cover - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Again I have the experience of watching straight through a movie that I had always heard about, but never actually watched; I like to think of this permitting me to watch it fresh, and to see the movie on its own terms – purely as a movie, a bit of entertainment, an agreeable way of spending an evening.

It’s a twilight movie, an elegy for a West that was already gone, and perhaps never really existed, save in the minds of movie-makers like John Ford – and fitting that this should be nearly his last notable film. Fitting also that it should have been shot in black and white (restored lovingly, to velvety black and creamy white), and that so much of it takes place at night. The plot is as simple as one of Aesop’s fables, much of it told in flash-back; the return of a notable man, Senator Ransome Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) to the town of Shinbone, on the daily train. Where Shinbone is, exactly in the west is never quite made clear, but it is a pretty, prosperous and well-established place – but some thirty years before, the senator began his political career there, a young and idealistic lawyer from the east. Then Shinbone was rough and lawless, raw and just barely connected to the greater world with a stage line – and also frequently terrorized by a gang of roughs led by the Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) of the title. Valance is a psychotic thug – and about the only man in town with the guts to stand up to him is rancher Tom Doniphan (John Wayne). How Doniphan and Stoddard first collide with each other as rivals for Hallie, and then ally against Valance forms the rest of the story – and something of the heartbreak. For Doniphan is the man of the early west, the independent and self-reliant sort, who carries his own law, his code of honor within himself; Stoddard is a man of the new west, of laws and books. No less stubborn, no less honorable – but haunted by the knowledge that his political reputation was built on an act which was publicly credited to him, yet actually performed by another. Decades later, after Doniphan’s own death Stoddard attempts to set the record straight, but is rebuffed; “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” answers the newspaperman, as he tears up his notes – perhaps the saddest scene in the whole movie.

The extras consist of a long series of linked interviews, focusing on various aspects and stars – Wayne, Steward and Marvin (whose first major role this was, and did he have a lot of gleeful fun with it!) – and featuring archived footage of a very young Peter Bogdonovich trying to drag answers out of a grumpy and barely cooperating John Ford by hook and by crook.

This DVD release is now available through and other retail outlets.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and contributes to the on-line literary magazine, The Deepening. Her current book project, “The Adelsverein Trilogy” is also available at and selected local outlets. More about her books is at her website

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