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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Centennial Collection) - action adventure DVD / Western review
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (PARAMOUNT CENTENNIAL COLLECTION) Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 1/2 stars
Actors: John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Vera Miles, Woody Strode
Director: John Ford   Studio: Paramount
DVD release: 19 May 2009   Runtime: 123 minutes (2 discs)
Format: AC-3, Black & White, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, NTSC
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 2.35:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 - English; Dolby Mono - English, Spanish), Subtitles (English SDH, Spanish, French), Commentary (Peter Bogdanovich w/ his archival recordings with John Ford and James Stewart), Selected scene commentary (intro by Dan Ford w/ his archival recordings with John Ford, James Stewart and Lee Marvin), "The Size of Legends, The Soul of Myth," Original theatrical trailer, Galleries

"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
That classic line perfectly sums up legendary director John Ford's last great film. It is a very sad film, one that works as both an elegy to the Old West and as rather pointed critique debunking some of the Old West myths that Ford himself might have helped to create.

Like many classic Ford Westerns, there is a dramatic tension between the often brutal individualism of the men and women who first went West and the creeping in of social order as the U.S. tried to "tame" the West. However, it is a drastic departure from classic Ford Westerns in other ways: for one, instead of brilliant color like that seen in The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is in stark black and white. Second, instead of the majestic Monument Valley, most of the film is shot on sound stages (the sound stage choice is fitting in that some of the realism is lost; these are events from the past, from the memory of one man who's fate was decided in one brief moment long ago).

The story: a U.S. Senator named Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) and his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles), return to the small town of Shinbone to bury a local drunk named Tom Doniphan. The locals are shocked by his visit and don't understand why the senator would travel so far just to bury some outcast (the local newspaperman hadn't even heard of Tom). Stoddard then recounts who Tom was and how both their fates were decided by one incident.

Stoddard recalls how he was a confident young man fresh out of school who was determined to tame the West. Before he even gets to his destination, his stagecoach is ambushed by a gang of bandits led by one Liberty Valance (a truly fearsome Lee Marvin in the role that started his career). When Stoddard bravely but unwisely tries to prevent Valance from taking the possessions of an elderly passenger, Stoddard is bullwhipped for his troubles.

Stoddard is found and saved by Tom (John Wayne) and his sidekick Pompei (Woody Strode), then nursed to health by Hallie, whose parents own a local restaurant.

Dramatic tension soon develops in various forms. A love triangle soon develops between Hallie, would-be flame Tom, and the idealistic Stoddard. Less straightforward, but still present, is political tension between Tom, who feels the only form of justice men like Valance respect comes from a gun, and Stoddard, more determined than ever to end the lawlessness of the frontier.

The title of the film obviously notes the key plot point, but I don't dare tell how it happens. The moment itself, however, is powerful and resonates like a tremor throughout the remainder of the film, as both Stoddard's and Tom's fates take dramatic turns from this incident.

The acting, as would be expected from this cast, is superb (with strong work added by classic character actors such as Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin, Andy Devine and Edmond O'Brien). Wayne especially brings a sad, noble dignity to his role that few other actors could have. It is good and fitting that film critics are finally realizing that the Duke was indeed a great actor.

The film is haunting, moving and thought-provoking, obviously about much more than what is on the surface. It about the death of the Old West and, again, works as both an elegy and as a suggestion that much of the romanticism of the era was not based on fact. This film is required viewing for anyone interested in Westerns.

Two commentary tracks on Disc One:
  • One from filmmaker and historian Peter Bogdanovich, along with archival recordings of interviews he conducted with Ford, Stewart and Wayne.
  • One from Ford biographer and grandson Dan Ford, along with archival recordings he did with his grandfather, Stewart and Marvin.
Features on Disc Two:
  • The Size of Legends, The Soul of Myth, an hour-long retrospective on the film.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Four photo galleries
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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