The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

  • Directors: John Ford
  • Producers: Willis Goldbeck, John Ford
  • Writers: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck, Dorothy M Johnson
  • Genres: Drama, Romance, Western
  • Actors: John Wayne, James Stewart, Lee Marvin, Lee Van Cleef

The film opens on preparations for a funeral. A U.S. Senator and his wife have come back to the small town of Shinbone, in an unnamed Western state. The senator is prevailed upon by a newspaper editor to explain why he has come to bury an apparent nobody. The senator explains and the film unfolds in flashback, to a time before the railroad came to Shinbone, to when the region was a western territory and statehood was the pressing issue.

Ransom “Rance” Stoddard (James Stewart) is an attorney who believes in law and order, but refuses to carry a gun. Robbed and violently attacked on his way to town by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), an outlaw with a silver-handled whip, Stoddard is brought to town by a man named Tom Doniphon, who brings the injured stranger to the care of friends in town.

Doniphon (John Wayne) is a rancher, who believes there is no law and 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. Caught in between is Hallie (Vera Miles), a woman widely regarded to be the love of Doniphon’s life.

The movie ends with Senator Stoddard and Hallie returning to Washington by train, melancholy about the lie that led to their prosperous life. 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,” he says, “for the man who shot Liberty Valance.”