The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Director John Ford’s interpretation of Western history as a battle between civilization and the wilderness takes its most political form in this pensive film. James Stewart stars as a young lawyer bringing education and the rule of law to the fictional Western town of Shinbone. His opposition includes John Wayne, the fastest gunman in the territory, and Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance, the town bully. Their differing philosophies play against the battle for statehood to create what New Yorker critic Richard Brody called “the greatest American political movie.” THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE was shot in black and white almost entirely on studio soundstages, making it one of Ford’s few Westerns not to use his famous Monument Valley locations. He would ascribe this to the story’s seriousness, while others have suggested it was necessary to disguise the makeup that turned Stewart and Wayne, both in their 50s, into men in their 20s, while still others have stated the studio simply cut his budget. If you prefer the more artistic explanation, you may be in sympathy with the film, which contains one of the most important lines in all of Ford’s Westerns: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

(d. John Ford, 123m, Digital) 

In attendance: Keith Carradine