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"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" — (Bullz-Eye DVD Review)

June 2, 2009


Considering that it’s among the most influential of all Hollywood westerns and the last great film directed by the ultimate American classicist, John Ford, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is quirkier and darker than you might expert. It features two great stars playing characters initially decades older, and later decades younger, than their actual ages, and has a moral and political point of view that resonates with the most complex moments in American history, including the one we’re in now. Coming from a director famed for awe-inspiring vistas, it is so small in visual scope that it is often referred to as a “chamber western.” Though it was made at a point where color had become the Hollywood standard, it was shot in black and white – and had to be. For one thing, the nearly absurd age differences between the two male leads, and their characters throughout the film, would have been ruinously obvious in color – but also because black and white has always somehow been appropriate for portraying films about moral gray areas, and that’s where this tale lives.

Adapted by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck from a story by Dorothy Johnson, “Liberty Valence” opens sometime near the turn of the 20th century. The aging and highly distinguished Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart), who rose to fame for a now legendary moment of heroism, and his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles, “Psycho”), return to the western town of Shinbone. They are there for the funeral of an old friend, a little-known resident who died penniless. After the Senator is accosted by a self-important newspaperman (Denver Pyle) demanding to know the significance of the deceased, the bulk of the film is told in flashback as a much younger Stoddard’s stagecoach is waylaid just outside of Shinbone….



A nicely student-sweded scene from the film. They don’t have Ford, Stewart, or Marvin, but they’ve got moxie.

  1. John P. Garry permalink

    What does “student-sweded” mean? Why Sweden?


  2. John P. Garry permalink

    Thanks for the information. I sure hope this term doesn’t become standard. “Re-make” is much easier to understand. But, since “slash fiction” has become a standard term my hopes may be dashed.


  3. We’re already too late, my friend. It was actually quite the ‘net trend there for a while…sort of surprised you missed it.

    Actually, though, it’s not a horrible usage because “remake” usually implies a professional production that actually changes the original material somewhat, whereas “sweding” tends to stick pretty closely to the original script.

    The most often cited original sweded was the inspiration for both “Be Kind, Rewing” and the recent “Son of Rambow” — the recently rediscovered eighties video remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

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