John Wayne was perhaps the most recognisable face of the Hollywood western. I say “Hollywood western” because if I’d included all the different sub-genres of the trailblazing cowboy flicks available, then Clint Eastwood or even Lee Van Cleef would top Wayne’s frankly forthright stardom. Wayne’s career lives and breathes westerns, so it comes as no surprise that my first encounter with his roles is a marvellous edition of traditional western tropes. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a forthright presentation of genre tropes colliding with a unique story.
Possibly my favourite aspect of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is its frankness. We know exactly what’s going to happen given the title of the movie, but the journey we take to get there is so spectacular that it’s still a surprise. There are subversions of the typical expectations of a western throughout, a lot of the film spends its time building up Valance as someone not to be meddled with. There aren’t too many bawdy gunfights, nor are there more than a handful of deaths. In fact, it feels rather reserved in how it displays violence, and that’s perhaps what I enjoyed most. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is so deep-rooted in accepting that the genre was changing, even in the early 60s.
We still receive tension and trouble in the form of Lee Marvin, but we also received democracy in action thanks to James Stewart’s leading role as Ransom Stoddard. Stoddard is a great representation of the new age of politics, leaning in to democratise and sanitise the old traditions of the west. Coupled up with John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon and you receive a tremendous on-screen pairing.
Truly marvellous as this film is, it was one of my first experiences with the genre. I’d seen A Fistful of Dollars some months prior, but getting my first taste of a John Wayne experience was a real treat to behold. Utilising the star power of his public image, his gun-toting cowboy personality contrasts well with the more reserved, politician that James Stewart offers up. The two have a superb on-screen relationship with one another. Although superb, there are of course the predictable highs and lows that every movie of this style would offer up. Thankfully, Lee Marvin’s portrayal of the eponymous villain manages to
With a real soft spot for the Western genre, I was anticipating a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging experience when it came to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Brimming with talent in the form of leading men James Stewart and John Wayne, the film is nothing short of a feverish depiction of what exactly made the west so wild. Bringing two on screen legends together under one script, solidified by a breakaway from predictable, formulaic storytelling experiences, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has a ubiquitous presentation of the genre, and it does so with definitive style.