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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Screenplay by
Based on"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"
by Dorothy M. Johnson
Produced byWillis Goldbeck
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byOtho Lovering
Music byCyril J. Mockridge
Color processBlack and white
John Ford Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • April 22, 1962 (1962-04-22) (USA)[1]
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.2 million
Box office$8 million[2] or $3.2 million (US/Canada)[3]

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (/ˈvæləns/) is a 1962 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and James Stewart. The screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck was adapted from a 1953 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".[4][5]



Near the turn of the 20th century, U.S. Senator Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard and his wife Hallie arrive in Shinbone, a frontier town in an unnamed Western state, to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon. When asked by the local newspaper reporter why a senator would attend the funeral of a poor rancher, Stoddard answers with a story that flashes back 25 years.

Entering the then-unincorporated territory as a young lawyer, Ranse is beaten and robbed by infamous outlaw Liberty Valance and his gang. Tom Doniphon and his handyman, Pompey, find Ranse and take him to Shinbone, where Tom's girlfriend, Hallie, treats his wounds. Ranse learns Valance frequently terrorizes Shinbone and the surrounding country since the local marshal, Link Appleyard, is too cowardly to stop him. Tom says Valance only understands force, but Ranse is determined to bring Valance to justice through the law.

While establishing his practice, Ranse buses tables at Peter Ericson's steakhouse, where Hallie works, and befriends Dutton Peabody, the editor of the Shinbone Star newspaper. After learning Hallie is illiterate, Ranse opens a school for children and adults in the back of the newspaper's office. He also begins practicing with Peabody's old gun after Valance bullies him in the restaurant. Hallie tells Tom of Ranse's gun practice. Tom takes Ranse to his ranch for a shooting lesson, shows off renovations that are intended for his planned marriage to Hallie and makes those intentions clear to Ranse. During the lesson, he tricks Ranse by shooting a paint can above his head and staining his clothes, telling Ranse he can expect the same kind of trickery from Valance. Ranse angrily punches Tom and leaves.

Shinbone's men meet to elect two delegates to the upcoming statehood convention at the territorial capital. Tom refuses Ranse's nomination; ultimately, Ranse and Peabody are elected. Valance, hired by the cattle barons who oppose statehood, fails to intimidate the voters into selecting him. Valance challenges Ranse to a gunfight. Tom offers to assist Ranse in leaving town, but Ranse stubbornly declines.

That evening, Valance and his gang vandalize the newspaper office and severely injure Peabody for reporting Valance's murder of a local farmer. Ranse arms himself and goes after Valance; even drunk, Valance easily wounds and disarms Ranse, then prepares to kill him. Ranse retrieves his gun and shoots, and Valance falls dead. Ranse returns to Ericson's, where Hallie treats his wounded arm; Tom enters and sees Hallie's affection for Ranse as she attends his wounds. He gets drunk and forces Appleyard to run Valance's men out of town. Tom then attempts suicide by setting fire to his house, but Pompey rescues him.

At the territorial convention, Ranse is nominated for delegate to Congress, but withdraws after a representative of the cattle barons accuses him of building a career from murdering a man. Tom arrives and explains to Ranse that it was he who killed Valance; knowing that Ranse could not beat Valance, Tom shot him with Pompey's rifle at the same time Ranse fired. Tom encourages Ranse to accept the nomination for Hallie's sake before quietly walking out of the convention.

In the present, Ranse's rising political achievements – state governor, senator, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and likely vice-presidential nominee in the upcoming election – fill the intervening years. The newspaper editor decides publishing the story would ruin Ranse's legacy, burns the reporter's notes, and leaves Ranse to conduct Tom's funeral. When Ranse asks why, the editor says "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

On the return trip to Washington, D.C., Ranse contemplates retiring to Shinbone, which pleases Hallie. Hallie admits placing a cactus rose on Tom's coffin, a plant Tom knew Hallie liked. As Ranse thanks the train conductor for the railroad's courtesies, the conductor answers, "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!"




Publicity stills from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

In contrast to prior John Ford Westerns, such as The Searchers (1956) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was shot in black-and-white on Paramount's soundstages. Many stories and speculations exist to explain this decision. Ford preferred that 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."[6] Ford also reportedly argued that the climactic shoot-out between Valance and Stoddard would not have worked in color.[7]

Others have interpreted the absence of the magnificent outdoor vistas so prevalent in earlier Ford Westerns as "a fundamental reimagining [by Ford] of his mythic West" – a grittier, less romantic, more realistic portrayal of frontier life.[8] 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.[9] 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."[10]

Another condition imposed by the studio, according to 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 [Wayne] to think he was doing him any favors," Van Cleef said.[11] 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.) He also ridiculed Wayne for failing to enlist during World War II, during which Ford filmed a series of widely praised combat documentaries for the Office of Strategic Services and was wounded at the Battle of Midway,[12] and Stewart served with distinction as a bomber pilot and commanded a bomber group. "How rich did you get while Jimmy was risking his life?" he demanded. Wayne's avoidance of wartime service was a major source of guilt for him in his later years.[13]

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."[11][14]

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.[15]

Stewart received top billing over Wayne on promotional posters and in the trailers, but in the film itself, Wayne's screen card appears first and slightly higher on a sign post. The studio also specified that Wayne's name appear before Stewart's on theatre marquees, reportedly at Ford's request.[16] "Wayne actually played the lead," Ford said, to Peter Bogdanovich. "Jimmy Stewart had most of the sides [sequences with dialogue], but Wayne was the central character, the motivation for the whole thing."[17]

Parts of the film were shot in Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, California.[18][19]



The film's music score was composed by Cyril J. Mockridge, but in scenes involving Hallie's relationships with Doniphon and Stoddard, Ford reprised Alfred Newman's "Ann Rutledge Theme", from Young Mr. Lincoln. He told Bogdanovich that he used the theme in both films to evoke repressed desire and lost love.[20] The film scholar Kathryn Kalinak notes that Ann Rutledge's theme "encodes longing" and "fleshes out the failed love affair between Hallie and Tom Doniphon, the growing love between Hallie and Ranse Stoddard, and the traumatic loss experienced by Hallie over her choice of one over the other, none of which is clearly articulated by dialogue."[21] Portions of the song "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" are played in scenes by bar musicians and a marching band.

Mockridge's main theme that opens the picture can also be heard, in a somewhat different form, in a trailer for River of No Return with Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe released in 1953.

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." It seems unlikely that the song would be used for the opening credits since its lyrics give the film's surprise ending away. The picture was released April 18, 1962, and the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 the week ending April 28, 1962, peaking at number four in June.[22] 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 Australian rock band Regurgitator on its 1998 David/Bacharach tribute album To Hal and Bacharach. In 2010, the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the top 100 Western songs of all time.[23]



The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was released in April 1962, and achieved both financial and critical success. Produced for $US3.2 million, it grossed $8 million,[2] making it the 15th-highest grossing film of 1962. According to Kinematograph Weekly the film was considered a "money maker" at the British box office in 1962.[24]

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.[25]

Contemporary reviews were generally positive, although a number of critics thought the final act was a letdown. Variety called the film "entertaining and emotionally involving," but thought if the film had ended 20 minutes earlier, "it would have been a taut, cumulative study of the irony of heroic destiny," instead of concluding with "condescending, melodramatic, anticlimactic strokes. What should have been left to enthrall the imagination is spelled out until there is nothing left to savor or discuss."[26]

The Monthly Film Bulletin agreed, lamenting that the "final anticlimactic 20 minutes ... all but destroy the value of the disarming simplicity and natural warmth which are Ford's everlasting stock-in-trade." Despite this, the review maintained that the film "has more than enough gusto to see it through," and that Ford had "lost none of his talent for catching the real heart, humor and violent flavor of the Old West in spite of the notable rustiness of his technique."[27] A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that "Mr. Ford, who has struck more gold in the West than any other film-maker, also has mined a rich vein here," but opined that the film "bogs down" once Stoddard becomes famous, en route to "an obvious, overlong, and garrulous anticlimax."[28]

Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film "a leisurely yarn boasting fine performances," but was bothered by "the incredulous fact that the lively townsfolk of Shinbone didn't polish off Valence [sic] for themselves. On TV, he would have been dispatched by the second commercial, and the villainy would have passed to some shadowy employer, some ruthless rancher who didn't want statehood."[29] John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Director Ford is guilty of a few lengthy, slow periods in his story-telling, but for the most part the old, reliable Ford touches are there."[30] Harrison's Reports gave the film a grade of "Very Good",[31] but Brendan Gill of The New Yorker was negative and called it "a parody of Mr. Ford's best work."[32]

More recent assessments have been more uniformly positive. The film is considered one of Ford's best,[33] and in one poll, ranked with The Searchers and The Shootist as one of Wayne's best Westerns.[34] Roger Ebert wrote that each of the 10 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.[35] 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."[36] 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."[37] The New Yorker's Richard Brody described it as "the greatest American political movie",[38][39] because of its depictions of a free press, town meetings, statehood debates, and the "civilizing influence" of education in frontier America. According to scholar Victor Bruno, the film uses the symbolism of the wilderness and the garden to represent the roles of the cowboy Doniphon and the civilized Stoddard. Bruno points out that after allowing Stoddard to receive the credit for Valance's death, Doniphon "sets fire to his own house, bringing about a process akin to ekpyrosis that razes his existence to the ground. To the day of his death, Doniphon becomes an ossified man — literally a fossil of a being that lived in a previous era."[40] However, contrary to most opinions about the film, Bruno believes that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is Ford's indictment of America's increasingly "antimythological" character. "It is not a wonder that Ford begins his 'Age of Mortality' with such a bleak picture. When the mystical storyteller starts to face death, he must highlight the imperfections of his environment, which is truly himself, so he can face death free of sins.[40]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also



  1. ^ "This Week's Movie Openings". Los Angeles Times. April 15, 1962. Calendar, p. 18.
  2. ^ a b "Box Office Information for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". The Numbers. Archived from the original on June 10, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  3. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1962". Variety. January 9, 1963. p. 13. Please note these are rentals and not gross figures
  4. ^ "Librarian of Congress Announces National Film Registry Selections for 2007". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on October 14, 2020. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  5. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on October 31, 2016. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  6. ^ McBride (2003), p. 306
  7. ^ Kalinak (2007), p. 96
  8. ^ Coursen, D. (May 21, 2009). "John Ford's Wilderness: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Parallax View. Archived from the original on September 11, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
  9. ^ McBride (2003), p. 312
  10. ^ Munn (2004), p. 232
  11. ^ a b Munn (2004), p. 233
  12. ^ "A Look Back ... John Ford: War Movies". cia.gov. Archived from the original on December 13, 2014. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  13. ^ Wayne, Pilar. John Wayne. pp. 43–47.
  14. ^ McBride (2003), p. 631
  15. ^ Munn (2004), p. 234
  16. ^ Matthews, L. (1984). History of Western Movies. Crescent. p. 132. ISBN 0517414759.
  17. ^ Bogdanovich (1978), p. 99
  18. ^ Schneider, Jerry L. (2015). Western Filming Locations, Book 1. CP Entertainment Books. p. 116. ISBN 9780692561348.
  19. ^ Fleming, E.J. (2010). The Movieland Directory: Nearly 30,000 Addresses of Celebrity Homes, Film Locations and Historical Sites in the Los Angeles Area, 1900–Present. McFarland. p. 48. ISBN 9781476604329.
  20. ^ Bogdanovich (1978), pp. 95–96
  21. ^ Kalinak (2007), pp. 96–98.
  22. ^ Sisario, Ben (April 6, 2006). "Gene Pitney, Who Sang of 60's Teenage Pathos, Dies at 65". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  23. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on October 19, 2010.
  24. ^ Billings, Josh (December 13, 1962). "Three British Films Head the General Releases". Kinematograph Weekly. p. 7. Retrieved March 7, 2023.
  25. ^ "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Archived from the original on February 2, 2018. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  26. ^ "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Variety: 6. April 11, 1962.
  27. ^ "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 29 (341): 78. June 1962.
  28. ^ Weiler, A. H. (May 24, 1962). "'Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' Opens at Capitol Theatre". The New York Times: 29. Archived from the original on April 17, 2019. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
  29. ^ Coe, Richard L. (April 21, 1962). "Way in Egg Role". The Washington Post. p. C9.
  30. ^ Scott, John L. (April 20, 1962). "'Liberty Valance' Tale of Frontier Violence". Los Angeles Times: Part IV, p. 10.
  31. ^ "Film Review: 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'". Harrison's Reports: 58. April 21, 1962.
  32. ^ Gill, Brendan (June 16, 1962). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 102.
  33. ^ "Top 7 John Ford films (because we couldn't pick just 5)". movie mail.com. Archived from the original on September 16, 2014. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  34. ^ Readers, Guardian (July 31, 2013). "Readers suggest the 10 best westerns". The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 11, 2017. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  35. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 28, 2011). "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". rogerebert.com archive. Archived from the original on December 2, 2017. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  36. ^ Nixon, R. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Turner Classic Movies archive. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  37. ^ Erickson, H. (2013). "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 1, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  38. ^ Brody, Richard (October 21, 2009). "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
  39. ^ Brody, Richard (October 26, 2009). "Now Playing:The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". The New Yorker. p. 26. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
  40. ^ a b Bruno, Victor (2021–2022). "Mythology and Antimythology in John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"". Studii şi cercetări de istoria artei. Teatru, muzică, cinematografie. 15–16 (59–60).
  41. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). AFI. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 21, 2015. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  42. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). AFI. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  43. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). AFI. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

Further reading

  • Bogdanovich, P. (1978). John Ford. University of California Press. ISBN 0520034988.
  • Kalinak, K. (2007). How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520252349.
  • McBride, Joseph (2003). Searching For John Ford: A Life. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-31011-0.
  • Munn, Michael (2004). John Wayne – The Man Behind The Myth. Robson Books.