‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ airs on Turner Classic Movies

John Wayne and James Stewart in 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'Although four-time Academy Award winning director John Ford spent much of  his career glorifying the American West, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” shows he was more than willing to try a completely different approach. The 1962  film, airing Thursday, February 25th at 7 pm on Turner Classic Movies, is a  pessimistic but insightful look at the conflict between fact and legend, truth  and myth. John Wayne, James Stewart, Lee Marvin and Vera Miles head up a superb  cast

“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.