Saturday, March 1, 2014

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)

Fresh out of law school, 54-year-old James Stewart is traveling to the small western town of Shinbone when the stagecoach is held up by local bandit Liberty Valance.  He beats the crap out of Stewart and leaves him for dead on the side of the road.  Luckily John Wayne happens to find him and takes him into town for some medical attention.  Shinbone is a small town, not much bigger than a tumbleweed, and it doesn't have a lawyer or much of anything for that matter.  Mostly bars, drunks, a one-man newspaper written by Edmond O'Brien and a restaurant waitressed by Vera Miles.

It's Miles who nurses Stewart back to health.  She even gets him a job washing dishes, since there's no need for a lawyer.  As things progress and the locals faces off against the large ranchers in a fight of statehood vs. territorial control by the ranchers, Stewart is obsessed with seeing Valance face the justice of the Law.  At the same time Valance and his gang continues to terrorize the local population and Wayne sees that his secret love for Miles is in danger of being crushed by her admiration of Stewart.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE isn't your standard western with the wide shots of the beautiful desert vistas, cattle drives and everybody riding horses non-stop.  Most of the action takes place indoors with people talking.  Now whether that was was done by choice or lack of financing I don't know, but it works thanks to the strong script and the fact that TMWSLV has pound-for-pound one of the most impressive casts ever!  It's amazing!  There's one scene (the steak on the floor scene) where you have John Wayne, Vera Miles, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien, Strother Martin, Woody Strode, Jeanette Nolan, Lee Van Cleef and John Qualen all in one area together!  Not to mention Andy Devine ducking out the back door.  That's mind-blowing.

Great story, amazing cast, Strother Martin giggling, Montie Montana's horse drinking out of a water pitcher, tons of familiar faces (including Denver Pyle, Willis Bouchey, Robert F. Simon, Carleton Young, Ted Mapes, Jack Pennick and more), good pace, costume design by Edith Head, John Carradine monologuing and one of my favorite Edmond O'Brien performances ever.  I have no idea why this film only received one(!!!) Oscar nomination.  Highly recommended.