Monday, March 12, 2007

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Movie Review)

I know, I know.

If I don't like westerns, why do I keep watching them? And, more importantly, why do I begin every review of a western film by reiterating my general distaste for westerns right before I offer a lukewarm to positive review?

Rest assured I'll be opening my very own Netflix account shortly after I move. In the meantime, all I can offer in regards to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is this:

For an award-winning film labeled a "masterpiece" on IMDB, I had a difficult time becoming terribly engaged with this John Ford "classic." It stars John Wayne and James Stewart in roles that don't pretend to be anything but allegory. Or even a reverse allegory.

Here's what I mean: Stewart plays "Ransom" Stoddard, the young lawyer/old senator who finds himself clinging to his law books in the "lawless" West. Wayne plays Tom Doniphon, the stereotypical cowboy who's good at heart but understands the value of sharpshooting as a means of conflict resolution.

Enter "Liberty" Valance, played by Lee Marvin. Liberty is the ruthless cowboy who plagues travelers and town-inhabitants alike with his lyin', stealin', cheatin', yellin', drinkin', rebel-rousin' ways.

Liberty and his gang rob Ransom as he first enters the town of Shinbone. Liberty himself beats Ransom to a bloody pulp, leaving him alone in the wilderness to die — but not before the ceremonial ripping of pages out of Ransom's law books.

Enter Doniphon, who rescues Ransom by taking him into town for medical attention. But Doniphon makes the mistake of taking Ransom to the home of Doniphon's own "girl." What's a "girl" to do when a handsome young idealist enters into an otherwise lawless town?

I won't spoil the fun by going further, though you can probably do the math. Suffice it to say I did find this film to be oddly compelling in certain aspects, though the allegory (I mean, a lawless man called "Liberty" tearing pages from a book of justice? A man of the law being forced to confront the lawless ways of the west?) is anything but subtle. Some of the dialogue follows suit — one of the main reasons I generally have such a difficult time with westerns.

Still, if you like this genre... Liberty is worth a shot.

No pun — or allegory — intended.

FINAL GRADE: B-

3 comments:

disgruntled world citizen said...

once you become a member of netflix, we must absolutley become netflix friends!

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