the fresh films reviews

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

John Ford
Mannen som skjt Liberty Valance
123 minutes
Willis Goldbeck
John Ford
James Warner Bellah
Willis Goldbeck

Cast includes:

Tom Doniphon John Wayne
Ranse Stoddard James Stewart
Hallie Stoddard Vera Miles
Liberty Valance Lee Marvin
Dutton Peabody Edmond O'Brien
Marshal Link Appleyard Andy Devine
Doc Willoughby Ken Murray
Maj. Cassius Starbuckle John Carradine
Nora Ericson Jeanette Nolan
Peter Ericson John Qualen
Pompey Woody Strode
Amos Carruthers Denver Pyle
Floyd Strother Martin
Reese Lee Van Cleef



In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Ford brought intellectualism, bureaucracy and free press (represented by James Stewart) to the west, and yes, it turned out just as unsexy as it sounds as it clashed with the old-fashioned loner-hero (represented by John Wayne) and his set of tougher and more masculine values. The film's discussion is both important and relevant, however, and Ford demonstrated his understanding of both the mechanisms at play and how the Wayne character was eventually doomed in his encounter with a modern, discussion-based world. Ford's depiction of this is unquestionably the film's strongest point it's where he shows his versatility and progressive side. And were it not for some very obvious and destructive shortcomings, it could have played out as Ford would have wanted. Unfortunately, the task of lifting the drama up from the fact that James Stewart is too old and torpid as the "young" idealistic lawyer is insurmountable. Despite efforts to make him look young, Stewart is nowhere near the unbound, youthful actor he once was in films such as The Philadelphia Story and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. His acting mars almost every dramatic, and hence thematic, segment surrounding his character which incidentally are the majority of the film's pivotal scenes. John Wayne is also too old, of course, but in his case, it only affects his appearance, not his acting.

John Ford is said to have been in a grumpier and more imperious mood than usual on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This may well have been because the film's script mirrored the situation he experienced in Hollywood with the transition from the at this point faltering studio system and the glory days of the western genre into the more auteuristic and independent era of filmmaking in the 1960s and 70s. Liberty Valance has an overtone of disillusion and dejection that makes it attractive from a retrospective point of view. In that perspective, it may be fitting that Ford made this flawed film just as the western genre was about to lose its relevance. Dramatically and thematically, it had a potential that could have made it into one of his best films. It has layers and an interpersonal level which few westerns from this or earlier eras could boast. Some of these stand out as remarkably effective, such as the clash between Lee Marvin's interesting villain and a wonderfully unhinged newspaper publisher played by Edmond O'Brien. But unfortunately, too many of them rely too heavily on Jimmy Stewart's character which simply doesn't work. I'm sure John Wayne's character couldn't have agreed more.

Copyright 05.12.2016 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang