A movie which can cover off democracy, civil rights, gender equality and the importance of education while still being one of the finest westerns ever written has a lot going for it. To say that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a classic is almost redundant. A cast which includes The Duke, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin and the legendary comic actor Andy Devine as Marshall Appleyard is just one of the reasons why The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the all time great westerns. John Ford in the directors chair and a classic script of clearly delineated characters complete the circle which makes The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance a must see for anyone who is a fan of film.
The strengths of this film lie in the effective use of the expectations of the audience that the characters and the actors perform to type. We expect the tenderfoot lawyer (Stewart) to lack understanding of how things are done in the Wild West. We expect there to be a love story subplot which complicates matters. While it might seem that meeting all the audience expectations would lead to a trite or cliché movie the Ford takes advantage of the audience’s expectations to grow the surface story into a deeply moving story of men and women who are willing to sacrifice everything – their lives and loves – for an idea. It makes for a very powerful movie.There isn’t a false note in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. From the Oscar winning costumes of Edith Head to the portrayal of the loathsome Liberty Valance by Lee Marvin, the earnest tenderfoot lawyer Ransom and the steady self sacrificing Tom Doniphon (John Waynd) everything works. The most significant feature of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the outcome of the movie: A classic western hero dies in obscurity and the man who represents a different kind of heroism rises to fame. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a DVD which has to make it into the collection of any true film fan.