Home1-2526-5051-100101-50151-200201-250251-300
-
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE
1962 - John Ford
United States
59
Opening Shot

Emerging through the vista landscape is a train which pulls into the Shinbone station, where a man anxiously awaits. He takes off his hat as a man and a woman (James Stewart and Vera Miles) exit the train. The woman looking directly at the man waiting for them as she slowly walks toward him, while the man is thanking the train conductor. They both approach and embrace him.

The Film

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." It is one of the defining lines of the film and of its filmmaker. John Ford has made many great films throughout his nearly 50 year career as a director, but to me The Man Who Liberty Valance is the essential masterwork of Ford's late career. The film is incredibly layered in style and substance. Ford gives the film a highly stylized dreaminess that heightens its examination of mythmaking, both of the myth itself and of the western genre- a genre Ford has been defined by. As has its star John Wayne, who is superb here as the quintessential Ford gunslinger hero who carries and keeps the law within himself. He is a contrast to James Stewart's hero, a man who carries the law peacefully through rules and books. This contrast is one of Ford's recurring themes of the western dating back to an earlier masterwork My Darling Clementine (1946), and it is brought to its richest context in this film. Both iconic actors, Wayne and Stewart flawlessly work off each other (often with humorous results) and they are complimented by an extraordinary supporting cast, including Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Woody Strode, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, among some other fimilar Ford cast members- such as Jack Pennick. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has a perfectly rhythmic pace to match the transcendent elegance. There is a lyrical beauty and complex depth to the film, but like any great John Ford film, it never losses track of its storytelling, its filmmaking, and its performances. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is truly a timeless film from a filmmaker who himself is a legend.

The Filmmaker

Joining the likes of Orson Welles and maybe Frank Capra, John Ford stands among the most celebrated American born filmmakers in the history of the sound era. If there ever was a 'Mount Rushmore' type monument for filmmakers, John Ford would most likely be on it. Ford was one of the great filmmakers that still found a way to be an auteur during the Hollywood Studio-run era. Ford was a visual poet who would use of the composition as a form of expression. The images of his films are often captured with space in both width and depth (the master of deep focus Greg Toland worked with Ford on two films). Long shots of landscapes and skies incorporate much of his visual imagery, but Ford also captured the depth of human faces very often in groups. The lighting and locations became a critical factor of his work to master the poetic imagery, but Ford's greatest focus was to never lose control of the storytelling. Of course Ford is well known for his vast number of Westerns- a genre he would use to express his sentimental views of American values, and traditions (similar to the focus of D.W. Griffith's work- both filmmakers could certainly be classified as Conservatives). Ford would use the western as a backdrop or metaphor in his mythical vision as a filmmaker, who supported the little-guy that struggles against the evils of power and greed (this may be detailed best in his moving and flawless and most liberal-minded masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath). Underneath his westerns you can find Ford's truest feelings for America and a civilized society based on morals. Ford was also well known for putting several of the same actors in his films (most notably the quintessential western actor John Wayne as well as Ward Bond, Jack Pennick, and his older brother Francis Ford). Ford's career began in the silent era where he made a series of Westerns starring Harry Carey. In 1935 Ford's film The Informer won the Oscar for Best Director and gave Ford the recognition he would build on until the end of his long-standing career in 1966. In total Ford earned five Best Director nominations and he still remains the only director ever to win the award four times. Ford's respect among fellow directors from all over the world is nearly un-parallel and his influence still stands today.

Images
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Resources
trailer (youtube)      
-