A tenderfoot becomes a hero after shooting a bad man, but the shot was really fired by his friend.
"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." That's more than the code of a newspaperman in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
; it's practically the operating credo of director John Ford, the most honoured of American filmmakers. In this late film from a long career, Ford looks at the civilising of an Old West town, Shinbone, through the sad memories of settlers looking back. In the town's wide-open youth, two-fisted Westerner John Wayne and tenderfoot newcomer James Stewart clash over a woman (Vera Miles) but ultimately unite against the notorious outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Ford's nostalgia for the past is tempered by his stark approach, unusual for the visual poet of Stagecoach
and The Searchers
. The two heavyweights, Wayne and Stewart, are good together, with Wayne the embodiment of rugged individualism and Stewart the idealistic prophet of the civilisation that will eventually tame the Wild West. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
may be the saddest Western ever made, closer to an elegy than an action movie, and as cleanly beautiful as its central symbol, the cactus rose. --Robert Horton