Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday American Cinema Classic

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Thursday American Cinema Classic. I’m taking a course called American Cinema Since 1960 where we’re charting the history and development of American Cinema from the 1960s to the present. We’ll be watching some pretty iconic films, some of which I haven’t seen before. Each week, I’ll be providing a short review of one contemporary classic from the annals of recent history.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Directed by John Ford
Released April 22, 1962

(Spoiler alert: Do not watch the clip if you haven't see the film!)

I took a course completely about Western films, and this film was screened in that class as one of the most intriguing instances of a Western since it brings together iconic stars James Stewart and John Wayne for the first time in the same movie. It also marks one of the final films in the long list of 21 collaborations between four-time Oscar-winning director John Ford and Wayne. Looking at this film in a different context other than one of the many great and unrewarded at the time Westerns sets it up as the classic Western in the history of American cinema from the 1960s to the present. It isn't a typical Western in many ways, and putting two very different character types together makes for a fascinating comparison of the old gunslinging West, exemplified by Wayne's Tom Doniphon, and the more civilized, literary East, typified by Stewart's Ransom Stoddard. It's a film that feels very dated due to the unintentionally comic nature of some of its interactions, especially those involving Lee Marvin's deep-voiced villain Liberty Valance, who calls everyone "dude." Still, it hasn't lost its relevance, and certainly gives its audiences plenty to think about and contemplate on in terms of the implications of violence and the transformation of an outlaw-ruled society into a civilized democracy. The added subplot of voting for statehood contributes to this film as a symbol of change. For me, the most powerful performance after having seen this film isn't Wayne's, or Stewart's, but rather that of Edmond O'Brien, who won an Oscar eight years earlier for his role in "The Barefoot Contessa," as newspaper man Dutton Peabody, whose dedication to his printing press was unrivaled. He's by far the most entertaining character in the movie, but at the same time, probably the smartest and noblest, second only to lawyer Stoddard. There's definitely much to say and discuss about this film, and it's absolutely worthy of preservation in the canon of film history. The clip above is the big reveal that features some great shouting from both Stewart and Wayne and provides the film with its title.


1 comment:

Greg Boyd said...

I saw this film when I was like 10, and I didn't like it much. I probably was expecting a movie like Wayne's "El Dorado" or the great "High Noon", with lots of gunfights and action.

I probably need to watch it again at some point, since I suspect it's a better movie than I gave it credit for. But then, I was very young at the time.