I was 11 years old when I first saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and it’s been one of my favorite movies ever since. I consider it among the best westerns ever made — right up there with the Coen Brothers’ version of True Grit, or Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.
I’m glad to see that A.O. Scott of the New York Times seems to agree. We are often in accord, A.O. and I. This morning he has a short video discussing the film, which is about an idealistic young lawyer who is forced to use violence to vanquish violence.
I’m pretty sure the video is meant to coincide with current events. Recently another relatively young lawyer was forced to choose violence over the rule of law. Finally, Barack Obama picked up a gun. As a result, Osama bin Laden will be making no more videos — and, we hope, inspiring no other loons to indiscriminate slaughter. Now we can print the legend, and maybe get back to that rule-of-law business.
Of course, bin Laden is no Lee Marvin. As Liberty Valance, the man is a joy to watch. He’s a very evil dude and he loves his work. Unlike bin Laden, he doesn’t need to justify his deeds with incoherent philosophies. Robbery, bullying and murder are their own rewards. Jimmy Stewart’s trembling idealism is no match for such a man — a point clearly illustrated in the ultimate showdown. Even a litigious society like ours needs its John Waynes, and, these days, its U.S. Navy Seals.
For a John Ford movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has a surprisingly minimalist look to it. It’s in black and white, and the studio sets can seem kind of cheap by today’s standards. What makes it stand out is the source material — a big shout-out to Dorothy Johnson, who used to live down the street from where I lived in Missoula — and Ford’s sure hand as a director. I used to love the Gene Pitney theme song, too — that was back when every movie song had to have the movie’s title in the lyrics.
In the unlikely even that you haven’t seen this movie, Dave Bob hereby encourages you to check it out. If you have seen it, feel free to add a pithy comment below.