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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Starring: John Wayne, James Stewart
Director: John Ford
Rating: 4 / 5
For a man looking to learn a little more about The Duke, I do not know if I could have chosen a better introduction than The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This John Ford film, starring John Wayne and James Stewart, is considered to be one of The Duke's best films, and who am I to argue? Fifty-five years old at the time, Wayne was clearly in the latter half of his film career when Liberty Valance was made in 1962. Nonetheless, he still exudes the same powerful screen presence, and his legendary status is never more apparent. Even if he does spend most of the movie playing second fiddle to fellow luminary James Stewart, John Wayne reminds us once and for all why his legend lives on twenty years after his death.
Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) is a three-term senator and former governor who has returned to the tiny western town of Shinbone to attend the funeral of a dear old friend. Understandably, his arrival has sparked the interest of the local press, for they are eager to learn why a national celebrity would be frequenting such a small, out-of-the-way locale. After all, Ransom was born in the East, and only ventured westward for a short time during his youth. Sensing that he is not going to be able to simply visit Shinbone in peace, Ransom relents and tells the tale of how he came to Shinbone years prior, and how he owes an eternal debt to the deceased, one Mr. Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).
As a young lawyer, Ransom headed out to the great frontier of America, hoping to establish a law practice in an area not yet officially welcomed into the United States of America. On the way, his stage is held up by noted gunman Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), and Ransom is beaten and robbed. Nursed back to health by the tough-but-tender Hallie Stoddard (Vera Miles), Ransom is determined to continue his mission. He intends to bring down Liberty Valance with the law, even as Tom Doniphon, longtime steady of Miss Stoddard, swears that Liberty can only be dealt with using force. Each man possesses an iron will, and it soon becomes apparent that only one man's way will win the day… and the girl.
Director John Ford crafts a superb film, one that examines the waning days of the old west, when civilization was creeping ever onward. John Wayne is less crusty than I remember him, here portraying a tough guy with a heart. James Stewart plays the defiant Ransom Stoddard with typical gusto, even showcasing a pointed vulnerability during some key moments. Outside of Vera Miles, who conveys unmistakable beauty while also exuding frontier ruggedness, the rest of the cast is undistinguished. Lee Marvin's Liberty Valance is a cardboard bad guy, bullying and pushing to get his way. Yet I will not let that change my opinion of the entire film, as it showed this seasoned critic a thing or two about film legends. Though I may never have the same admiration for The Duke that I do for fellow Western pioneer Clint Eastwood, John Wayne will always be welcome on my television screen.
Certification: Not Rated.
Running Time: 123 minutes.
Additional Info: Internet Movie Database
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