02 March 2009

DVD: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" - The John Wayne Collection

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Directed by John Ford
Screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck
Based on the short story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Starring: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray
DVD Release Date: 11 April 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
List Price: $9.98
Cinescopes Personality Type: Destined Hunter

The Film
Ransom Stoddard (Stewart), whose political resume includes several terms as U.S. Senator, an ambassadorship and even a term or two as a state governor, arrives in Shinbone unannounced for a funeral.  The local press insist on knowing why, and so the legendary figure tells them of the old days, when he was a younger man who came out west to practice law.  Before even reaching town limits, the stagecoach carrying him is held up by Liberty Valance (Marvin) and his gang, igniting an obsession within Stoddard to bring Valance to justice.  Complicating matters is Rans's refusal to commit an act of violence, as well as his unwitting role in a love triangle competing with Tom Doniphan (Wayne) for the affections of Hallie (Miles).

Talk about spoilers; don't even read the DVD back insert synopsis!  Beyond that act of atrocious labeling, you get the theatrical trailer and that's it.  Fans ought not fret; a two-disc edition is forthcoming as part of Paramount's Centennial Collection in May.  Incidentally, the trailer makes mention of a song, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."  There was, indeed, a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and recorded by Gene Pitney for the film, but not used in the final cut.  (I learned about this on Wikipedia.)  You can download it from Amazon for 89 cents.

The Recommendation
Criticism of this film is very polarized.  Wild West Magazine ranked it the third greatest Western ever made (as discussed in this previous blog entry of mine); to date, it has failed to make any of the American Film Institute's Top 100 lists.  For many, it is a distillation of the Western mythology; for others, it is a near-parody of the genre.  I should qualify that despite holding a degree in history, the American West is a subject I've actually avoided studying.  The British have Camelot, the Japanese, their feudal Shogun era; we have the Old West.  Those myths are an important thread in our social tapestry, and I love the argument put forth in this film: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."  Decide for yourself, but at the very least, see this film.

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