Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday Westerns: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Welcome a new weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. In an effort to provide a look back at older films and a desire to highlight a specific genre, I will be spotlighting a Western film each week, combining films from a course I took while at NYU called Myth of the Last Western and other films I have seen and do see. If you have a Western you’d like to write about, please let me know and feel free to submit a guest spot for future weeks!

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

This here might be the quintessential Western. It was actually the first film shown in an American Cinema Since 1960 course I took, and then screened several weeks into the Western class. This film, from director John Ford, brings together James Stewart and John Wayne under the same cinematic umbrella, both exuding completely different archetypal traits of Western heroes. Stewart’s Rance is a man of the law, who arrives in town after his transport is hijacked, setting him up as the reformer and educator of the town as the surrounding towns come together to vote for or against statehood. Wayne’s Ethan is old-fashioned and representative of the spirit of the West. The two clash greatly, yet it’s clear that they’re able to develop an enduring friendship as each becomes somewhat more acclimated with the other’s style and worldview. This film is particularly relevant and classic for its themes and its diatribes on violence and the importance of law and order. Liberty Valance, brilliantly portrayed by Lee Marvin as an emotionless, gruff villain, represents a constant threat to the stability and progress that Rance has brought to his town, and it’s also fun to see the town through the eyes of the entertaining newspaperman Dutton Peabody, played by Edmond O’Brien. It’s so intriguing to see how the members of the town react to the outside influences of both Liberty and Rance. Stewart is fiercely committed to delivering an energetic and inspired performance, and Wayne is hilariously grumpy and appropriately unenthused. Seeing the two of them on screen together is a real blast, and this is one film that feels quite dated yet still doesn’t lose its resonance and impact. Watch the trailer above and two very memorable clips below that explain the title of the film (only if you’ve seen it already, of course).

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