The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
|The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Ford|
|Based on||A 1949 short story
by Dorothy M. Johnson
|Cinematography||William H. Clothier|
|Edited by||Otho Lovering|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||123 minutes|
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a 1962 American Western film directed by John Ford starring James Stewart and John Wayne. The black-and-white film was released by Paramount Pictures. The screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck was adapted from a short story written by Dorothy M. Johnson. The supporting cast features Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Strother Martin, and Lee Van Cleef.
Senator Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) arrive in the frontier town of Shinbone by train to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). As they make their way toward the undertaker's establishment to pay their respects to the deceased, a reporter (Joseph Hoover) and his editor, Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young) approach and ask Stoddard to explain why a United States Senator would make the long journey from Washington just to attend the funeral of a local rancher.
Stoddard's story flashes back 25 years to his arrival in Shinbone as a young, idealistic attorney. His stagecoach is robbed by a gang of outlaws led by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). When Stoddard takes Valance to task for robbing old ladies of their heirlooms, he is brutally beaten. In town, restaurant owner Peter Ericson (John Qualen), his wife Nora (Jeanette Nolan), and employee Hallie tend to his injuries, and explain that Shinbone's townsfolk are regularly victimized by Valance. Link Appleyard (Andy Devine), the town marshal, has neither the courage nor the gunfighting skills to challenge Valance; Doniphon (who loves Hallie and plans to ask her to marry him) is the only man willing to stand up to him.
When Stoddard, the naive "pilgrim" (as Doniphon dubs him), opens a law practice in town, Doniphon and many others believe him crazy for inviting retribution from Valance, who cannot abide any challenge to his "authority". Force, Doniphan explains, is the only thing Valance understands; he advises Stoddard to either flee the territory or buy a gun. Stoddard maintains he will do neither; he is an advocate for justice under the law, not brute force. He earns the town's respect by refusing to knuckle under to Valance, and by founding a school to teach reading and writing to illiterate townspeople — including Hallie.
Stoddard does buy a gun, however; and when Doniphon sees that he is trying to teach himself to use it, he brings Stoddard to his house for a shooting lesson. During target practice he shoots a hole in a paint can, splattering paint on Stoddard's suit, explaining that this is the sort of trickery that he can expect from Valance. Infuriated, Stoddard punches him in the jaw and leaves.
Shinbone's residents meet to elect two delegates for a statehood convention at the territorial capital. Doniphon nominates Stoddard for one of the positions, because he "knows the law, and throws a mean punch". Stoddard addresses the group, explaining that statehood will benefit the people of the territory through improvements in infrastructure, safety, and education. The area's cattle barons, who oppose statehood and the new regulations that it would bring, hire Valance to sabotage the effort. He interrupts the meeting and attempts to bully the townspeople into electing him as a delegate, but Stoddard defies him yet again. The townspeople elect Stoddard and Dutton Peabody (Edmond O'Brien), publisher of the local newspaper, prompting Valance to challenge Stoddard to a gunfight. Doniphon again advises Stoddard to leave town, but Stoddard maintains that he still believes in the rule of law (even though Link will do nothing to help him), and he is willing to risk his life for his principles.
That evening, after Valance and his gang (Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin) assault Peabody and trash his newspaper office, Stoddard goes into the street to face Valance. Valance toys with Stoddard, shooting a pottery vase near his head, and then his right arm, knocking his gun to the ground. He condescendingly allows Stoddard to retrieve his gun. The next bullet, he says, will be "right between the eyes"; but Stoddard fires first, and to everyone's shock, Valance falls dead. Doniphon watches Hallie as she lovingly cares for Stoddard's wounds, then heads for the saloon to drown his sorrows. At his homestead, in a drunken rage, he sets fire to the addition that he has just finished in anticipation of asking Hallie to marry him. His ranch hand, Pompey (Woody Strode), rescues him from the inferno, but the house is destroyed.
At the statehood convention, Peabody nominates Stoddard as the territory's delegate to Washington, but his "unstatesmanlike" conduct is challenged by a rival candidate. Stoddard decides that his opponent is right; he cannot be entrusted with public service after killing a man in a gunfight. Seeing Stoddard's reluctance, Doniphon takes him aside and confides that he, Doniphon, actually killed Valance from an alley across the street, firing at the same time as Stoddard. Doniphon explains that he knows Hallie loves Stoddard; he shot Valance to secure her happiness. Reinspired, Stoddard returns to the convention, accepts the nomination, and is elected to the Washington delegation.
The flashback ends, and Stoddard fills in the intervening years: He married Hallie, and then, on the strength of his reputation as "the man who shot Liberty Valance", became the first Governor of the newly minted state. He then served as Ambassador to Great Britain before his election to the U.S. Senate. Scott now knows the truth about Valance's death; but after some reflection he throws his notes into the fire. "This is the West, sir," he explains. "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." On the train back to Washington, Stoddard informs Hallie, to her delight, that he has decided to retire from politics and practice law in Shinbone. When Stoddard tells the train conductor (Willis Bouchey) that he will write to railroad officials, thanking them for their many courtesies in expediting his trip back to Washington, the conductor replies, "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!"
In contrast to prior John Ford westerns, such as The Searchers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Liberty Valance was shot in black and white on Paramount's sound stages. Multiple stories and speculations exist to explain this decision. Ford claimed to prefer the black and white medium over color: "In black and white, you've got to be very careful. You've got to know your job, lay your shadows in properly, get your perspective right, but in color, there it is," he said. "You might say I'm old fashioned, but black and white is real photography." Others have interpreted the absence of magnificent outdoor vistas so prevalent in earlier Ford films as "a fundamental reimagining [by Ford] of his mythic West" — a grittier, less romantic, more realistic portrayal of frontier life. A more pragmatic interpretation cites the fact that Wayne and Stewart — two of Hollywood's biggest stars, working together for the first time — were considerably older (54 and 53, respectively) than the characters they were playing. Filming in black and white helped ease the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept that disparity. According to cinematographer William H. Clothier, however, "There was one reason and one reason only ... Paramount was cutting costs. Otherwise we would have been in Monument Valley or Brackettville and we would have had color stock. Ford had to accept those terms or not make the film."
Another condition imposed by the studio, according to Lee Van Cleef, was that Wayne be cast as Doniphon. Ford resented the studio's intrusion, and retaliated by taunting Wayne relentlessly throughout the filming. "He didn't want Duke to think he was doing him any favors," Van Cleef said. Woody Strode recounted that Ford "kept needling Duke about his failure to make it as a football player", comparing him to Strode (a former NFL running back), whom he pronounced "a real football player". (Wayne's football career at USC had been curtailed by injuries.) Ford also ridiculed Wayne for failing to enlist during World War II, where Stewart served with distinction as a bomber pilot: "How rich did you get while Jimmy was risking his life?" Wayne's avoidance of wartime service was a major source of guilt for him in later years.
Stewart related that midway through filming, Wayne asked him why he, Stewart, never seemed to be the target of Ford's venomous remarks. Other cast- and crew-members also noticed Stewart's apparent immunity from Ford's abuse. Then, toward the end of filming, Ford asked Stewart what he thought of Strode's costume for the film's beginning and end, when the actors were playing their parts 25 years older. Stewart replied, "It looks a bit Uncle Remussy to me." Ford responded, "What's wrong with Uncle Remus?" He called for the crew's attention and announced, "One of our players doesn't like Woody's costume. Now, I don't know if Mr. Stewart has a prejudice against Negroes, but I just wanted you all to know about it." Stewart said he "wanted to crawl into a mouse hole"; but Wayne told him, "Well, welcome to the club. I'm glad you made it."
Ford's behavior "...really pissed Wayne off," Strode said, "but he would never take it out on Ford," the man largely responsible for his rise to stardom. "He ended up taking it out on me." While filming an exterior shot on a horse-drawn cart, Wayne almost lost control of the horses, and knocked Strode away when he attempted to help. When the horses did stop, Wayne tried to pick a fight with the younger and fitter Strode; Ford called out, "Don't hit him, Woody, we need him." Wayne later told Strode, "We gotta work together. We both gotta be professionals." Strode blamed Ford for nearly all the friction on the set. "What a miserable film to make," he added.
The film's music score was composed by Cyril J. Mockridge. In certain scenes involving the Hallie character, Ford used excerpts from Alfred Newman's "Ann Rutledge Theme", from his earlier film Young Mr. Lincoln. Ford told Peter Bogdanovich in the book John Ford that the theme evoked the same meaning, lost love, in both films.
The Burt Bacharach-Hal David song "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" became a Top 10 hit for Gene Pitney. Though based upon the movie's plotline, it was not used in the film. Pitney said in an interview that he was in the studio about to record the song when "... Bacharach informed us that the film just came out." Regardless, the song went to No. 4. Jimmie Rodgers also recorded the song, in the Gene Pitney style. James Taylor covered it on his 1985 album That's Why I'm Here, as did The Royal Guardsmen on their 1967 album Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. It was also covered by the Australian rock band Regurgitator on the 1998 David/Bacharach tribute album To Hal and Bacharach.
Liberty Valance was released in April 1962, and achieved both financial and critical success. Produced for $3.2 million, it grossed $8 million, making it the 16th highest grossing film of 1962. Edith Head's costumes were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (black-and-white), one of the few westerns ever nominated in that category. The film is considered one of Ford's best and, in one poll, ranked with The Searchers and The Shootist as one of Wayne's best westerns.
Roger Ebert wrote that each of the ten Ford/Wayne westerns is "... complete and self-contained in a way that approaches perfection", and singled out Liberty Valance as "the most pensive and thoughtful" of the group. Director Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) listed Ford as a major influence on his work, and Liberty Valance as his favorite Ford film. "It was the only film," he said, "where [Ford] learned about something called pessimism."
In a retrospective analysis, the New York Times called Liberty Valance "...one of the great Western classics," because "it questions the role of myth in forging the legends of the West, while setting this theme in the elegiac atmosphere of the West itself, set off by the aging Stewart and Wayne." The New Yorker's Richard Brody described it as "...the greatest American political movie", because of its depictions of the role of a free press, the function of a town meeting, the debate about statehood, and the "civilizing influence" of education in frontier America.
American Film Institute listings
- AFI's 100 Years...Heroes & Villains - Tom Doniphon
- AFI's 100 Years...Movie Quotes - "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Stewart was given top billing over Wayne in the film's promotional posters, but in the film itself Wayne's screen card appears first, followed by Stewart's. In addition, the studio specified that Wayne's name appear before Stewart's on theatre marquees, reportedly at Ford's request. "Wayne actually played the lead," he told Peter Bogdanovich. "Jimmy Stewart had most of the scenes, but Wayne was the central character, the motivation for the whole thing."
- Box Office Information for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The Numbers. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
- McBride (2003), p. 306
- Coursen, D (May 21, 2009). John Ford’s Wilderness: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Parallax View. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
- McBride (2003), p. 312
- Munn (2004), p. 232
- Munn (2004), p. 233
- Wayne, Pilar. John Wayne, pp. 43–47.
- McBride, Joseph (2003). Searching For John Ford: A Life. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 631. ISBN 0-312-31011-0.
- Munn (2004), p. 234
- Gene Pitney, Who Sang of 60's Teenage Pathos, Dies at 65
- The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners. Oscars.org. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
- Top 7 John Ford films (because we couldn’t pick just 5). movie mail.com. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
- Readers suggest the 10 best westerns. guardian.com archive. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
- Ebert, R (December 28, 2011). The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. rogerebert.com archive. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
- Nixon, R. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Turner Classic Movies archive. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
- Erickson, H. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. New York Times archive. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
- Ebert, R (December 28, 2011). The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. rogerebert.com archive. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
- Matthews, L. History of Western Movies. Crescent (1984), p. 132. ISBN 0517414759
- Bogdanovich, P. John Ford. University of California Press (1978), p. 99. ISBN 0520034988
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- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at AllMovie
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- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at the TCM Movie Database
- The Gene Pitney song that told the story at imeem.com