Friday, March 11, 2011

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has been described as Ford’s lament at the passing of the Western Legend. Some say it is the story of the classic self-made-man of the west willingly giving way to the future of law and order. Instead, it is a pretty stiff jab at the idea of the Western legend itself.

Everything about this movie highlights the artificiality of the presentation. For a Ford film, the soundstage setting stands in stark contrast to the Monument Valley setting of his other films. The set-up of the scenes and the acting all highlight the feel of this being more of a play than an epic western. Even details like the 50 year old O.Z. Whitehead playing a teen-ager all remind us that this is not a true story, but an elaborate artificiality.

The story itself is all about the taming of the West, made possible by the legendary action of Senator Ransom Stoddard. The only problem is that the legendary action in question never happened. He is known as the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but he never killed the man. That is not to say that the point of the story is that the progress achieved was bad. This is not an anti-American film. It does present the viewer with the uncomfortable reality that even great cultures are often built on legends and things that never happened.

This is not the sort of story that exhorts one to action or to consider a change. It is a simple acknowledgement of an embarrassing truth. However, it can serve as a challenge to seek to achieve good through noble and honest means; even if the only benefit to doing so is the fact of one being able to live with oneself.

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