DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    John Wayne as TOM DONIPHON
    James Stewart as RANSOM STODDARD
    Vera Miles as HALLIE STODDARD
    Lee Marvin as LIBERTY VALANCE
    Edmond O’Brien as DUTTON PEABODY

    Not Rated
    Studio: Paramount

    Directed by: John Ford

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Years after the lawless town of Shinbone was cleaned up and the railroad came to town, Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) returns home for the funeral of the relatively unknown man name Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). While there, Ransom tells how Tom helped save the town from the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Ransom had come to town to be a lawyer, and Tom was the only tough guy that would stand up to him. Ransom and Tom had their differences, but they put them aside to solve the town’s problem of Liberty Valance.

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was directed by John Ford, who had a fine history of Western tales on his resume. This film takes a more subdued approach to the stereotypical shoot-em-up that you might think of when you think of the genre.

Told largely from Ransom’s point of view, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” comes from a somewhat pacifistic angle. There’s a lot of message to be digested with this film, in that Ransom believes in the rule of law while both Liberty and Tom believe in the rule of the gun. Unfortunately, in the land of Shinbone, it is often the gun that wins over the law.

Looking at this film from the 21st century, it’s easy to dismiss it as a run-of-the-mill western from the 60s. However, the movie gives the viewer a chance to see some excellent classic actors share the screen together – and often at the same time. John Wayne, James Stewart and Lee Marvin capture the audience’s attention and threaten to steal the spotlight from the classic director Ford.

As the country slid to a more sensitive time, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” went down a contemplative path. It challenges the audience to think about which authority is greater – the law enforced miles away or the gun in the hand of outlaws and frontiersmen. The movie does not offer a clean-cut look at morality and heroes, who emerge from a reluctant position, but it does draw a definitive line between good and evil... even if the actions are the same for both sides.

Being a film of the 60s, the movie has some very cheesy moments, especially featuring Vera Miles as the woman who comes between Ransom and Tom. It’s also shot in a rather static mode, but that’s also a sign of its time.

Finally, the film runs a bit long, which is over two hours, as it takes its time to begin the story and wrap things up in the end. (And, if you’ve heard any of the many versions of Burt Bacharach’s same-titled song, you can definitely guess the ending.)

Like the other releases in Paramount’s Centennial Collection, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” comes with a second disc of bonus features. This disc includes an in-depth, feature-length seven-part featurette that looks at production of the film and how it put a book-end on Ford’s career in Westerns.

There’s also the original theatrical trailer and multiple galleries for lobby cards, production photos, John Ford candid shots and publicity images.

Finally, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich provides a commentary on the film, with archival recordings of John Ford and James Stewart edited in.

Fans of John Wayne and the Western genre.

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