The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ June 27, 2013
"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend". That quote is a great one, especially when it comes to taking a closer look at history, but especially historical memory, and its impact. And it's the key to this film too, which is one of many standouts from its legendary director John Ford.

Jimmy Stewart is Ransom Stoddard- a greenhorn eastern lawyer whose efforts to dispense his brand of justice out in the small western town of Shinbone are hampered by the local menace Liberty Valance, played wonderfully by Lee Marvin. John Wayne plays Tom Doniphan- the toughest and meanest man in Shinbone (next to Valance), who does his best to help Stoddard, despite some complications, namely their methods of how to proceed, as well as the fact that they're both pining after the same lady- the lovely Hallie, who is played by Vera Miles.

This is one of many elegiac westerns that was ahead of its time for trying to demythologize the west before it became popular. It's also maybe the only time in his career where Ford is presenting things with a decent amount of pessimism, something that would also later get popularized a few years later along with revisionism, and demythologizing.

The acting is great, and Ford had a tremendous cast to work with, There's also lots of smaller appearances from way too many genre luminaries to count, and that certainly scores the film some extra points, too.

I love how, even though this was made in 1962, they chose to shoot in black and white, and almost exclusively in interiors. There's a few moments outside, but there's none of the grand landscape shots you might expect. I think it really adds to the mood, tone, and point the film is trying to make about expectations versus reality.The music is also pretty fine as well.

All in all, this is a superb film. Definitely give it a watch.
Super Reviewer
½ October 27, 2011
Ford's last masterpiece. A truly epic story of the end of the old west, Stewart and Wayne put in masterful performances.
Super Reviewer
½ July 19, 2011
I initially wasn't too enthused about the idea of sitting down with this film. While I certainly admire John Ford, I had grown accustomed to the more coarse view of human nature on display in the spaghetti westerns of Leone, Corbucci, and Petroni. However, I was in for quite a pleasant surprise with this film.
The film centers on the life of Rance Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) and his return to the Western town where he came of age. In a series of flashbacks, we follow the exploits of Stoddard and his brush with the town's hero Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), and the town menace Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Yet, while this seems to have all the makings of a classic good vs. evil confrontation, Ford plays around with the idea of justice.
As if representing two adverse parts of the brain, Wayne and Stewart are ardent about fighting their own fights in their own ways. For Wayne, justice can be achieved with old-school heroism, a little gunpowder, and a dash of wit. For Stewart, the law of the land is sufficient and he is intent on reshaping the town's attitudes in such a way. Both men mock the avenues taken by their counterpart and blindly follow what they know to be true. They are two opposing forces, both immensely powerful in their own right. However, influence eventually leaks in on both sides and both men seem to come to at least some sort of understanding regarding the importance of their separate ways.
This sense of duality is strongly diffused throughout the picture and Ford highlights this visually by his expert use of shadows. In most shots, the characters shadows are projected on the wall behind them as if to showcase the dual nature that lurks in the hearts of these men. Yet, rather than casting judgement, it seems as though Ford wants to illuminate and understand these two opposing ways of life, and to lament the passing of western way.
Being one of Ford's last films, the viewer gets a sense that he knew the rule of the Western was coming to an end. Although Wayne is just in his own way, his character seems to know that the times are changing. No longer does having the fastest draw bring virtue and success and Wayne's character goes through a heartbreaking acceptance that Stewart's generation is taking over. In one shot in particular, Ford has Stewart's character standing in front of an old stage coach covered in dust and cobwebs. It is an homage to the old west that is both understanding and mournful.
While Clint Eastwood's "The Unforgiven" has long be touted as the definitive eulogy of the western, I would argue that Ford's film is a much more fitting tribute to such a wonderful genre of film.
Super Reviewer
February 13, 2011
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance asks the question: can the moralist Jimmy Stewart civilize the west, or will it uncivilize him? Stewart, John Wayne, and Lee Marvin come together under the guidance of master John Ford in a film that appears to adhere to respective Hollywood persona's only to shatter them later on. Who ever expected to see Stewart pick up a six shooter and duel or Wayne shoot a man square in the back? Nobody.
Super Reviewer
November 5, 2006
An ageing senator returns to a frontier town for the funeral of an old friend and reminisces over his life as a young man. Considered one of John Ford's best and a classic of the genre, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the closest Ford came to making a Frank Capra movie. It charts the transition of the west from law of the gun to law and order, as an idealistic young lawyer comes to town in the shape of a typically fantastic James Stewart and finds his courage and knowledge are useless in the face of the violence he encounters. Up steps John Wayne as a pragmatic gunman, and as was the case with many of John Ford's films, there was a perfect John Wayne shaped hole in the script that enabled him to shine. Add enjoyable turns from Lee Marvin as the total shit-heel of the title and Edmond O'Brien as a sozzled newspaper man and you have one the the great tales of the old west. It's a shame it gets a bit wordy and heavy handed at the end, but it's still essential viewing for true cinephiles.
Super Reviewer
July 7, 2010
Easily one of the greatest movies ever made and a true Hollywood classic. John Wayne and John Ford always make flawless movies together, this is no exception. However, this falls into the extra special category in the same reign as The Searchers or Stagecoach; it signifies everything the western genre aspires to be. I feel that this particular movie dealt with the idea of a legend so perfectly that no western has really tried since, except for Assassination of Jesse James nearly fifty years later. It has it all, beautiful cinematography, direction and acting from two megastars. John Wayne and James Stewart really have some great chemistry together and really play well off of their very different styles. This is a movie that everyone should see, it's a true gem.
Super Reviewer
January 16, 2007
Liberty Valance: You lookin' for trouble, Doniphon?
Tom Doniphon: You aim to help me find some?

A solid western that puts a number of great stars and western icons together. The film is well made, well acted, and has the right kind of elements that emphasize why these actors are all well regarded.

Senator Ranse Stoddard, played by Jimmy Stewart, returns to the city of Shinbone in the Wild West, to go to the funeral of his friend, Tom Doniphon. To a journalist, who's wondering what the senator is doing in Shinbone, he tells how his career started as "the man who shot Liberty Valance". As a lawyer he came to Shinbone to bring law and order to the west by means of law books. When the stagecoach is held up by outlaws, he is savagely beaten by Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin. He survives the attack and is nursed by his future wife, Hallie, played by Vera Miles. Hallie is being wooed by a local rancher, Tom Doniphon, played by John Wayne, who also starts to help Ranse with his principled grude against Valance. Ranse teaches the people of Shinbone to read and write, all the while trying to find a way of bringing Valance to justice.

I really liked the fact that this film shows me exactly what I find entertaining about each of the three male leads. Stewart is a nice guy, but principled and doing what he believes is right. Wayne embodies the cool cowboy swagger. Marvin is just bad ass throughout, even if he is a pretty big dick in this movie.

Certainly helping is the layout of this story. Flashbacks are handled appropriately and John Ford's direction further shows off the talent of a man who has directed a huge number of films.

Solid flick all around.

Link Appleyard: Did you know Liberty Valance is in town tonight?
Dutton Peabody: I'd be a poor newspaperman indeed if I didn't know what everybody knows!
Super Reviewer
January 23, 2010
Another fantastic John Ford picture.
Super Reviewer
½ September 29, 2007
Another legendary work from John Ford, this one tells the tale of the arrival of the rule of law in the Old ("Wild") West. I subtract a few points for being slow and stagey in the early going, but this film is no less than a truly American classic. For the Western lover in all of us, we have the Duke as well as a brutish Lee Marvin, and for the "rest of us", a stunning performance by Jimmy Stewart that is as good as any in his career. Great story, at once heartwarming and heartbreaking, and featuring one of the best final lines in film history, this is unquestionably one for the "don't die without seeing" file.
Super Reviewer
June 5, 2007
Exceptional elegy.
A poignant and romantic story about the meaning of honor, and the thin line that separates legends from facts.
Super Reviewer
½ November 15, 2006
A really good movie that actually had me not really minding John Wayne. Of course he's like an old reliable rock next to Jimmy Stewart's extremely likable performance. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance isn't a western so much as a movie that takes place in the Old West. Great performances all around, namely from Stewart and the straight-up rotten Lee Marvin. And that batshit crazy performance out of John Carradine towards the end was great, gross and scary all at the same time. The ending felt a little rushed and downbeat and that's where most of my minor disappointment comes in here. This movie's definitely worth the watch but at the same time not the best "western" I've ever seen.
Super Reviewer
½ July 28, 2008
Another masterpiece from John Ford starring Jimmy Stewart playing his usual common man transplanted into the rough and tumble world of the west. John Wayne plays his polar opposite, a gunslinging cowboy who knows how to use a gun. There are two people between them. One is the damsel in the tiny western town played by Vera Miles. The other is Liberty Valance, a sadistic gun for hire played by the great Lee Marvin.
This film is more about the taming of the west. When Stewart's character arrives it's a madhouse like all wild west towns are, but by the end of the film everything has become more civilized, even though the Easterner had to use means that he is against at the start of the picture.
Stewart and Wayne play their trademark roles in this film. This film is almost like looking at both icons in the stereotypes they have become in the mind of the general public. Vera Miles returns from Hitchcock land (ironically she was supposed to have starred with Stewart in Hitchcock's Vertigo) and gives a nice performance as the love interest of both men. It's Lee Marvin that brings pure evil to the screen as Liberty Valance. His performance ranks up there with some of the other classic western villains as he destroys everything in his path. He probably has the greatest gang backing him up as well, with Strother Martin playing a looney stooge while Lee Van Cleef shows us a glimpse of the quiet and dangerous force he would unleash when he went to Italy.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a classic western that ranks as one of John Ford's best. The use of black and white is almost a way for Ford to bring the film back to simpler times. Unlike other Ford epics, the backgrounds do not overshadow the actors in the foregrounds. A great western.
Super Reviewer
½ May 6, 2007
The guy who does the voice for Friar Tuck in Disney's Robin Hood

Purely cinematic Gold. So much more complex and engaging than I ever anticipated
Super Reviewer
½ October 12, 2007
A brilliant western, with an impeccable cast and a simple, but nuanced and deep plot arc. Nowhere can you find the chemistry that erupts between the polar opposites of Stewart and Wayne. Each supporting character, however shallow their portrayal, is memorable and fun to watch... a comedic ensemble in a deeply serious western drama.
Super Reviewer
May 15, 2006
One of the greatest westerns I have ever seen.
Super Reviewer
½ August 5, 2007
Fascinating emotional director John Ford's latest western film with his star John Wayne. James Stewart's part could well be called Mr. Smith goes to Shinbone, it draws so much on his most famous image. Combined with Ford's visual sense and belief in sparse dialogue, as well as fine enemble playing in supporting roles.
Super Reviewer
July 9, 2007
rich in detail, plot, action, and gunplay...crank open a brewski and see why you wished you were a cowboy all those years ago...wonder how it is that anyone could take a punch from the duke and then get can they do that? nobody can do that...
Super Reviewer
September 7, 2011
This wasn't the classic typical John Wayne western I thought it was going to be. Jimmy Stewart and John Ford are usually good too. The leads are very well casted into a smartly directed story.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
June 29, 2011
Man, I'd shoot Liberty Valance just to put him out of the misery of having such a girly name. Shoot, - so to speak - forget girly, because Liberty Valance sounds kind of like a stripper name or something. You know what, I'm going to make a prediction so likely that it just has to be a spoiler: Valance was shot by... Chastity Summers! Sometimes, you can't afford to have competition, and I'm glad no one said that when John Ford was alive, because he probably would have ended up killing anyone else who made a western film, and John Wayne would have been his accomplice. Man, Ford sure could make a western, and Wayne sure could star in one... just as Lee Marvin sure could play a sarcastic jerk, and Jimmy Stewart sure could get involved in some sort of a murder-mystery situation. Come to think of it, so much about this film seems to be conventional that I'm surprised that a stripper didn't turn out to be Valance's murderer, although I'm glad it wasn't (Sorry to spoil your expectations, folks), because this is a serious western right here. Mind you, it was serious for 1962, and while that isn't to say that the film isn't good, it is to say that time sort of timed this drama with certain shortcomings.

Perhaps the film doesn't fall too deeply victim to Hollywood superficialities of the time, but there are still plenty of Hollywood melodramatics, and other cheesy, maybe even overly safe aspects which even have the nerve to fall into formula. There are some surprising refreshing touches here, as well as more than a few unsurprising conventional touches, which betray a certain ambition to freshen things up and might even commit the great sin of placing some predictability over a plot which is driven by certain twists and turns. Among the elements that help keeping predictability at bay is a certain undercooking to exposition, for although the developmental shortcomings are hardly all that great, certain characters seem to lack dimension, with some coming off as cheesy types which exacerbate the Hollywood fluffiness and a sense of familiarity, no matter how much the film keeps you from getting too familiar with the characters. Of course, as little time as the film dedicates towards fleshing out its characters, it takes some time to drag its feet, having a somewhat minimal story that is interpreted into a two-hour affair that drags out developmental segments over action, despite not putting all that much meat to the execution, resulting in some relatively serious slow spells, limited though they may be. Quite frankly, there is little to complain about here, but there are subtle consequential shortcomings, and quite of few of them, and each one of them sheds some shred of light onto prominent natural shortcomings. As I said, this story, no matter how compelling, is minimalist, being more about talk than momentum, which is further retarded by the Hollywood superficialities, as well as certain other superficialities to exposition and pace control. The final product could have gone a long way for a 1960s Hollywood western, but as it stands, however, it's still very rewarding, sustaining your attention pretty thoroughly with sharp storytelling, and even good looks.

Having to work with a black-and-white color palette, William H. Clothier turns in a cinematographic performance that is limited by technical shortcomings of the time, but still handsome in its subtle emphasis on lighting that takes advantage of coloration limitations in order to provide a certain sense of grit that art director Hal Pereira compliment with his capturing of the grimy environment through solid production value. It's a subtle appeal to the visuals, make no mistake, but the appeal is still very much there, with a subtle immersion value that is, of course, augmented by some tasteful direction. Though held back by dramatic limitations of the time, John Ford's subtle directorial flavor to pacing typically cut through slow spells with some solid entertainment value, and when the slower spells go accompanied with thoughtfulness by Ford, there's a certain dramatic bite that was uncommonly effective for the time, and does justice to an intriguing story. The story is at least refreshing in concept, with an intriguing narrative about a stranger being embraced by a strange land, especially upon performing actions of questionable morality, that ultimately comes down to a pretty solid twist, yet is never short on thought-provoking themes regarding morality which thrives on smart scripting. Hollywood fluff holds some bite to James Warner Bellah's and Willis Goldbeck's script back, as does developmental lapses and thin spells, but characterization is generally strong, drawing memorable characters who are made all the more compelling by twists which make the should-be villains seem merely flawed, and make the should-be heroes seem irrational and immoral, thus reinforcing the themes on the thin lines between true heroes and true villains that are further complimented by performances which are as memorable as the characterization. There is the occasional cheesy performance to accompany some cheesy characterization moments, but there are still plenty of endearing supporting performances, - particularly those by the effectively intimidating Lee Marvin as the titular outlaw, Edmond O'Brien as the drunken newsman who speaks for the people, the beautiful Vera Miles as a flawed woman who falls for a flawed protagonist, and by John Wayne as, well, himself, complete with extreme charisma - as well as a strong lead performance by James Stewart, whose classic dramatic layering sells a man's pride as an intelligent man seeking honor in a lawless land, and anxiety over being given a great deal of respect for a brutal deed. The flaws rarely abate, but the strengths never abate, and whether they be respectable for being ahead of their time, and respectable for still being strong to this day, they craft a drama which is never less than compelling.

When the case is closed, some dated and conventional aspects slow down momentum almost as much as thin spells to exposition, dragging, and, of course, natural shortcomings, which go defied enough by handsome cinematography and art direction, well-paced direction, intriguing themes and scripting, and many an endearing performance - especially by James Stewart - to make "The Man Who Shout Liberty Valance" a plenty entertaining, compelling and all around rewarding portrait on challenging morals for justice.

3/5 - Good
Super Reviewer
February 27, 2013
Jimmy Stewart reduces the Duke to a block of wood with a classical performance but it doesn't matter much in the end. The plot thickens nicely and the good guys of course come out ahead. What you want from a good western.
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