The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by
Written by
Based on A 1949 short story 
by Dorothy M. Johnson
Music by
Cinematography William H. Clothier
Edited by Otho Lovering
Paramount Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) April 22, 1962 (1962-04-22)
Running time 123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.2 million
Box office $8,000,000[1]

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.

In 2007, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Senator Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) arrive by train in Shinbone to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). An old cowboy named Pompey (Woody Strode) takes Hallie into the countryside where they view the burned-out remains of Doniphon's house. After her return, as she and Stoddard make their way toward the undertaker's establishment to pay their respects to the deceased, a reporter (Joseph Hoover) approaches and asks 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 several decades to his arrival in Shinbone. His stagecoach is robbed by a gang of outlaws led by gunfighter Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Stoddard is brutally beaten, but is nursed back to health by restaurant owner Peter Ericson (John Qualen), his wife Nora (Jeanette Nolan), and daughter Hallie, who tells him 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.

Penniless after the robbery, Stoddard rooms at the Ericson's restaurant and washes dishes. Stoddard is tripped and humiliated by Valance. Doniphon intervenes; Valance stands down and leaves. Force, Doniphan explains, is the only thing Valance understands; he advises Stoddard to either leave the territory or buy a gun. Stoddard maintains he will do neither; he is an advocate for justice and intends to open a law practice. Many in Shinbone believe him crazy, as this makes him a target for Valance; but Stoddard earns the respect and affection of the town when he founds a school, with the aid of Hallie. He discovers that Hallie cannot read or write, and he offers to teach her. Hallie greatly appreciates his help and her role at Stoddard's school.

Doniphan learns that Stoddard is surreptitiously attempting to teach himself to shoot a gun. He takes Stoddard to his house and gives him a shooting lesson. In the process he shoots a hole in a paint can, splattering paint on Stoddard's suit, and 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. 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 oppose statehood and the new regulations that it would bring, and hire Valance to sabotage the effort. He interrupts the meeting and attempts to bully the townspeople into electing him as a delegate. The townspeople elect Stoddard and Dutton Peabody (Edmond O'Brien), the local newspaper owner, prompting Valance to challenge Stoddard to a duel. Doniphon advises Stoddard to leave town, but he stays.

That evening, Valance and his gang confront Peabody, who has published an unflattering story about the cattle barons' opposition to statehood. They destroy Peabody's newspaper office and assault him. Stoddard goes into the street to face Valance in the duel. In the dark street, Valance toys with Stoddard, firing a bullet into a water-filled bucket, drenching him, then shoots the gun from his hand. After Valance condescendingly allows Stoddard to retrieve his gun, Stoddard fires and kills Valance. Doniphon observes Hallie as she lovingly cares for Stoddard's wounds, confirming his suspicion that she is in love with Stoddard. Doniphon gets drunk in the saloon, then drives out Valance's gang (Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin), who have been calling for Stoddard to be lynched for Valance's "murder". Pompey takes Doniphon home, where, still in a drunken rage, he sets fire to the addition that he has just finished in anticipation of asking Hallie to marry him. Pompey is able to save Doniphon, but the house is destroyed.

Stoddard is hailed as "the man who shot Liberty Valance"; but at the statehood convention he is called out for his "unstatesmanlike" actions by a rival delegate. Stoddard decides that he cannot serve 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 knew Hallie loved Stoddard, and shot Valance to secure her happiness. Reinspired, Stoddard returns to the convention.

The flashback ends; Stoddard informs his interviewer that he married Hallie and served terms as Governor and Ambassador to Great Britain before his election to the U.S. Senate. The reporter now knows the truth about Liberty Valance's death, but he throws his notes into the fire. "This is the West, sir," he explains to Stoddard. "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Stoddard and Hallie board the train for Washington, where he informs Hallie, to her delight, that he plans to retire from politics and return to Shinbone to set up a law practice. When Stoddard thanks the train conductor for the many courtesies extended by the railroad, the conductor replies, "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!"



The film was shot in black-and-white on Paramount sound stages, a marked contrast with Ford's other films of the period, such as The Searchers, which featured vast western landscapes and color photography.[2] Paramount executive A. C. Lyles maintained that Ford wanted to make the picture, but Paramount could not budget the necessary cost. Ford then offered to make it for whatever budget was available, although he had James Stewart and John Wayne, two of the industry's biggest attractions, both at the heights of their careers, lined up to work together for the first time.[3] However, Lee Marvin claimed in a filmed interview that Ford realized that the film would not be as effective shot in color, because the atmosphere and use of shadows would be adversely affected, and insisted on filming in black-and-white.[citation needed]

Ford was known for making life difficult for his casts. About halfway through the filming Wayne asked Stewart why Ford never seemed to put him "in the barrel". Stewart later related in a commentary on John Ford that this eventually circulated through the crew and set, and Stewart began to feel a bit complacent about it. Then, a few days before the end of filming, Ford asked Stewart what he thought of Woody Strode's costume. Stewart responded, "it looks a bit Uncle Remussy to me." Ford then called for the crew's attention and announced that "one of our actors 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."[4] In Michael Munn's 2003 biography of John Wayne, Strode was quoted as saying that Stewart was "one of the nicest men you'll ever meet anywhere in the world".[3]

Wayne made many films with Ford, with whom he was close, but was a frequent target of the director's venomous remarks. Strode claims that Ford "kept needling Duke [Wayne] about his failure to make it as a football player" while Strode was "a real football player". (Wayne's potential career in football had been curtailed by an injury.) Ford also admonished Wayne for failing to serve in World War II, while Stewart was regarded as a war hero: "How rich did you get while Jimmy was risking his life?" Wayne's failure to serve in the conflict was a source of great guilt for him.[5]

Ford's behavior caused Wayne to take his frustrations out on Strode, who believed that they could otherwise have been friends. While filming an exterior shot on a horse-drawn cart, Wayne almost lost control of the horses and knocked Strode away when he tried to help. When the horses did stop, Wayne almost started a fight with Strode, who was much fitter. Ford gave them time to calm down, and Wayne later told Strode that they had to "work together. We both gotta be professionals." Strode blamed Ford's treatment of Wayne for the trouble, adding, "What a miserable film to make".[3]


The film's dramatically hard-driving music score was composed by Cyril J. Mockridge. In certain scenes involving the character of Hallie, Ford used part of Alfred Newman's "Ann Rutledge Theme" from his earlier film Young Mr. Lincoln. Ford told Peter Bogdanovich in the latter's book John Ford that the theme evoked the same meaning, lost love, in both films.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David later wrote a song based upon the plotline of the movie and called "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", which became a Top 10 hit for Gene Pitney but was not used in the film. Apparently, Pitney was not asked to record it until after the film came out.[6] The chorus of the Pitney recording features two hard strikes on a drum by session drummer Gary Chester in order to represent the shots that were fired. Jimmie Rodgers also recorded the song, in the Gene Pitney style. James Taylor covered the song on his 1985 album That's Why I'm Here. The Royal Guardsmen also covered the song on their 1967 album Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. It was also covered by the Australian rock band Regurgitator on the 1998 Hal David and Burt Bacharach tribute album, To Hal and Bacharach.

Location of film[edit]

The film appears to be set somewhere in the Southwestern United States in the 1870s or 1880s, but the exact setting is vague (e.g. the reference to "Capital city") and a few historical and geographical clues cannot be fully reconciled. There are frequent references to the "Picketwire River", an aberrational name for the Purgatoire River in southeastern Colorado. Very early we see the sign "Cantina" above the saloon, suggesting somewhere with a Mexican influence. The US flag in the schoolroom scene has 38 stars, dating the film after Colorado became the 38th state in 1876. Saguaro cacti are visible in parts of the film; the only section of the US where this plant is native is the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and a small area in California. Arizona and New Mexico became states in 1912, too late to be the setting. (California gained statehood in 1850.)

The movie was filmed on location in California in Thousand Oaks and Jamestown, and at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood.


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was an instant hit when released in April 1962, thanks to its classic story and popular stars John Wayne and James Stewart. Produced on a budget of $3.2 million, the film grossed $8 million at the box office,[1] making it the 16th highest grossing film of 1962. Edith Head's costumes for the film were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, one of the few westerns ever nominated for the award. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has continued its popularity through repeated television broadcasts and the rental market. It is also widely considered one of director John Ford's best westerns, and generally ranks alongside Red River, The Searchers, and Stagecoach as one of John Wayne's best films.

Sergio Leone, director of such classic Westerns as Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and one of the directors Ford influenced the most, said it was his favorite John Ford film because "it was the only film where he (Ford) learned about something called pessimism."[citation needed]

American Film Institute Nominations[edit]


Stewart was given top billing over Wayne in the film's posters and previews, but in the film itself Wayne has top billing. Their names are displayed on pictures of signposts, one after the other, with Wayne's name shown first and slightly higher on its post. Ford remarked in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich that he made it apparent to the audience that Vera Miles' character had never gotten over Tom Doniphon because "I wanted Wayne to be the lead."[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The Numbers. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  2. ^ The Fourth Virgin Film Guide, edited by James Pallot and the editors of Cinebook; published by Virgin Books in 1995
  3. ^ a b c John Wayne – The Man Behind The Myth by Michael Munn, published by Robson Books, 2004
  4. ^ McBride, Joseph (2003). Searching For John Ford: A Life. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 631. ISBN 0-312-31011-0. 
  5. ^ Wayne, Pilar. John Wayne, pp. 43–47.
  6. ^ Gene Pitney, Who Sang of 60's Teenage Pathos, Dies at 65
  7. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees
  8. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
  9. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  10. ^ Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich

External links[edit]