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USA 1962
Directed by
John Ford
124 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The presence of Jimmy Stewart and the insistent theme of the rights of the common man gives Ford’s last Western of note and the last he made with John Wayne has a decidedly Capraesque feel. Particularly as Ford shot it in black and white, it looks like an old-fashioned Wild West yarn with Lee Marvin obliging as the sociopathic Liberty Valance and Wayne giving a strong performance as the tough old cow poke, Ton Doniphon. Stewart however, in his mid-fifties but spending most of the film as a supposedly callow young lawyer and relying on his “gee shucks” Mr Avearge characterisations from his work with Capra in the 40s, gives the film a decidedly laboured feel (he is much better as his older senatorial self). Edmond O’Brien, however, gives an excellent comic performance as Dutton Peabody, owner of The Shinbone Star, whilst the presence of Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin as Valance's stooges presages the coming of the post-Fordian Western

Ending with the famous line "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend" the film harks back to Ford’s Fort Apache (1948) which looked at the role of the media in creating popular myth. There it was interpreted as a kind of military expediency, here it is given a rather more tragic tone thanks to the fact that Wayne’s character lost his girl Hallie (Vera Miles) and his dream of home and family by giving birth to it. Such, one might say, is the wisdom of years and the film’s title has a beautifully ironic twist that makes this a Western of unusual insight.

 

 

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