50/50 Review #14: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Despite the fact I live in Texas, I'm not a big fan of westerns. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy one every now and then, but in general, they aren't my cup of tea. So when I saw I had a western on this list, I was slightly wary. The story follows a lawyer and/or senator named Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) who comes back to the town of Shinbone for the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). The rest of the film is told in flashback as Ransom relays his story of how he came to shoot the evil outlaw, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). He also gains the affection of a woman named Hallie (Vera Miles), who Doniphon also has the sweets for.

While I'm not a fan of westerns, I am a fan of Jimmy Stewart. I've basically enjoyed everything I've ever seen him in; even if I don't like the movie itself, I've always liked him in it. This is no exception... except I kinda enjoyed the movie this time, too. I have seen a number of Stewart's films; however, this would be my first John Wayne film (I know... gasp!). And he gave me pretty much everything I expected. He had a strong presence, a fun way of talking, and said "pilgrim" about a hundred times. And that was good enough for me. So the two of them were the strongest part of the film for me. The relationship between the two of them was great.

There were only two real downsides to me, though. The first being something rather major--Liberty Valance wasn't a menacing villain. Lee Marvin wasn't bad, per se, but the character was supposed to be this outlaw of epic and diabolical proportions. I expected him to show me why he struck fear into the hearts of all these people. Instead, he was more pathetic to me. He was only kind of scary when he had that whip thing, but he only used that maybe twice in the whole film. And when the title itself centers around his eventual death, I wanted him a little more terrifying. Not to mention the implications of having one of his no-name henchman be Lee Van Cleef, the freakin' BAD in Good/Bad/Ugly (OK, I know this came out before that, but still)! Because of all this, the big David and Goliath showdown didn't feel as hefty and suspenseful as it could have been. The second downside involved a couple of the subplots. First, there's a subplot where Stoddard teaches people to read that goes absolutely nowhere. Second, the political subplot that goes throughout the film and then takes up most of the third act is just... dull. I really didn't care at all about any of that.

Otherwise, the drama and the comedy was good (haven't really touched on the comedy, but there are some pretty funny moments in the film). Tom Doniphon was a really good character with a lot of internal conflict, particularly pertaining to the kind of "love triangle" with Hallie. So I did really like John Wayne, and I still really liked Jimmy Stewart. The turmoil he faces due to the truth of his story is well written and performed. If you're a fan of westerns, I can't imagine that, well, you haven't already seen this. But if you haven't, I have no doubt you'd enjoy it. If you're not a fan of westerns, I say it's worth watching for the two leads and their character archs alone.

I Am McLovin!

1 comment:

  1. Nick, I can see your point about Liberty Valence. Lee Marvin is great, but his part is pretty small. I think this was by design, though. It's more about how the legend grew based on Stoddard's action. Valence is a nasty guy, but even his status as a villain is likely not as big as his name became over the years. I'm glad that I was able to get you to watch your first John Wayne movie. Although many consider The Searchers his finest performance, I think this one stands right with it.

    Stewart and Wayne are definitely the best part of the movie. I'd forgotten about the part where Stewart teaches people to read. Yeah, that's not a highlight. I did find some of the political stuff interesting, but it's secondary to when Wayne is center stage.


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