The man who shot Liberty Valance

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The man who shot Liberty Valance

So who was the man who shot Liberty Valance? The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a 1962 Western movie directed by John Ford and starring James Stewart and John Wayne with a classic title song by Gene Pitney.

However for those of us who might have been too young for the movie but old enough to remember the song, who actually did shoot Liberty Valance? The bravery wasn't in the killing but in standing up to the killer.

The Plot

In the late 19th century, a U.S. Senator and his wife have come back to the small town of Shinbone, in an unnamed Western state, in order to attend the funeral of a friend. The senator is prevailed upon by a newspaper editor to explain why he has come to bury an apparent nobody, Tom Doniphon. The senator explains and the film unfolds in flashback to a time before the railroad came to Shinbone and the region was a western territory with statehood the pressing issue.

Ransom "Rance" Stoddard (James Stewart) is an attorney who believes in law and order, but refuses to carry a gun. After graduating from law school, he heads out west to set up a practice in the town of Shinbone. A group of outlaws hold up the stagecoach and Stoddard is brutally beaten and left for dead when he dares to stand up to them. He is later found and taken to town by rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) and is cared for by Hallie (Vera Miles), a woman widely regarded to be the love of Doniphon's life.

It is an open secret that the outlaws are led by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) who uses a silver-handled whip as part of his intimidation tactics. Valance and his men often come to town in order to cause disturbances in saloons and restaurants. Local law enforcement in the person of the slovenly and spineless town marshal Link Appleyard (Andy Devine) is helpless to stop him; he excuses his inaction since Valance's crimes were committed outside the city limits.

Doniphon is one of the few people around to stand up to Valance and his men. However, he himself believes that there is no law and that one "needs a gun in these parts." Doniphon feels that Stoddard is a hopeless tenderfoot who is unable to handle himself in the kind of fights that are common in the West. Stoddard in return cannot understand Doniphon's thinking, which is exactly like Liberty Valance's: might makes right.

The sadistic, sneering Valance takes particular delight in humiliating Stoddard who is earning his keep by working as a waiter in a restaurant. He trips him over and orders him to pick up the steak now lying on the floor. Doniphon, who had ordered the steak, tells Valance to pick it up and the stalemate is only resolved by Stoddard picking it up, but making it further inedible. "Nobody fights my battles," he warns Doniphon, who replies with "Well, that was my steak that he ruined."

When Hallie tells Stoddard she can't read or write, he decides to set up a makeshift school. Local children and a number of adults attend including Doniphon's African-American hired hand Pompey (Woody Strode). As part of the lessons, Stoddard lectures them on the benefits of democracy and the Constitution. While standing under a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, Pompey tries to recite the American Declaration of Independence but stumbles on the "all men are created equal" part claiming he "just plum forgot it", to which Stoddard replies: "a lot of people forgot that part".[2] Doniphon is disdainful of the school and interrupts a class to tell Stoddard how Valance and his men have killed two homesteaders.

Valance works for cattle land barons who wish to keep the territory as it is and prevent it from becoming a state that will introduce laws that could undermine their businesses. A convention is held to select two delegates to the territorial capital city. Almost everyone in town attends, with the notable exceptions of Pompey and the women. Valance attempts to bully the townspeople into making him one of the delegates. Stoddard himself nominates Doniphon, but he refuses since he has "personal plans," i.e. marrying Hallie. Stoddard and the alcoholic publisher of the Shinbone Star, Dutton Peabody (Edmond O'Brien), are selected.

After being thwarted in the meeting, Valance challenges Stoddard to a gunfight. He and his men continue to terrorize the town. He nearly beats Peabody to death after the publication of an unflattering article in the newspaper. In response, Stoddard decides that he must go through with the Valance gunfight. Unfortunately, Stoddard is completely unskilled with a gun and no match for the infamous gunfighter. But, when the shootout occurs, Stoddard miraculously kills Valance, a shock to everyone.

Stunned and wounded, Stoddard goes to Hallie, who responds with tearful adoration. Doniphon sees this and remarks that Stoddard "... got outta that fix real handy." Assuming that he has lost Hallie's affection, Doniphon gets drunk in the saloon and drives out Valance's men who have been calling for Stoddard to be lynched. The barman tries to tell Pompey that, as a black man, he cannot be served, to which Doniphon angrily shouts: "Who says he can't? Pour yourself a drink, Pompey". Pompey instead drags Doniphon home, where the latter burns down the house he was building in anticipation of marrying Hallie.

Stoddard becomes legendary as "the man who shot Liberty Valance," a hero. At a convention to pick the delegate to Washington, D.C. to lobby for statehood, Stoddard is nominated but he has guilt pangs about being a killer and capitalizing on an act of violence. It is only then that Doniphon, who has also turned up for the convention, tells him the "true" story: Doniphon, fetched by Pompey on the pleadings of Hallie, and sure that Valance would kill Stoddard, had stood in a nearby side-street and shot Valance with a rifle. It happened that his shot coincided with Stoddard's and Valance's. The fact that he shot the man from a discreet distance without warning means that it was more murder than an actual gunfight and unlikely though it is Doniphon might face murder charges on those grounds.

When Stoddard asks why he did it, Doniphon bitterly replies he'd done it to please Hallie, which he now regrets because "she's your girl now." Pushing Stoddard to go back in and stand for nomination, Doniphan says, "You taught her to read and write, now give her something to read and write about!"

Stoddard returns to the convention and is chosen as representative. He marries Hallie and enjoys a busy political career, becoming a congressman and serving several terms as Governor of the state and Senator. He even serves a spell as ambassador to Britain and is seen as a potential US Vice-President.

Years later, Tom Doniphon has died, having led a lonely, secluded life of broken man. Stoddard and Hallie return for the funeral where they meet old friends like Appleyard and Pompey. Much has changed with the town now having shops and actual schools, irrigation projects etc. Stoddard confesses the whole story for the first time, but the newspaper editor refuses to publish it and burns the notes his reporter took, stating: "This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Senator Stoddard and Hallie return to Washington by train, melancholy about the lie that led to their prosperous life. With the area becoming more and more civilized, Stoddard decides, to Hallie's delight, to give up politics, return to the territory and set up a law office.

Stoddard asks a conductor how long it will take to get to Washington. The conductor tells them that the train is traveling at high speed and that at an upcoming junction they are holding the express train for him: "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance."

Lee Marvin makes a fantastically evil Liberty Valance.

The song

liberty-valance.jpg - 14.28kb
By netchicken: posted on 7-5-2010

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