I saw this movie once in high school and it really stayed with me because I have always placed it in one of the best western movies I have seen. I had been trying to get Elizabeth to watch this for some time, because it’s on Netflix, but she never seemed interested but once we saw that the Drafthouse was playing it we had to go. (A quick note on seeing this at The Ritz: The ticket was listed for $10 each. I bought two with two Groupons I had, so I got a $20 value for $10. BUT this screening also came with a flight of whiskey and the tickets were supposed to be listed for $25. But since the Drafthouse messed up on the price we got a $50 value for $10 and a shit ton of whiskey!)
I love this film because of all the characters and how they interact with each other. You have John Wayne, who’s a local cowboy/hero of sorts, you have Jimmy Stewart who is a lawyer and not one to carry a gun, and you have Lee Marvin, who is a murderer. This movie is great and if you have never seen it please check it out!
Okay, I really need to talk about something for a second before I really get into The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which I loved. This might not seem that important, but it is.
So. Lee Van Cleef. Now, he was not someone that really showed up on my radar pre-Chris, because I hadn’t really seen him in much before. But now I have seen him. And after The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, I can now conclude (with full support from Chris), that Lee Van Cleef WAS TOTALLY FUCKING SEXY. Now, this slipped past me a little bit, because if I’m totally honest, Lee Van Cleef also sort of looks like a rat. So how do I find this slightly rat-like, often-a-bad-guy sexy? I don’t know. I do not know. He is just so masculine. Oh my god. It really hit me in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance because in the first scene in which Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang (which includes Lee Van Cleef) are seen without masks, it’s in a crowded restaurant and everyone stands up. And even though Lee Van Cleef barely had any lines and wasn’t a main character, my eyes went straight to him. He just totally commands the room without doing a goddamn thing. That’s a fairly rare quality, I think.
Anyway, now that that’s out of the way I can talk about how I think The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is awesome, and particularly awesome for a Western. I’ve usually stayed away from Westerns because they can get pretty redundant and are usually about two-dimensional male characters, which just gets old. But even though this movie is directed by John Ford and stars John Wayne, it somehow is not the stereotypical Western. And because of that, this was by far the best thing I’ve seen John Wayne in. Even though he saunters around and seriously says “Pilgrim” like a hundred times, he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously and acts as a perfect foil to Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart), who is at times comically serious.
I think it’s really the triangle between Tom Doniphon (Wayne), Stoddard, and Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) that makes this movie so strong. Like I said, Tom Doniphon is this old Western-y character, but is also sort of goofy and pretty respectful of everyone around him (unless you’re a murderer). Stoddard is a lawyer who believes in the law so firmly that he clearly doesn’t understand just how lawless the west is. And then there’s Valance, who is SCARY. So many times I find Western villains not to be scary, because we mostly hear about how bad they are, like in High Noon. But the first time we see Valance and his gang, he nearly beats Stoddard to death . . . WITH A WHIP. Uhhhh so that’s scary. We see a newspaper article on how Valance and his gang beat to death a father and son, while the wife/mother “watched helplessly” (aka was raped, I’m sure). They shoot down innocent people, on camera, for no reason. They beat (almost to death) multiple characters, for no reason. It reallyyyy drove home this idea that law doesn’t matter there, and helps support the subplot of Stoddard’s blossoming political career, which eventually brings law and order to the town.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is great. Watch it if you don’t like Westerns (like me). Watch it if you don’t like John Wayne (like me). IT’S SO WORTH IT.