A solid, if overrated, Ford western, one with its share of cliches and predictability. It's still fascinating to watch Wayne and Stewart deal with hellion Marvin in a changing West. The movie opens after the story is all over, when Sen. Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) and his wife (Miles)
return to the western town of Shinbone in 1910. They have unexpectedly come to the funeral of Tom Doniphon (Wayne), which piques the interest of a local reporter. Ransom begins to tell how he came to know Tom, as the movie flashes back to Shinbone's wild and woolly days. A fledgling lawyer, Ransom
must contend with local nasty Liberty Valance (Marvin). He is waylaid by Valance and his men just as he enters the territory; working for a group of powerful businessmen, they believe he is an agitator for statehood, exactly what the powerful locals don't want. Beaten up and left for dead by
Valance, Ransom is found by Tom, who takes him to town, helps him find work, and supports his eventual bid for elected office. He even tries to teach the awkward lawyer the art of gunfighting, because Valance must still be dealt with. The truth behind the killing of the no-good varmint gradually
comes out, but, as the reporter notes: "It ain't news. This is the West. When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend."
Starkly photographed and often heavily screened for nighttime shots, Ford's picture of the West here is a gloomy one, often pitch black when the only thing that comes out of it is the beastly Marvin. Many cliches and stereotypes people the film; the crusading newspaper editor, for example, had
been used in many an earlier western, notably DODGE CITY. Oddly Ford, the master of great western exterior scenes, shot the entire film on two Paramount sound stages. Auteur critics have found much worth in this elegiac film, though in some ways it revisits the themes of Ford's earlier FORT
APACHE. The movie is certainly above average, thanks to the performances by Stewart and Wayne, but Marvin is so flamboyant a badman that he is simply a caricature, even more so than in his outlandish Oscar-winning turn in CAT BALLOU.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: A solid, if overrated, Ford western, one with its share of cliches and predictability. It's still fascinating to watch Wayne and Stewart deal with hellion Marvin in a changing West. The movie opens after the story is all over, when Sen. Ransom Stoddard (St… (more)