Monday, November 16, 2009

Myth meets reality in
'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Starring: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Edmond O'Brien, Lee Marvin and Andy Devine
Director: John Ford
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

A successful 19th century politician (Stewart) reveals the true events behind his legendary gunfight against the feared outlaw Liberty Valance (Marvin) that led to the taming of an entire region of the United States.

"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is at once a fantastic western with an all-star cast giving top-notch performances, a commentary on the evolution of a society, and an exploration of how appearances and legends are sometimes more important than reality. It's a film with a multi-layered story of a timeless kind that speaks as solidly to viewers today as it did when it was released 45 years ago, just as it will speak to viewers 45 years in the future. This is one of those very rare films that truly deserves to labeled as a "classic".

Among the many excellent performances in this film, particular notice needs to be given to John Wayne. To the inattentive viewer, the character of Tom Donaphin is little more than a stereotypical "white hat" cowboy of the kind that Wayne played dozens of times during the 1940s and 1950s. However, Tom is a deceptively complex man whose macho bearing and sincerely held patrician beliefs and attitudes are both his greatest strength and fatal weakness. It's a complex character that Wayne does justice with what may well be the subtlest performance of his career. I suspect anyone out there who likes John Wayne has already seen this movie, but if you haven't, you need to seek it out. It will give you a whole new appreciation for the man's talent as an actor.

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