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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

#64 - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
John Ford, 1962

An ageing senator gives a journalist an account of his most famous deed - the killing of a notorious outlaw.

From what I've seen, John Ford is a solid Western director and I'd already appreciated the work John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart did in The Shootist. Unfortunately, I did read enough about the film to know about the film's big twist, namely that

WARNING: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" spoilers below
it is actually Wayne's character that shoots Liberty Valance, not Stewart's character.

In the text I was reading, that event was presented in such a way that I thought it was a foregone conclusion, but no, it's supposed to be a surprise. Even leaving that aside, this is a serviceable but not amazing Western that has enough shades of revisionism to make it interesting. Stewart and Wayne still play to their strengths - the former has his usual mix of good-hearted candor and marble-mouthed nerviness, while the latter peppers his trademark drawl and swagger with just enough cynicism to make it tolerable. There's a collection of good character actors on hand - Edmond O'Brien is either amusing or irritating as the local paper writer and town drunk, while Vera Miles does well as the token female character who is more or less limited to being a foil/love interest for both Stewart and Wayne. The stand-out of the bunch is the inimitable Lee Marvin as the titular outlaw, conveying enough menace to overcome his rather archetypal Western villain.

It's a good premise and all, but I find the execution fairly lacking. It does sort of run out of steam after its climatic reveal, which is a shame because a lot of its dramatic weight comes with the fallout of such an action. The film is generally solid but I guess it feels a bit by-the-numbers when it's not being an interesting take on Western mythology.