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John Ford
John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray, John Carradine, Jeanette Nolan
Writing Credits:
Dorothy M. Johnson (short story), James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck

Together For The First Time - James Stewart - John Wayne - in the masterpiece of four-time Academy Award winner John Ford.

Ranking with Stagecoach as one of the greatest of its genre, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the modern-day western to beat all westerns. John Ford, whose very name is synonymous with "westerns," directed the ideal cast. Jimmy Stewart plays the bungling but charming big-city lawyer determined to rid the fair village of Shinbone of its number one nuisance and bad man: Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). And as if all that weren't enough, the biggest star that ever aimed a six-shooter plays the Man of the title: John Wayne. Super sincere Stewart and rugged rancher Wayne also share the same love interest (Vera Miles). One gets the gunman, but the other gets the gal.

Box Office:
$3.2 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 5/19/2009

• Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich Along With Archival Recordings from Director John Ford and Actor James Stewart
• Selected Scene Commentary With Intro By Director’s Grandon Dan Ford Along With Archival Recordings from Director John Ford and Actors James Stewart and Lee Marvin
• “The Size of Legends, The Soul of Myth” 7-Part Featurette
• Galleries
• Theatrical Trailer

• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: The Centennial Collection (1962)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 5, 2009)

Two screen legends united for the first time in 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Set in the 19th century, Senator Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) returns to the frontier town of Shinbone along with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles). Both Senator and Mrs. Stoddard used to live in Shinbone, and they come back for the funeral of their old friend Tom Doniphon (Wayne).

When the local newspapermen demand to know what makes Doniphon’s funeral worthy of a senator’s attention, Stoddard launches into a flashback story and we learn how he came to the town as a young lawyer. Local outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) robs the coach on which Stoddard rides, and when the neophyte barrister protests, Valance nearly beats Stoddard to death.

This incident sets Stoddard on an unusual quest for revenge. He doesn’t want to kill Valance; he wants to jail his assailant. Stoddard pursues this goal and also becomes close to Doniphon, the man who helps him the most as he tries to halt the menace known as Liberty Valance.

Although both Stewart and Wayne never worked together prior to this flick, it’s interesting to note that Shot was one of two 1962 films in which both appeared. The actors also showed up in How the West Was Won, though they never acted together in that one; West’s story spanned many decades, so the paths of the Wayne and Stewart characters never crossed.

Not only does Shot actively mix Stewart and Wayne, but also it proves more satisfying than the lush but dramatically flat West. The only minor negative I find here comes from the age of a few actors. While the film never specifies the ages of its characters, it seems likely that Stoddard and Hallie are supposed to be in their twenties. Both the 32-year-old Miles and (especially) the 53-year-old Stewart just seem awfully old for the roles; that factor requires a bit more suspension of disbelief than one would like. (Then 54-year-old Wayne was also too old for his part, but since we don’t see him as an older man and the movie doesn’t make much of his status, the issue seems less noticeable.)

Nonetheless, I’m willing to make that kind of leap for a quality western like Shot. Regardless of age, the presence of so many talented actors helps make this a strong effort. I especially like the chemistry between Wayne and Stewart. Both men seem to come from different schools of acting, as the swaggering authority of Wayne and the stammering sputter of Stewart don’t feel like much of a match.

However, the two combine well. Actually, I don’t know if Wayne was ever better. Never the most three-dimensional performer, Wayne seems exceedingly relaxed and comfortable here. There’s a certain easy charm to his performance that makes him feel more believable than usual, and his lack of pomp creates a good connection with Stewart.

Unlike Wayne, we don’t automatically connect Stewart with westerns; he made quite a few, but the actor’s name doesn’t evoke the genre in the same way Wayne’s does. His Stoddard creates a contrast with Wayne’s Doniphon, as Stewart provides the broader performance of the two. That doesn’t mean he makes Stoddard a cartoon, though; Stewart tones down the role when necessary, and he gives the part a good sense of everyman humanity.

In the way it neatly combines drama, comedy, action and pathos, Shot reminds me of an earlier John Ford flick: 1939’s classic Stagecoach. That flick was more in the vein of escapist western fare, though, while Shot comes with a deeper message. I don’t mean that as criticism of Stagecoach, of course; it might be the greatest western ever made.

But it doesn’t present much of a social message, while Shot clearly comes with an underlying theme. However, it can be a little tricky to pin down what message the film really wants to convey, especially when we view Shot as part of its era. With the civil rights era in full swing, one could easily see Stoddard as a Martin Luther King character at first – until he gets so fed up with Valance’s outlaw weighs that he goes the Malcolm X route.

Therein lies the mixed message. On one hand, Shot follows a progressive path as the educated Stoddard does so much to embolden and empower the benighted citizens of Shinbone. However, for all his education and liberal ways, the most important change – Valance’s death – only occurs when Stoddard abandons his quest to jail the outlaw and he takes up arms.

Given earlier Ford/Wayne efforts, the goals of Shot become even more intriguing to explore. 1956’s The Searchers came with a somewhat similar message that explored the futility of violence while it also detailed how necessary violence can sometimes be. Both follow their themes in very different ways, but they dig into similar topics.

Of the two, I must say I prefer Shot. For all its plaudits, Searchers has yet to really move me. On the other hand, I think Shot provides a more engaging exploration of its subject. It also turns into a darned entertaining western melodrama.

Trivia footnote: most impersonations of Wayne feature his use of the word “pilgrim”. Shot is the flick that originated that signature term for Wayne – and it may well be the only place he used it.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, this was a good transfer.

Sharpness seemed fine for the most part. Wide shots could be a litle soft and blocky, partially due to some light edge enhancement. Nonetheless, the majority of the film showed acceptable clarity and definition. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering.

Source flaws were essentially absent. I noticed the odd speck here or there, but those were inconsequential. Grain remained within acceptable levels and never became intrusive.

Blacks showed positive depth, and contrast looked solid. Shadows were also quite good, as low-light shots demonstrated nice clarity and opacity. The mild softness kept the transfer from “A”-level, but I found it to be very satisfying.

In addition to the original monaural audio, Shot came with a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. As a fan, I’d rather stick with the theatrical audio, but I thought the expanded track worked well. The soundscape didn’t go crazy with various elements, so it felt like a moderate expansion of the mono mix. Music showed decent stereo spread, and effects broadened to the sides in a convincing manner. Much of the audio remained focused in the center, but some elements like coaches moved across the front speakers in a nice manner.

The 5.1 remix of Shot didn’t do much with the surrounds. At best, the track used the back speakers to reinforce the music and effects. I never became aware of anything more active from the rear channels, and that was fine with me; I didn’t think the movie required any more auditory expansion than it boasted.

Audio quality aged well. Though speech occasionally appeared a little thick, the lines usually sounded pretty natural and concise. Music was reasonably engaging, and effects showed good clarity and definition. My only complaint came from a mild thumping sound that briefly popped up around the 47-minute mark. Nothing here really impressed, but the results were more than acceptable given the age of the material.

How did the picture and sound quality of this 2009 “Centennial Collection” DVD compare with those of the original 2001 release? Both offered virtually identical audio, but the 2009 disc provided substantial visual improvements. The new disc boasted a much cleaner transfer, and it also showed better clarity in low-light situations.

While the old disc included virtually no extras, the “Centennial Collection” package adds a mix of components. On DVD One, we start with an audio commentary. It combines a running, screen-specific chat from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich with archival recordings from director John Ford and actor James Stewart. The commentary covers cast and performances, sets and locations, music and visual styles, and elements of the story.

When you look at my thoughts about prior Bogdanovich commentaries, you’ll see that they’re generally not positive. Does the filmmaker improve on that weak track record? Unfortunately, no. Bogdanovich presents a presence so low-key that he threatens to vanish into the ether. He rarely shows any spirit as he sleepwalks through the movie.

At least the remarks from Stewart and Ford prove more effective. Those offer some interesting stories and thoughts. Unfortunately, they don’t pop up with great frequency, so we’re usually left with Bogdanovich – when he bothers to talk, since we suffer through more than a few dead spots. You’ll learn a smattering of decent facts from the chat, so I don’t want to paint it as a disaster. However, it never becomes better than average, and it often seems dull and flat.

More archival material appears during a selected scene commentary. This includes an intro from director’s grandson Dan Ford and provides notes from John Ford, Stewart, and actor Lee Marvin. If you select the “Play All” option, this collection runs a total of 22 minutes, 43 seconds. We learn that Ford conducted these interviews in the early 1970s as research for a book. The clips cover cast and performances as well as various aspects of the production and the careers of the participants.

Expect a lot of interesting notes here. To my surprise, we don’t get a ton of info from John Ford. Since his grandson led these interviews for a book about the director, I thought he’d dominate, but instead the clips from the actors take up most of the time. All three provide interesting insights, though Marvin’s are probably the best of the bunch.

Over on DVD Two, we find a seven-part featurette entitled The Size of Legends, The Soul of Myth. Viewed as a whole, this show runs 50 minutes, 52 seconds as it presents notes from Bogdanovich, Dan Ford, film critic/historian Richard Schickel, John Ford biographer Scott Eyman, Paramount Picture producer AC Lyles, film historian Michael Blake, Lee Marvin’s widow Pamela, and film critic/author Molly Haskell. We also hear from John Ford, James Stewart and Lee Marvin via archival elements.

The program looks at the status of Hollywood in the early 1960s and how these factors affected Shot. We also examine the source story and its adaptation, the flick’s development and John Wayne’s involvement, John Ford’s approach to the subject matter, themes and interpretation, cast and performances, and the flick’s reception.

“Size” gives us a somewhat disjointed look at Shot. While it digs into some interesting subjects, it doesn’t follow a particularly logical and concise path. It repeats a fair amount of information heard elsewhere, and it doesn’t feel like an especially dynamic take on the material. Oh, it still allows us to learn a reasonable amount about the film, but it never really brings the subject matter to life.

In addition to the film’s trailer - the only extra found on the earlier DVD – we get some Galleries. These break down into “John Ford” (25 stills), “Production” (21), “Publicity” (14) and “Lobby Cards” (8). All prove to be interesting, though the amusingly stiff publicity shots provide the most enjoyment.

Finally, the set includes a booklet. The eight-page piece provides some short production notes and a few photos. It’s not memorable but it’s a nice way to finish the set.

With John Ford behind the camera and both James Stewart and John Wayne in front of it, 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance presents a meeting of cinematic giants. Even with all that such a combination promises, Shot lives up to expectations, as it offers a dynamic, dramatic western. The DVD presents good picture and audio along with an inconsistent but acceptably informative set of supplements.

Shot remains a rich tale, and this “Centennial Collection” DVD gives us its best home video incarnation to date. It improves on the problematic visuals that came with the original 2001 disc and it also includes all-new extras. Fans will definitely want to upgrade to this version.

To rate this film visit the John Wayne Collection review of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main