Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; western, USA, 1962; D: John Ford, S: James Stewart, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Vera Miles, Edmond O'Brien, John Carradine
Senator Ransom Stoddard is, together with his wife Hallie, attending a funeral of his old friend Tom in a small town. He starts telling his life story to a reporter: as a young lawyer he was robbed and beaten up by a criminal called Liberty Valance, but in a desert he was found and rescued by Tom. Ransom found a job as a professor and fell in love with Hallie, but the local sheriff was afraid by Liberty. In a duel, Ransom shot and killed Liberty. But Tom later on revealed to him that he was actually the one who shot Liberty from the dark.

The highest compliment that can be said to "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is that when some completely uninformed movie layman should be introduced to John Ford's opus for the first time, then this would be the most representative and suitable film to start. Ford's trademark, John Wayne, again plays the good guy, Tom, but this time in a supporting role. The main protagonist is actually the introverted Ransom (very good James Stewart) while his nemesis is the extroverted Liberty, a character of equally unusual name, who robs him and whips him like a madman. Their second encounter predetermined the story for some sharp confrontations and manifested a genius sequence - in a restaurant, Ransom is a waiter but Liberty stretches his leg out, making him trip and fall down together with the food he was carrying. But then Tom stands up and says to Liberty: "Hey! That's my steak! Pick it up." But besides the confrontation between the wild and the tame characters, the movie also reexamines the drift between the myth and the reality in a story where the slight twist shows a different perspective on the duel, and has many amazing events: when Liberty is shot and killed by Ransom, his friends enter the bar and demand that Ransom gets arrested, but Tom, who drinks his drink, simply "calmly" beats them up and throws them out because he "wants peace", and while the undertaker is observing the dead body of the untouchable criminal he is surprised and says: "Whisky! Quick!" They don't write these kind of dialogues and wonderfully poignant plots anymore that often. The movie didn't win any major awards, but it still stayed famous, once again proving the old theory: awards don't stay, movies do. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is a shining achievement.


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