young Mr. Stoddard intervenes. In doing so, he incurs the wrath of the gang’s leader, Liberty Valance (Marvin). Liberty, never too far from his silver handled whip, gives Rance a beating. He is brought into town and given a place to stay with Hallie’s family, who own a restaurant. Wanting to work for his keep, Rance lends a hand, only to come face to face with Liberty again. However, before things get too out of hand, the situation is defused by Tom Doniphon (Wayne), who appears to be the only person in town that Liberty fears. Things get progressively worse until Liberty gives Rance an ultimatum: leave town or meet him in the street.
I’d forgotten how much I loved this film. Long before the days of cable television, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE was a staple of late night television and I tried to catch it whenever I could stay up. James Stewart had a way of being able to play “Everyman” and he does a fine job of it here. Wayne is also good here, playing the strong, silent hero with ease. And for those of you who always wonder why people always use the word “Pilgrim” when they imitate Wayne, it’s because Wayne says it (repeatedly) here. As Liberty, Lee Marvin is one nasty S.O.B. Like Ernest Borgnine in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, he oozes evil. In fact, every cast member is solid, including Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin as Liberty’s hench men, Edmund O’Brien as the local newspaper editor and Woody Strode as Doniphon’s assistant, Pompey. Showing he was ahead of his time, Ford includes a scene where Stoddard is teaching many of the local townsfolk how to read, using the Declaration of Independence as his textbook. When he asks Pompey, who is black, to read the preamble, he stalls at the part which states “all men are created equal.” Stoddard reads the line and comments that the line is sadly often overlooked, even then.
If you’re a fan of the film, you owe it to yourself to watch it again. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you give it a try. I guarantee you’ll like it, Pilgrim!
Video: Presented in a 1:78.1 aspect ratio, the picture is quite sharp and clear. Not sure if a new negative was struck or not but the transfer here is well done.
Audio: The soundtrack is delivered in both Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 for English. You can find the following languages as well in Dolby Digital 2.0: French, German, Italian and Spanish. The sound come through loud and clear.
Sadly, there are no Extras on this disc.