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Directed by John Ford

United States 1962 123 mins. In English

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” That most famous of lines from John Ford’s late-career masterpiece is an excellent summation of the mythological aspects of not only the American West—a subject about which Ford was the undisputed master—but of American-style politics and its tenuous relationship to the mainstream media. Foundation myth is at the heart of Liberty Valance: Valance (Lee Marvin at his vicious best), a drunken and violent maniac, terrorizes the small frontier town of Shinbone, which promising young lawyer “Ranse” Stoddard (James Stewart) experiences firsthand when Valance and his gang rob Ranse’s stagecoach upon his arrival in town. Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), a tough rancher who lives on the outskirts of Shinbone and wants to mostly be left alone, runs across the aftermath and befriends Ranse. But as Valance is left unchecked in a lawless town like Shinbone, a showdown looms and the critical question of “who shot Liberty Valance?” comes to the fore, and the origin story of Ranse Stoddard, US Senator, is born. “The greatest American political movie. . . a movie about the moral burden of a life lived in the name of a myth and the ethical implications of direct action. Implicitly, the subject of the film is also that of a nation founded in this way.”—Richard Brody, The New Yorker.

Genres: Western

Appears in: Print the Legend