“Liberty Valance” begins with the arrival of an aging U.S. Senator, Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Miles) in the former frontier town of Shinbone to attend the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). A reporter is curious as to why a man of Stoddard’s stature would come all the way from Washington to pay his respects to a man as obscure as Doniphon. Stoddard’s story is then told in flashback. Heading west as a young attorney, Ransom Stoddard is robbed and beaten by outlaws outside the rustic town of Shinbone. Discovered by a local rancher, Tom Doniphon, Stoddard is taken into town and nursed back to health by Hallie, a woman considered to be Doniphon’s girl. Stoddard soon learns that his assailant was Liberty Valance(Marvin), a bullying gunman who, in the absence of any effective resistance, does pretty much what he pleases in Shinbone. It becomes Stoddard’s mission to bring law and order to Shinbone, although Doniphin is skeptical it can be done without the use of guns. Stoddard’s attempts to civilize Shinbone constantly puts him in Valance’s path, until Stoddard is finally forced into a gunfight with the outlaw. Shockingly, it’s Valance who is cut down, and his demise sets off a chain of events that result in Ransom Stoddard becoming an instant hero, while Doniphon heads toward a steady decline. When Stoddard reveals the real truth behind Valance’s shooting, the reporter declines to use the story, explaining, “when legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
The many solid performances delivered in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” more than offset the fact that the film was not an extravagant production. Most of “Liberty Valance” was shot in black and white on a Paramount Studio soundstage, and the picturesque landscapes associated with most John Ford westerns were nowhere in evidence. Despite the low budget, the movie was a great success, due to the quality of the story, and the box office appeal of it’s two biggest stars, John Wayne and James Stewart.
Two additional notes: “Liberty Valance” is the film where John Wayne’s character uses the term “Pilgrim” which he calls Stewart’s character 23 times. Also, Gene Pitney’s recording of the song, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” was not used in the movie.