Sog.: based on the novel of the same name (1953) by Dorothy M. Johnson. Scen.: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck. F.: William H. Clothier. M.: Otho Lovering. Scgf.: Eddie Imazu, Hal Pereira. Mus.: Cyril J. Mockridge. Int.: James Stewart (Ranse Stoddard), John Wayne (Tom Doniphon), Vera Miles (Hallie), Lee Marvin (Liberty Valance), Edmond O’Brien (Dutton Peabody), Andy Devine (Link Appleyard), Ken Murray (Doc Willoughby), Woody Strode (Pompey). Prod.: Willis Goldbeck per Paramount Pictures Corp., John Ford Productions. DCP. Bn.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is John Ford’s recapitulation of the worldview of the Western. Set against each other are the wilderness and the garden – on the one hand the untamed West, on the other hand civilisation as it was built in the last decades of the 19th century. Those times, that ‘Wild West,’ are already a mere memory when the film begins, but the conflict was still a brutal reality when the small town was ruled by a bandit who totally disregarded rules and laws, a man named Liberty Valance. The starting point is the return of Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) to his old town to the funeral of one Tom Doniphon. John Wayne portrays that man who, after a rugged life, has died so unknown that the small town’s own journalist knows nothing about him. This deep and wistful film is the end of a long journey of exploration. In this laconic, effortlessly great film we sense a majestic breath of the cinema. One need only look at the performances of the two protagonists, how Ford mirrors familiar images and characters to reveal something new. On a rare level this is an encounter of two stars. Stewart was directed by Ford for the second time here but had elsewhere created – most emphatically under the direction of Anthony Mann – a strong Western persona. Wayne was, of course, the star that Ford had directed most often since 1939. Their images meet, and the contact creates a film where everything is immeasurably simple and immeasurably complex. Past history and the film’s present meet seamlessly. In it John Ford, the interpreter, or the relic, of a dream of a bygone age, offers a frank and intimate confession. Because Ford’s image was empha ically associated with the strong presence of landscape, most memorably the ‘soulscape’ of Monument Valley, Liberty Valance’s barren greyness and almost flat reportage approach may come as a surprise. However, precisely because of this we are completely focused. An atmosphere of revelation and straightforwardness is born: now it is told.
Peter von Bagh, notes for the television introduction Ennen elokuvaa (Before the Film), TV 3 Finland, 24 January 1988 (translated by Antti Alanen)