This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club. It runs Feb. 1 – Mar. 3, in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar.
We love a movie that gives you so much to enjoy, you even like the hats.
Yes, the hats. No two in this film are quite the same – and if you’ve seen this movie, you know what we’re talking about.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) has all the fixin’s you need for a good Western: gun fights, bad guys, John Wayne – and a terrific assortment of hats. It’s directed by the crusty John Ford, and features costumes (plus hats) by the fabulous Edith Head.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the story of a young(ish) lawyer (James Stewart), who journeys to the Wild West to open a law office. Alas, en route, his stagecoach is overtaken by the notorious Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), a man as cold and unforgiving as concrete. Not only does he rob the stagecoach, Marvin beats Stewart and leaves him for dead. But all is not lost; John Wayne finds him the next day and takes him to Shinbone, the nearest town, for medical treatment.
Stewart is put under the care of Hallie (Vera Miles), a feisty woman who helps run the town’s restaurant. She and Wayne have an Understanding, although Wayne has not yet proposed. However, now that Stewart has arrived in town, with his law books and his readin’ and writin’ ways, Miles finds herself in a quandary.
Stewart’s character is a strong believer in the rule of law, and is appalled at any suggestion of carrying a weapon. According to Stewart, if one is armed with the law, then one has the ability to resolve conflicts rationally and justly. Wayne and Marvin, on the other hand, believe that a gun is more efficient than the legal process.
Wayne and Marvin hold the balance of power in Shinbone, and in this film. Marvin is volatile, but Wayne’s presence keeps him in check, like an Old West version of Detente. Even so, we the audience know that a showdown’s a-comin’ between Stewart’s principles and Marvin’s thirst for blood and power.
We (as in, yours truly) believe that a great western has great characters, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has some of the best. In this movie, Wayne is the self-appointed Boss Of Everything, like he always is, and frequently uses the moniker “Pilgrim” when addressing Stewart. (Example: “Take it easy there, Pilgrim.” or “You gonna be alright there, Pilgrim?”) He also orders his steak with a simple, “Burn me a good thick one.”
Stewart is well cast as a man who loves the rule of law and abhors violence, but in Shinbone he smacks into his principles as though they were a brick wall. His character is smart and determined – and not entirely predictable.
And let’s not forget Lee Marvin as the wicked Liberty Valance, a man who would rather chuck furniture out of his way than walk around it. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Lee Marvin in this role, and even in his pristine Edith-Head designer duds, he is a perfect foil for John Wayne.
Our Edith was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in this film, but lost to Norma Koch for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is an interesting study of friendship and sacrifice, love and duty. It’s a film that you think you can predict, but you can’t. It’s a Western that we – ahem – take our hat off to.
Academy Award Nomination (1962):
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: starring James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles. Directed by John Ford. Written by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck. Paramount Pictures, 1962, B&W, 123 mins.