LoWCW: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance {review}

Er mah gersh.

People, this is one fine Western. 

I'd heard the general, vague "it's a big classic" hype about TMWHSLV, but I didn't really know the storyline.  I knew Jimmy Stewart starred in it, and, given the title, I randomly assumed that it was some kind of murder mystery for a long time.  Well...it isn't.

There were two main draws to this movie for me:  it was a classic, and it was Jimmy Stewart.  I enjoyed Jimmy's performance, but what really blew me away was John Wayne in the role of Tom Doniphon.  Oh. My. Word.

The story is about an idealistic young lawyer (Ransom Stoddard) who finds himself in the town of Shinbone after being mugged by the notorious Liberty Valance and his gang.  There he is welcomed and befriended by the locals, who are impressed by his lauded courage at the time of Liberty's attack, and by his cultured education and glowing new ideas of justice.  Particularly twitter-pated is Hallie...but she is loved by tough-as-nails Tom Doniphon.  This causes problems for Tom, who likes Ranse well enough but doesn't want to lose Hallie.

Prepare for feels.

Ransom Stoddard...I wasn't crazy about him.  Don't get me wrong, he's nice and all, but something's just a little...off.  He's definitely a firebrand, and I have difficulty warming up to firebrands, especially fictional ones, even if they're good people (i. e. Nicholas Higgins from North and South).  For one thing, I'm not overly impressed by their volcanic tempers.  They're just so danged excitable, and I prefer more mellow dispositions.  Ranse was definitely one of the former, which was a little off-putting, especially since I've read that Jimmy Stewart was a pretty easy-going guy.  It didn't seem very...I dunno, natural.  But then again, there were moments when he was really pretty cool and I liked him ("That's all right, Pompey; a lot of people forget that part of it."), and part of my dislike for him was probably founded on the fact that *SPOILERS* Hallie chose him over Tom *END OF SPOILERS*.  It's just that overall, I was a wee bit disappointed with Jimmy Stewart's role in this one.

THIS GUY, though!  This guy was a totally different matter.  

Wow.  What can I even say about him?  I loved and pitied Tom (why are there so many awesome cowboys named Tom??) so much.  For one thing, he has some of the best lines ("You're a persistent cuss, pilgrim.").  

How he would watch Hallie with that lovelorn, puppy-eyed expression and that lopsided smile whenever she spoke or came anywhere near him...ohhhhh.  Sniffles.  I think sometimes he'd say things just to "get a rise" out of her, because one of the things he so loved about her was her feisty personality (I didn't, but to each his own).

I honestly believe that he did truly love her--which is wonderful, because sometimes in movies one can't be sure whether or not it's just a very intense like instead of an authentic love.  This guy, in my opinion, definitely proved it by his actions.   I loved his adorable little "attentions" to her--giving her the rose, and then can we talk about how adorable it was when he opened the little door for her as she was coming into the kitchen?!  THAT GRIN ON HIS FACE.   And the way he talked to/about her: 

Tom:  "Hallie?  You know, you're awful pretty when you get mad."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mr. Peabody:  "Mighty nice girl, that Hallie.  Mighty pretty."
Tom:  "I agree with you, sir."

*SPOILERS AHEAD*  But the biggest proof of his love was definitely *sniffle* what he did at the showdown between Ranse and Liberty.  It could have been easy to let Ranse face Liberty alone, you know.  Sure, Tom knew that it was 99.99% positive that if he did, Ranse wouldn't even stand a chance against Liberty's astronomically superior gun-fighting skills, but there was always that .01% possibility--enough to clear Tom from knowing allowance of an inevitable murder.  And if Ranse had faced Liberty and been killed, all Tom's troubles, at least hypothetically, would be over.  Ranse's awe-inducing presence would be gone, and Tom could feel safe of the chance to "win" Hallie "back."


"Hallie wanted you alive."  Tom knew deep down that Hallie was already lost to him.  She'd already fallen for Ranse, and so Tom decided to sacrifice all his hopes, dreams, goals--all for hers.  He saved Ranse's life and stepped quietly out of Hallie's.  Isn't that the greatest kind of love?  The selfless kind, the sacrificial kind.  The kind that says, "I want and love you more than you can possibly imagine, but I respect your right to make your own choices, and so I'm going to let you go."  Reminding anyone else of the love shown on the Cross?  (Okay, I know that's an extreme example to which to liken TMWSLV, but y'all know what I mean.)  *SORTA-KINDA-END OF SPOILERS*

The tragic thing, though, is that that sacrifice took something from Tom--his purpose.  I don't want to remind you all of the room he was building for Hallie, but...I'm going to anyway.


It was soooooo saaaaaaaaad.  

But it was also really sweet, because POMPEY THOUGH.  And he drags him out…and the Tom's all, "The horses, Pompey!"…and then Pompey gets them out of the corral and takes care of Tom and it was just a very feelsy scene, okay?!

And then when Tom stumbles into the election, all disheveled and heartbroken, but he takes the time to whip Ranse into shape and make him accept the election and make Hallie happy…  

At the end, this part:

You know the cactus rose got you.  You know it did.

Whew.  I could go on…but I'm not going to.  Basically, this Western is stupendous.  It's really quite good.  It's also so incredibly sad and sobering that I don't know if I even want to re-watch it all the way through anytime soon.  It's a story about choices and consequences, and heroism and sacrifice.  

"Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance."


  1. Hi, Olivia! I'm Carissa and I found your blog because of Hamlette, and well, I love this movie so I just had to comment!

    It's been years since I've watched TMWSLV, but I still remember it as being one of my favorite westerns.
    And the very first time I liked John Wayne because, like you said, he was AMAZING. I'm a huge Jimmy Stewart fan, so he was the main reason why I watched it, but it's about more than just him now. Sacrifice, deceit, love, loss, so much is wrapped up in this one story. It's definitely one of the better westerns out there. Which, naturally, means I have to rewatch it. High time after so many years.

    1. Hi, Carissa! Thank you so much for visiting and commenting! It really means a lot:)

      I agree with you, ma'am ;) It's definitely one of the better Westerns out there! Aaaaggh, I know, John Wayne was ah-MA-zing in this one.

  2. I really like your point about sacrificial love there. Christ made the ULTIMATE sacrifice for us, and obviously none of us can ever do anything that great, but every time we make a sacrifice for someone else--no matter how small--it's a kind of reflection of what He did for us, and it brings us that much closer to Him. Like that line at the end of Les Mis--"To love another person is to see the face of God."

    1. Exactly, Jessica! I like how you pointed out that no matter how small, any kind of sacrifice does bring us closer to Christ. And oh my goodness, that is a perfect quote for this issue!

  3. Wowwww. I can see what you mean by feels! This looks like one of those really tough but amazingly awesome movies. Yet another western it appears I must see!

    Haha, I cracked up at the name Shinbone. ;-P

    1. Yuuuuussss. You should definitely add it to your list, Emma!

      Haha, I know, right?! What a random name for a town...

  4. This is such a good movie and your review made me want to watch it again!!!!

    1. Aww, thanks, Lois! YES, isn't it good?!

  5. This is definitely a great movie. Such strong performances from everyone. I really enjoyed your writeup on this one, as I'm not emotionally sucked into this one, and it was really neat to read about someone who was!

    1. Absolutely. Oh, I'm glad you liked it, DKoren! Hee, I wasn't expecting to get emotionally involved, but then I just kind of...did ;)

  6. I've really been wanting to watch this. My first reason was just for the fact that John Wayne and James Stewart are in the same movie together (because I love both of them). Now I really want to watch it for the story line. Can't wait to watch it! :-)

    1. Aaack, yes, I know how you feel, Ekaterina! I first knew that Jimmy was in it; then I found out that John was in it; then I decided, "YES, I must watch this." Ooh, goody! I think you'll like it:D

  7. The only thing that feels slightly "off" to me about this film is that Jimmy Stewart was way too old for the part of Ranse Stoddard, at the age he was supposed to be in the flashback. Now, you take Jimmy Stewart as he was in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington years back and he'd be perfect. But I can never quite shake off the fact that he's a middle-aged man trying to play younger. John Wayne somehow pulls it off here; you don't think about his character's age.

    But aside from that, I agree, it's a splendid movie.

    1. (Sorry for this extremely late comment, Elisabeth!)

      I agree. Something just wasn't sitting rightly with me about his performance, and maybe that was it! Hehe, yes--John Wayne didn't seem too old at all, but my dear Jimmy rather did;D Ranse and Hallie also didn't quite seem to suit, in my opinion...but maybe that's just because I was rooting for Tom.

      But yes, altogether, wonderful!:)

  8. I agree that the love story between Ranse and Hallie feels a little hollow. I think that Ranse is the kind of man Hallie wanted to love, and to be loved by -- someone educated and full of ideas, someone different from the men she'd always known. And so I feel like, she convinces herself she loves him, just because she wants to love him. She was never going to be happy with Tom now that she'd met Ranse, no matter how much Tom loved her. I think Tom saw that, and realized that Hallie did not return his love, whether or not she loved Ranse yet -- Ranse is what she wanted, and Tom gave him to her, and her to him. Happily, I do feel like she and Ranse grew to genuinely love each other, based on the way they behave together in the later parts of the timeline. It's one of the saddest westerns I've ever seen (but a good sadness, not a bitter sadness like The Wild Bunch or a despairing sadness like The Shootist), and one of John Wayne's best performances, for sure.

    1. Yep. I think Hallie was more just twitter-pated with Ranse's education and speech, like you said. And Ranse wasn't really thinking about her "in that way" until Tom mentioned it to him…

      *sniffles* Yes! Tom is hero <3 I do certainly hope they grew to love one another! I think Ranse definitely grew to love Hallie. I wasn't absolutely positive about Hallie--in a couple parts, I almost couldn't tell if she was a little regretful, but hopefully you're right and I'm wrong, hehe;D

      Exactly--"it's a good sadness." It's bittersweet, poignant--but not despairing, like you mentioned.

    2. I think Hallie regretted the pain she caused Tom -- I think Ranse did to. But I don't think she regretted marrying Ranse.

    3. Ah, good point. Yep, you're probably right, Hamlette!


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