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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (/ˈvæləns/) is a 1962 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and James Stewart. The screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck was adapted from a 1953 short story written by Dorothy M. Johnson. The supporting cast features Vera Miles, Lee Marvin (as Liberty Valance), Edmond O Brien, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Strother Martin and Lee Van Cleef.
In 2007, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
Sometime in the early 20th century, U.S. Senator Ransom Ranse Stoddard and his wife, Hallie, arrive in Shinbone, a frontier town in an unnamed western state, to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon. When asked by the local newspaper editor why a senator would attend the funeral of a poor rancher, Stoddard answers with a story that flashes back 25 years.
Entering the then-unincorporated territory as a young lawyer, Ranse is beaten and robbed by infamous outlaw Liberty Valance and his gang. Tom Doniphon and his handyman, Pompey, find Ranse and take him to Shinbone, where Tom s girlfriend, Hallie, treats his wounds. Ranse learns Valance frequently terrorizes Shinbone and the surrounding country since the local marshal, Link Appleyard, is overweight and too cowardly to stop him. Tom says Valance only understands force, but Ranse is determined to bring Valance to justice through the law.
While establishing his law practice, Ranse buses tables at Peter Ericson s steakhouse, where Hallie works, and after learning she is illiterate, he opens a school for both children and adults in the back of the Shinbone Star newspaper office after befriending its editor, Dutton Peabody. He also begins practicing with Peabody s old gun after Valance bullies him in the restaurant. Hallie, attracted to Ranse and concerned for his safety, tells Tom of Ranse s gun practice. Tom takes Ranse to his ranch for a shooting lesson, showing off renovations that are intended for his marriage to Hallie and making those intentions clear to Ranse. During the lesson, he tricks Ranse by shooting a paint can above his head and staining his clothes. Ranse angrily punches Tom and leaves.
Shinbone s men meet to elect two delegates to the forthcoming statehood convention at the territorial capital. Tom refuses Ranse s nomination: ultimately, Ranse and Peabody are elected. Valance, hired by the cattle barons who oppose statehood, tries and fails to intimidate the voters into electing him as a delegate. Valance challenges Ranse to a gunfight to be held later in the evening. Tom offers to assist Ranse in leaving town, but Ranse stubbornly declines.
That evening, Valance and his gang vandalize the newspaper office and severely injure Peabody for printing stories that he finds insulting. Ranse arms himself and goes after Valance; even drunk, Valance easily disarms the inexperienced Ranse and prepares to kill him. Ranse retrieves his gun, outdraws Valance, and seemingly kills him. Ranse returns to Ericson s where Hallie treats his arm; Tom enters and sees Hallie s clear affection for Ranse as she attends his wounds. He gets drunk, forces Appleyard to run Valance s men out of town, and attempts suicide by setting fire to his house; Pompey is able to rescue him.
At the territorial convention, Ranse is nominated as their delegate to Congress, but withdraws after a representative of the cattle barons calls him a murderer, feeling that he cannot build a career out of killing a man . Tom arrives and explains to Ranse that it was he, not Ranse, that killed Valance; knowing that Ranse could never hope to beat Valance, Tom shot him with Pompey s rifle at the same time he fired. Tom encourages Ranse to accept the nomination for Hallie s sake before quietly walking out of the convention.
In the present, Ranse s rising political achievements – state governor, senator, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and likely vice-presidential nominee in the upcoming election – fill in the intervening years, but the editor, knowing that publishing the story would ruin Ranse s legacy, chooses to burn his notes and leave him to conduct Tom s funeral in peace. On the return trip to Washington, D.C., Ranse contemplates retiring to Shinbone, which pleases Hallie. As he thanks the train conductor for the railroad s many courtesies, the conductor answers, Nothing s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!
- John Wayne as Tom Doniphon
- James Stewart as Ransom Ranse Stoddard
- Vera Miles as Hallie Stoddard
- Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance
- Edmond O Brien as Dutton Peabody
- Andy Devine as Marshal Link Appleyard
- Ken Murray as Doc Willoughby
- John Carradine as Maj. Cassius Starbuckle
- Jeanette Nolan as Nora Ericson
- John Qualen as Peter Ericson
- Willis Bouchey as Jason Tully – Conductor
- Carleton Young as Maxwell Scott – Editor of the Star after Peabody s death
- Woody Strode as Pompey
- Denver Pyle as Amos Carruthers
- Strother Martin as Floyd
- Lee Van Cleef as Reese – Member of Valance s gang
- Robert F. Simon as Handy Strong
- O. Z. Whitehead as Herbert Carruthers
- Paul Birch as Mayor Winder
- Joseph Hoover as Charlie Hasbrouck – Reporter for The Star
In contrast to prior John Ford Westerns, such as The Searchers (1956) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was shot in black-and-white on Paramount s soundstages. Many stories and speculations exist to explain this decision. Ford claimed to prefer that medium over color: In black and white, you ve got to be very careful. You ve got to know your job, lay your shadows in properly, get your perspective right, but in color, there it is, he said. You might say I m old fashioned, but black and white is real photography. Ford also reportedly argued that the climactic shoot-out between Valance and Stoddard would not have worked in color.
Others have interpreted the absence of the magnificent outdoor vistas so prevalent in earlier Ford Westerns as a fundamental reimagining of his mythic West – a grittier, less romantic, more realistic portrayal of frontier life. A more pragmatic interpretation cites the fact that Wayne and Stewart, two of Hollywood s biggest stars working together for the first time, were arguably considerably older (54 and 53, respectively) than the characters they were playing. Filming in black and white helped ease the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept that disparity. According to cinematographer William H. Clothier, however, There was one reason and one reason only … Paramount was cutting costs. Otherwise we would have been in Monument Valley or Brackettville and we would have had color stock. Ford had to accept those terms or not make the film.
Another condition imposed by the studio, according to Van Cleef, was that Wayne be cast as Doniphon. Ford resented the studio s intrusion and retaliated by taunting Wayne relentlessly throughout the filming. He didn t want Duke to think he was doing him any favors, Van Cleef said. Strode recounted that Ford kept needling Duke about his failure to make it as a football player , comparing him to Strode (a former NFL running back), whom he pronounced a real football player . (Wayne s football career at USC had been curtailed by injuries.) He also ridiculed Wayne for failing to enlist during World War II, during which Ford filmed a series of widely praised combat documentaries for the Office of Strategic Services and was wounded at the Battle of Midway, and Stewart served with distinction as a bomber pilot and commanded a bomber group. How rich did you get while Jimmy was risking his life? he demanded. Wayne s avoidance of wartime service was a major source of guilt for him in his later years. Another credible explanation is that Ford kept Wayne off balance to intensify the focus and power of his performance.
Stewart related that midway through filming, Wayne asked him why he, Stewart, never seemed to be the target of Ford s venomous remarks. Other cast- and crew-members also noticed Stewart s apparent immunity from Ford s abuse. Then, toward the end of filming, Ford asked Stewart what he thought of Strode s costume for the film s beginning and end, when the actors were playing their parts 25 years older. Stewart replied, It looks a bit Uncle Remussy to me. Ford responded, What s wrong with Uncle Remus? He called for the crew s attention and announced, One of our players doesn t like Woody s costume. Now, I don t know if Mr. Stewart has a prejudice against Negroes, but I just wanted you all to know about it. Stewart said he wanted to crawl into a mouse hole , but Wayne told him, Well, welcome to the club. I m glad you made it.
Ford s behavior …really pissed Wayne off, Strode said, but he would never take it out on Ford, the man largely responsible for his rise to stardom. He ended up taking it out on me. While filming an exterior shot on a horse-drawn cart, Wayne almost lost control of the horses and knocked Strode away when he attempted to help. When the horses did stop, Wayne tried to pick a fight with the younger and fitter Strode. Ford called out, Don t hit him, Woody, we need him. Wayne later told Strode, We gotta work together. We both gotta be professionals. Strode blamed Ford for nearly all the friction on the set. What a miserable film to make, he added.
Stewart received top billing over Wayne on promotional posters and the trailers, but in the film itself, Wayne s screen card appears first and slightly higher on a sign post. The studio also specified that Wayne s name appear before Stewart s on theatre marquees, reportedly at Ford s request. Wayne actually played the lead, Ford said, to Peter Bogdanovich. Jimmy Stewart had most of the sides, but Wayne was the central character, the motivation for the whole thing.
Parts of the film were shot in Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, California.
The film s music score was composed by Cyril J. Mockridge, but in scenes involving Hallie s relationships with Doniphon and Stoddard, Ford reprised Alfred Newman s Ann Rutledge Theme , from Young Mr. Lincoln. He told Bogdanovich that he used the theme in both films to evoke repressed desire and lost love. The film scholar Kathryn Kalinak notes that Ann Rutledge s theme encodes longing and fleshes out the failed love affair between Hallie and Tom Doniphon, the growing love between Hallie and Ranse Stoddard, and the traumatic loss experienced by Hallie over her choice of one over the other, none of which is clearly articulated by dialogue. Portions of the song There ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight are played in scenes by bar musicians and a marching band.
Mockridge s main theme that opens the picture can also be heard, in a somewhat different form, in a trailer for River of No Return with Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe released in 1953, currently available for viewing as the trailer for River of No Return on Amazon.com.
The Burt Bacharach-Hal David song (The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance became a top-10 hit for Gene Pitney. Though based upon the movie s plotline, it was not used in the film. Pitney said in an interview that he was in the studio about to record the song when … Bacharach informed us that the film just came out. It seems unlikely that the song would be used for the opening credits since its lyrics give the film s surprise ending away. The picture was released April 18, 1962, and the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 the week ending April 28, 1962, peaking at number four in June. Jimmie Rodgers also recorded the song, in the Gene Pitney style. James Taylor covered it on his 1985 album That s Why I m Here, as did The Royal Guardsmen on their 1967 album Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. It was also covered by Australian rock band Regurgitator on its 1998 David/Bacharach tribute album To Hal and Bacharach. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the top 100 Western songs of all time.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was released in April 1962, and achieved both financial and critical success. Produced for $US3.2 million, it grossed $8 million, making it the 15th-highest grossing film of 1962. Edith Head s costumes were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (black-and-white), one of the few Westerns ever nominated in that category.
Contemporary reviews were generally positive, although a number of critics thought the final act was a letdown. Variety called the film entertaining and emotionally involving, but thought if the film had ended 20 minutes earlier, it would have been a taut, cumulative study of the irony of heroic destiny, instead of concluding with condescending, melodramatic, anticlimactic strokes. What should have been left to enthrall the imagination is spelled out until there is nothing left to savor or discuss.
The Monthly Film Bulletin agreed, lamenting that the final anticlimactic 20 minutes … all but destroy the value of the disarming simplicity and natural warmth which are Ford s everlasting stock-in-trade. Despite this, the review maintained that the film has more than enough gusto to see it through, and that Ford had lost none of his talent for catching the real heart, humor and violent flavor of the Old West in spite of the notable rustiness of his technique. A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that Mr. Ford, who has struck more gold in the West than any other film-maker, also has mined a rich vein here, but opined that the film bogs down once Stoddard becomes famous, en route to an obvious, overlong, and garrulous anticlimax.
Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film a leisurely yarn boasting fine performances, but was bothered by the incredulous fact that the lively townsfolk of Shinbone didn t polish off Valence for themselves. On TV, he would have been dispatched by the second commercial, and the villainy would have passed to some shadowy employer, some ruthless rancher who didn t want statehood. John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times wrote, Director Ford is guilty of a few lengthy, slow periods in his story-telling, but for the most part the old, reliable Ford touches are there. Harrison s Reports gave the film a grade of Very Good , but Brendan Gill of The New Yorker was negative and called it a parody of Mr. Ford s best work.
More recent assessments have been more uniformly positive. The film is considered one of Ford s best, and in one poll, ranked with The Searchers and The Shootist as one of Wayne s best Westerns. Roger Ebert wrote that each of the 10 Ford/Wayne westerns is … complete and self-contained in a way that approaches perfection , and singled out Liberty Valance as the most pensive and thoughtful of the group. Director Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) listed Ford as a major influence on his work, and Liberty Valance as his favorite Ford film. It was the only film, he said, where learned about something called pessimism. In a retrospective analysis, The New York Times called Liberty Valance …one of the great Western classics, because it questions the role of myth in forging the legends of the West, while setting this theme in the elegiac atmosphere of the West itself, set off by the aging Stewart and Wayne. The New Yorker s Richard Brody described it as the greatest American political movie , because of its depictions of a free press, town meetings, statehood debates, and the civilizing influence of education in frontier America.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2003: AFI s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains: Tom Doniphon – Nominated Hero
- Tom Doniphon – Nominated Hero
- 2005: AFI s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes: Maxwell Scott: This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. – Nominated
- Maxwell Scott: This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. – Nominated
- 2008: AFI s 10 Top 10: Nominated Western Film
- Nominated Western Film
|Plot||A senator returns to a Western town for the funeral of an old friend and tells the story of his origins.|
|Awards||Nominated for 1 Oscar, 4 wins & 4 nominations total|
|Writers||James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck, Dorothy M. Johnson|
|Stars||James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles|
|Produced by||John Ford,Willis Goldbeck|
|Music by||Cyril J. Mockridge|
|Cinematography by||William H. Clothier|
|Film Editing by||Otho Lovering|
|Art Direction by||Eddie Imazu,Hal Pereira|
|Set Decoration by||Sam Comer,Darrell Silvera|
|Costume Design by||Edith Head,Ron Talsky|
|Makeup Department||Nellie Manley,Wally Westmore,Gary Morris|
|Production Management||Don Robb|
|Second Unit Director or Assistant Director||Wingate Smith,Bud Brill|
|Art Department||Robert Ayres,Gene Lauritzen|
|Sound Department||Charles Grenzbach,Philip Mitchell|
|Visual Effects by||Farciot Edouart,Sarah McGrail|
|Stunts||John Epper,Chuck Hayward,Tom Hennesy,Bryan Slim Hightower,John Hudkins,Eddie Juaregui,Ted Mapes,Louise Montana,Montie Montana,Bob Morgan,Hal Needham,Chuck Roberson,Jack Williams|
|Camera and Electrical Department||Denis Cameron,John R. Hamilton,Carl Manoogian,Harrold Weinberger|
|Editorial Department||Stu Linder|
|Music Department||Irvin Talbot,Jack Hayes,Leo Shuken|
|Companies||John Ford Productions|