THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE Comes to Blu-ray and You Need to Own It!

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In the past few weeks Paramount announced they were developing a remake of the THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.  Say what you want about all of the remakes cinema churns out these days, most of them are pale copies of the originals.  Occasionally, though, you get a film that’s of comparable quality or even superior to the original.  I don’t know what the future holds for the VALANCE remake, but I’ll tell you, if the producers make a film that even approaches the original, well, look out, there’s a spectacular film in the offing.

Produced more than fifty years ago, director John Ford created an indelible masterpiece with a loaded cast, engaging story, and deeper meaning that speaks across the generations.  Sure this is a Western, which seems to be a dirty word to modern audiences, but it’s actually so much more.  

At its most basic, it’s the tale of the titular bully Liberty Valance inhabited with abject vileness by the incomparable Lee Marvin.  Valance has the town of Shinbone under his gang’s thumb and refuses to relent.  Taking what he wants and terrorizing all those in his path.  Until, of course, the epitome of good arrives in the being of “Ranse” Stoddard as portrayed by James Stewart.  As always, Stewart is a stalwart when he plays a stalwart that will not bow to pressure and sink to the level of a valueless slug like Valance.  He pushes back non-violently against Marvin’s villains for most of the running time but finally steps outside for an epic showdown on Main Street.

What happens?  Well, the title pretty much says it all, no?  I don’t want to giveaway the entire story, but once Valance is shot dead, Stoddard’s life takes off to the stratosphere.  He’s a celebrity and on the fast track to becoming representative to Washington for his unnamed territory’s bid for statehood.  What he’s done is eating him alive, but there’s a final reveal that helps set his mind at ease and drive him forward as a celebrated politician for the people.  

This is really just one important aspect of the film, because John Wayne also stars as Tom Doniphon.  Wayne is a key contributor to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE in that he features into a love triangle over the beautiful Hallie (Vera Miles) and Stoddard.  Although there’s the bit of a triangle, Wayne also plays the sort of devil-on-the-shoulder rooting for Stoddard to stand up to Valance.  The Duke’s part goes even deeper than that, but there’s only so much I can tell.

John Ford’s other wrinkle surrounds the line “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  This is a pretty ambiguous and lends a really grey tone to the entire film.  There are clear good guys and villains, but there aren’t simple cardboard cutout white hats and black hats.  So much depth comes with the love story, when to fight back, and what to do when you learn all your accomplishments may be built on deception.  We are talking a depth like the Mariana Trench!  

There aren’t any extras on the Blu-ray but the film is loaded with a fabulous group of secondary players that make up for the absence of featurettes.  People like Woody Strode, Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin, John Carradine, and Andy Devine populate this world with so many more engaging players that I dare you to turn away from the screen at any point. 

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE may be over fifty years old, but it deals with themes that are still an important part of our lives.  The word right now is that the remake will take place in 1980s Pennsylvania and surround the fall of the steel industry.  I can just as easily see the themes in a modern setting dealing with “reality” television or small town politics.  Even though the story could be remade, there’s simply no reason for it.  Watch a remake at your own risk, but this is an absolute classic that everyone who considers themselves a moviegoer needs to own.  

5.0 / 5.0