The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Movie Review

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Movie Review

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a 1962 western film directed by John Ford and starring James Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin. It is one of the finest westerns of all time.

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This is the West, sir.

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Movie Review

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This is an incredible film with a phenomenal story. Its clash of two stars and true legends was not just done for the sake of being cool, but for the sake of the story too. This is one of those westerns which transcended the limitations of the genre and thus ended up being a masterpiece and a classic for all ages. It transcended that with a great story with many clever themes beautifully explored.

It is at its core a story about the modernization and the democratization of the Old West. It is also about politics as it has quite a lot of politics in it – early politicization of the region is well explored and the rise to political power is also very well conveyed along with the legend becoming a fact phenomenon. It is in fact one of the best political movies that I have ever seen.

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Movie Review

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But the one thing that I took away the most from it is its message about the importance of adaptability. The film showcases how Stewart’s Ranse had to learn how to use a gun and how to defend himself in order to beat Liberty Valance. Despite all his modern, civilized views, he still had to resort to physical confrontation. And I loved that message which may be transgressive, but it is real and truthful. In the real world, even in today’s more organized¬† and lawful society, if you get attacked on the street, no law can protect you in those few minutes and you need to defend yourself physically. It is an important message as it rings true for all eras.

John Wayne is excellent as Tom Doniphon and James Stewart is actually more prominent here and as usual very reliable in the role of Ranse. The casting here is top-notch and just perfect. Wayne plays an old-fashioned man, a redneck whereas Stewart plays a more modern gentleman. But both are great men inside and that’s what matters the most in the end. The casting was great and their performances are perfect leading to such an interesting and highly well developed relationship and dynamic.

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Movie Review

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Liberty Valance is a memorable villain and Lee Marvin is also very well cast as this villainous, aggressive bandit. He is over-the-top, but delightfully so and all of his scenes are quite amusing and he definitely had a memorable menacing presence. Hallie is also excellent, especially for a female in a western flick. I loved how she yearned to learn how to write and read and her relationship with both of her men was superb. And the other characters are your regular goofy sidekicks, but still highly likable and fun, not to mention diverse as you get the stuttering fellow here as well as the drunk and the fatso obsessed with food. All of them really bring a lot to the table in terms of the humor.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has a lot of heart at its core. The ending is truly emotional and simply perfect and unforgettable. I loved all of its more romantic scenes not just with Hallie but also with the notion of nostalgia for home. I loved that ending, but the gunfight is also one of the highlights – short but sweet. The political gatherings were excessive, but mostly very well done and I loved the teaching parts as well. The flashback structure is just amazingly executed here as the beginning gets you interested instantly and the entire story is a flashback that explains everything so well. I have always loved this “beginning is the end” structure and here we got one of the best such examples.

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Movie Review

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The film is gorgeously shot and although the color photography is preferable for this genre and still nobody knows exactly why Ford didn’t do that, I still liked this black-and-white photography and some scene such as the gunfight hugely benefited from it. The score is also quite good and I have to say that even though that twist at the end was a big cop-out, it was still well done and should be obvious as Stewart always played these great men who would never shoot anyone, whether good or bad. The directing from John Ford is stellar, the film is never boring or rushed and the dialogue and humor are both quite solid with a couple of memorable lines and more than a couple of truly funny lines.

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Movie Review

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With excellent direction from John Ford and with absolutely top-notch casting with John Wayne, James Stewart and Lee Marvin all being perfect for their roles and every one of them excelled at them, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance also has a big heart at its core, very strong humor and dialogue and it is a film that favors story over action as it explores the modernization of the Old West, the politics of the 19th century and the phenomenon of the legend becoming a fact. I also really admired its transgressive but very truthful and important message that sometimes the law cannot help you and you have to resort to physical confrontation. Smart, funny and moving with a great flashback structure to it, this film truly is one of the best westerns of all time.

My Rating – 4.5

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Posted in 1960s, 1962, FILM DECADES, MOVIE REVIEWS, Western and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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