Sunday Night Movie: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

libertyFor those who are new to my blog on Sunday nights after my sweetie-wife has retired for the evening I pop in a DVD or Blu-ray and watch a movie. As often as not with a big bowl of pocorn and with all the lights out. It’s the chance during the week for me to watch a film at home the way I prefer to. In a dark room and with a few stops as possible. (Usually none.) Lately I have made it a regular feature on my blog to talk about the films as I watch them.
The week’s movie was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. (1962) This western starred James Stewart, John Wayne, and Vera Mills. If you look my collection of a couple of hundred movies on DVD and Blu-ray you’ll see few westerns. I have not been, in general, a fan of the western genre. The exceptions to this have general been films that go against conventions in telling a western tale. Liberty Valance is just such a movie.
This is a movie about the changing or an era and what that means to the people living through the change. When the film starts Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) arrives in the fiction town of Shin Bone a young lawyer naive and idealistic in the wild west. His introduction into the reality of the untamed west is to be a victim of a stage robbery, beaten by the bandits including Liberty Valance, played perfectly by Lee Marvin. He’s left for dead but survives when he is brought to town by local big man and all-around good guy Tom Donophon (Wayne.)
Now, with a title like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance you might expect that this is an action/adventure kind of western filled with chases, dramatic escapes, and ends with the thug Valance getting his just rewards in the final reel. You’d be wrong. As I said this is a film about change. It is about the frontier giving way to civilization and what that means to the people living in the frontier. Sure it means the end of Valance, but that’s only the end of the second act not the end of the film. Not everyone manages the transition to civilized life and the lost of the frontier is bitter-sweet. LIfe because safe and prosperous and good, but also there is a loss and you can see it in the characters and their relationships.
This film also has a wonderful supporting cast not just in fantastic characters actors – we have so few of them these days and too many stars – but the characters as they are written are fully realized and compelling. A lot of writers could learn from this masterpiece about populating your story with interesting and compelling secondary characters.


One thought on “Sunday Night Movie: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

  1. I rented “Rio Bravo” and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. This film is from before the “spaghetti westerns”, which I care for a good bit less. It was not a deep film but there was human growth and change against a beautiful western backdrop. It is amazing how good black and white can make that part of the world look! Great films, both!

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