Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim — The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in Review

 I know those law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems.
– Tom Doniphon, as played by John Wayne –

In Summary:
When Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) arrives to the town of Shinbone with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) for a funeral, the townsfolk become curious as to who’s funeral he’s attending and why. Though a few people seem to know the senator well, and it’s established that he spent time there earlier on his life, no one seems to know of the Stoddard’s friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Demanding that they know the truth about the senator’s visit, the local news reporters convince him to tell the tale of his arrival in Shinbone many years ago, his connection to the mysterious Tom Doniphon, and the shooting death of town outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). The bulk of this John Ford film is this old west tale. Check out the trailer below.

Why I watched this one:
For the greater majority of my life (meaning the entire portion that I remember), Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne have been larger-than-life acting gods. I suppose this has little to do with their actual skill as actors, but rather their iconic presence on-screen. It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my all-time favorite movies (not just at Christmas), and Rooster Cogburn, McLintock, and In Harms Way — amongst others — seemed to always be playing at my grandfather’s house in my earlier years. That said, when a fellow movie buff recommended a film to me with both Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in it, I jumped on the opportunity to enjoy both of these iconic actors at the same time.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Black and White).

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I have mixed emotions about this flick for several reasons. On one hand, I’m completely underwhelmed by Jimmy Stewart’s performance. The character of Ransom Stoddard reminded me of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the west. He was too preachy with his law-abiding morals, and downright annoying as a schoolteacher. On the flip-side, I thought John Wayne’s performance was excellent. He stood up to my expectations, and even showed a bit of conflicted depth when dealing with his feelings towards Vera Miles’s character, and even his feelings towards coaching Stewart’s character about the ways of the west. The true surprise for me was Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance. I’m not sure I’ve seen Marvin in anything before, and now I’m totally drawn to him. He represented pure evil in this film, and I have to say even I was a bit afraid of him by the end.

In one of my favorite clips from the film, Liberty Valance’s character trips Random Stoddard, causing Tom Doniphon’s steak to fall on the floor. This is the resulting interaction between the three characters. It’s scene’s like this that make the film entertaining and fulfilling as a western. That, and the fact that this is the film where John Wayne coins the word “pilgrim.” He apparently says it 23 times in this movie, and once in McClintock. Here’s a fun little clip someone put together of each occurence of the word in this film.

Right, so enough fooling around… pilgrim. What did I think of the flick? This is a tough call, because honestly I didn’t feel fulfilled at the end of it. The conclusion is somber, to say the least — a real downer for a western. The good guy wins, I suppose, but another good guy sort of lost… a lot. It’s not your typical western in that regard. That said, it has a sort of honesty to it that can’t be ignored. It addresses the ghosts in Senator Stoddard’s past, and how those ghosts (or legends) got him to his place in life. Who can’t relate to that? In the end, though, I have to say I was mildly disappointed in the film overall. I wanted to like it so badly, and perhaps that was my downfall.

You might clap for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but I unfortunately can only clap for the satisfaction of finally seeing John Wayne say “pilgrim” multiple times in one movie.

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They’re Never Going to Find that Girl; The Searchers, in Review


In Summary:
Set in Texas 3 years after the end of the Civil War, the Edwards family seems to lead a relatively quiet ranch life until Aaron Edwards’s long-lost brother, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), rides back into town. Though his nieces and nephews are thrilled to see their confederate rebel-rousing uncle, his sister-in-law conveys an awkward sexual tension that even the casual viewer can’t help but observe with unease. Before we can figure out what’s going on with that, though, Ethan rides off with the Texas Rangers in search of a cattle thief. Upon his return, he finds his family has been attacked by Comanche indians. His nieces are missing, and he’s determined to track them down. Thus, he embarks with his half-nephew, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter),  his niece’s boyfriend (Harry Carey Jr.), and a posse of men to find the tribe that stole away the girls. As the search party dwindles, we begin to wonder if they really ever will find the girls, and what will happen when they do.

Why I watched this one:
I wanted to watch a John Wayne film that I hadn’t seen. This was my main motivation. I also wanted to watch a John Ford film. I thought I’d seen one. As it turns out, this was my first. This also made two people’s lists of westerns that I should watch.


In doing a little research, I’ve found it was named AFI’s #1 western of all time. You can view the complete list here: http://suite101.com/article/afi-names-top-ten-western-films-of-all-time-a62021

It also made AFI’s top 100 films of all time, landing in spot #96. It wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards.

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I struggled with this one. Even a day after watching this film I’m really not sure how to review it. The peculiarity of the movie is, though it was made in the mid-fifties, it portrays America (Texas specifically) a  few years after the Civil War. In essence, then, it’s a period piece meant to represent a particular time in our history. There’s no denying that the film is horribly racist towards Native Americans, which is extremely difficult to bear throughout. No doubt, there are huge inaccuracies between the way the film portrays life in the late 1860’s and the reality of that time. No doubt, I’ll discuss this further in my later critical examination of westerns.

Racism aside, then, let me point out a few of the things I loved about this movie. The scenery, for one, is amazing. John Ford’s big sweeping open spaces are simply breathtaking. The use of color, contrast, and lighting is also exquisite. I just ate up the dusk scene right before the family was attacked by the Comanche tribe. The orange light used to represent a doom-filled-dusk was Douglas Sirk-esque in it’s over dramatic tone; I savored it. I also have to give props to John Wayne. I grew up watching John Wayne movies with my Grandpa, so I have a personal attachment to him. I see him as this super-sized hero amongst men, who always does what’s right (in the end) — A gruff gunslinger with a heart somewhere down in there. It’s hard to see him otherwise. Somehow, he pulled it off though, because in this film, he portrays a man strongly conflicted by his love of family and his hatred towards Native Americans. Though, in the end he does do the right thing (sort of), his coldness, his bloodthirsty quest for revenge, and his somewhat mixed motives for finding his niece, make him just as much the bad guy as the tribe leader, Scar, that he seeks.

If I throw all analysis aside, though, I have to say I was moved by this film. You can’t help but become invested in Martin Pawley’s character, nor in that of poor Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles) who waits for him back in Texas. Thus, because of it’s cinematic excellence, the fact that it is a period piece meant to represent a far-different time in our history, and my attachment to Martin’s character, I have to clap for it. I do this with much trepidation, though. It dances along the same line as Gone with the Wind in that regard. Though the film itself is well done, what it represents is horrifying.