“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. This famous quote from what is considered to be one of John Ford’s finest westerns, the last he made with Wayne, sums up the film. Greenhorn lawyer Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) sets up in a frontier town where the man to fear is the brutal Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and the one man he fears is the decent Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). As Stoddard’s influence grows and Valance sees his waning, so a confrontation is inevitable between the two, and Valance dies at Stoddard’s hand… or does he?
Ford’s film is centred on law and civilisation coming to the Wild West – the town of Shinbone where Stoddard sets up may have a newspaper and a sheriff but it cannot contain Valance and his gang until Stoddard stands up to him. And Doniphon is the middle ground, ambiguous about Stoddard’s standards but also dismissive of Valance’s brutality – the three men all stand at a crucial junction in America’s history without knowing it. One will die by the bullet, one die poor but proud and one will become a senator. Trivia buffs should note that Gene Pitney’s chart-topping eponymous single wasn’t used in the film owing to contractual wrangles but music from the 1939 film The Young Mr Lincoln was re-used for some of the soundtrack!
USA | Paramount / 123 minutes / 1962
Director: John Ford
John Wayne as Tom Doniphon
James Stewart as Ransom Stoddard
Vera Miles as Hallie Stoddard
Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance
Edmond O’Brien as Dutton Peabody
Andy Devine as Link Appleyard
Ken Murray as Doc Willoughby
John Carradine as Maj. Cassius Starbuckle
Jeanette Nolan as Nora Ericson
John Qualen as Peter Ericson
Willis Bouchey as Jason Tully – Conductor
Carleton Young as Maxwell Scott
Woody Strode as Pompey
Denver Pyle as Amos Carruthers
Strother Martin as Floyd
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