Movie Review: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

You got a choice, Dishwasher. Either you get out of town, or tonight you be out on that street alone. You be there, and don’t make us come and get you.

-LIberty VAlance-

There are not major spoilers in this review!

Not All Men Take to a Gun in the Same Way

I’ve been on a kick to watch “older movies.” I’ve also noticed the stories that aren’t loaded with a lot of extras seem to be the ones I gravitate to the most as of late or written in such as way that the heavy laden themes flow naturally. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the best movies (in general) I’ve seen when I combine all the movies in the last few years. The story by Dorothy M. Johnson and script by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck and the acting by especially James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, and Lee Marvin is what completely drew me into this movie. It is directed by John Ford and is considered one of his best in his movie career despite his willingness to be ruthless as a director.

The Breakdown of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is about a U.S. senator going back to a small town he used to live for a short period in his life. It was here that Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart) met Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) when he was a lawyer. Doniphon, a local rancher, helped him recover after a vicious attack by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). While healing, he finds work at a local restaurant and befriends the staff including Hallie (Vera Miles). His reason for staying at Shinbone is woven between the present and past. He is now married but back then all he wanted was Valance arrested for his crimes. The local law enforcement are resistant to it and Stoddard decides to use what he recently learned in law school to his advantage. When Doniphon gets word of Stoddard’s plan, both men stick to their way of doing things. While Doniphon leaves town for a while, Stoddard passes his time teaching the townspeople to read. When Doniphon returns, he tries to convince the best thing for Stoddard to do is to leave. He doesn’t listen to him and Stoddard realizes he has no choice but to engage in a duel with Valance after he terrorizes the local newspaper editor. The relationship between the two men come to an end when Stoddard wins the election, thus helping the town of Shinbone to rid it of outlaws like Valance. Back in the present time, Hallie places a cactus on Doniphon’s casket with Stoddard, now a senator, deciding it might be time to settle down in the town he lived in way back when.

Watch the Trailer

Overall View of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has pure cinematic value on the surface. Doniphin struggles whether to help Stoddard or not. Stoddard struggles battling Valance with books or guns. Hallie struggles with herself and her image she wants to present. The acting of John Wayne and James Stewart is top notch. Stoddard finds a friend in an unlikely place like Shinbone. There’s deeper topics found in this movie that’s still debated today: single vigilantes, government interventions, political free press, and statehood controversies. It touches upon power as in who has the most power and how lopsided it is? There’s usually one character or group trying to protect or gain more power over another character or group. It blurs the line of male and female roles and what is expected of each. One of the best scenes is in the dining room with Stoddard, Doniphon, and Valance. The movie doesn’t have a rating and is two hours and three minutes long.

I rate The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance FOUR FINGERS and ONE THUMB at 97%.

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