I had never seen John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance before Paramount Canada offered me a copy of the new 4K version of the classic western. I had no idea it was such a political film and while I have always enjoyed performances by Jimmy Stewart, I’ve never really been a John Wayne fan.
There is an excellent exploration of the concepts of might, right, the need for balance between the left and the right, and the threat that big businesses (cattle ranchers and landowners) don’t always have our best intentions at heart.
Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is an attorney at law arriving in Shinbone a small town in one of the open territories, land owned by cattle ranchers. They are very much against Shinbone and the rest of the territory taking on statehood. Ransom has a reason now for his arrival. While there he revitalizes a lot of the town’s intellectual aspects, runs a school to teach reading and writing, and he gets Peabody (Edmond O’Brien), the local newspaper editor, to take pride in his work again.
He also begins to develop a romance with Hallie (Vera Miles), much to the chagrin of the man who has his eyes set on her, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). But man, the way Tom treats and speaks to her, it’s no wonder she doesn’t have a romantic feeling towards him.
Add in the threat of the hired thug, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) to the tale. He’s there to scare the town into cowing under the ranchers. Ransom stands up to him, but he’s not a violent man, he doesn’t carry a weapon, but here on the frontier, he may be in a lot of trouble without one.
Confrontations and problems arise for everyone, and not everything is going to work out well for the people, but it may work out for The People.
This movie shows why I have a problem with a lot of Wayne’s acting style. Everyone in the film has a bit of nuance to their performances Stewart especially. There are minor character beats and arcs that layer out the residents of Shinbone and then in ambles Wayne, and he’s just so broad in his style that it’s almost a little jarring.
For all that, it’s a fantastic film.
And with this new 4K upgrade, I imagine it’s never looked this good. There’s a beautiful picture, gorgeous sound, and sound options, and then, of course, there are the extras. Leonard Maltin delivers a brief Filmmaker Focus which is a new addition to the previously created extras which include a commentary by Peter Bogdanovich augmented by his recordings of Ford and Stewart. There are selected scene commentary and a solid sized behind the scenes doc called The Sizes of Legends, The Soul of Myth which explores the film, its timelessness, and why it endures.
It was a fascinating watch, and I loved recognizing so many of the supporting cast. Stewart is phenomenal as always and this western classic rides anew with its gorgeous picture upgrade.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is available today from Paramount Pictures.