Blind Spot 48: ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

As you all know I have been heavily ensconced in the Christmas movie watching season in the month of November. Believe it or not I have watched 60 new Christmas movies from 2019 alone! This is why I almost didn’t get my Blind Spot pick in this month. There’s only so much time!

Fortunately I found time to watch the classic western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and not only was it a welcome change of pace but an excellent film. I can see why it is heralded as one of the great films of the Western genre.

From my admittedly limited experience it seems like there are 2 brands of Western films:

1. There are the sprawling films with cowboys on horses fighting Indians and claiming territory like The Searchers or Dances with Wolves.

2. Or there are the films that show off the isolated, lawless nature of the West. Usually these are set in town rather than on the open prairie. Examples include The Magnificent 7 or High Noon.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is definitely of the latter variety. I was actually shocked at how violent it is. I can sometimes be guilty of putting movies from the 50s in a squeaky clean box when that is certainly not always the case. Evidently they are going to be making a remake soon, which without question will be rated R if it is accurate to the original film at all. I didn’t mind the violence. It just surprised me.

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The thrust of the violence comes from the outlaw listed in the title: Liberty Valance played by Lee Marvin in a really cold and calculated performance. This is a true outlaw with no feeling for anyone who comes in his way. Marvin does not play Liberty as an outlaw with a heart of gold like Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Not at all. He is a man who will kill you over a steak dinner and not give it a second thought.

Naturally everyone is terrified of Liberty including the useless Marshall named Link Appleyard (Andy Devine). The only exception is cowboy Tom Doniphon played with huge charisma by John Wayne. He picks his battles with Liberty but is not afraid to challenge him especially when he gets in his way (or messes with his steak!).

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Into all this mess comes an idealistic lawyer named Ransom Stoddard played by Jimmy Stewart. Talk about perfect casting! Director John Ford uses the innocence and every-man appeal of Stewart to his full advantage. There is never a moment where we aren’t rooting for him or wanting him to defeat Liberty or his  gang. And to the movies credit it is not an easy path for Ransom. The people are so afraid of Liberty he is often left standing against him alone.

The problem is Ransom believes he can solve things peacefully with Liberty and not resort to violence. This creates the central conflict of the film: Is the law abiding attorney going to give into the wild ways of the west or will his pure ideals prevail? It’s an interesting question and it plays out with a compelling script and excellent filmmaking.

You might be saying to yourself ‘I hate Westerns and have no interest in seeing The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. And I’d reply I am also not a big fan of the genre but the whole point of the blind spot project is to get out of my niches and try new things. I honestly think if you give this film a shot you will be impressed by the interesting characters, story, messaging and pacing. It is a classic for a reason and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Have you seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence? What did you think and who would you cast in the remake? Who can fill the shoes of John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Jimmy Stewart? It’s a tall order!

9 out of 10

smile worthy

 

 

Bonus Holiday Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

wonderful life title cardWell, I didn’t want to leave off Christmas with a grumpy post and AMC really ticked me off this morning with their colorized Miracle on 34th Street.   Thankfully I was able to have a positive experience at the movies today (and it was definitely NOT COLORIZED!!!).  Cinemark has what they call Cinemark Classics and 3-4 times a month they air a classic movie usually for just a day or two on one of their screens.

This year I was able to see Ghostbusters in September which was a delight and today I saw the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Check out the website for all their listings and participating theaters.

http://www.cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series

It was such a neat experience to see one of my favorite movies on the big screen and I found it more emotional in the theater.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps because I was completely focused on the movie with no electronic or otherwise distractions.

I think most people know the story of It’s a Wonderful Life so I won’t go deep into it. Basically it’s a about a man played brilliantly by Jimmy Stewart who has never gotten to choose his life (or so he feels).  Life presented him with the right and wrong thing to do and no third choice, so he is left to dream about adventures and freedom.

wonderful lifeThis picture was actually taken at the theater (don’t worry I was very sneaky and had the light on my phone completely off).  George has seemingly always make sacrifices others did not have to make and we get to see his entire life story as told to his guardian angel Clarence played wonderfully by Clarence Odbody.

In his life he is constantly saving people.  He saves his brother from drowning as a boy and he sacrifices hearing in one ear.  In an especially touching moment he saves his employer Mr Gower from accidentally poisoning a patient when he is grieving over news.  Mr Gower slaps him hard and the child actor is very good in the scene, really showing the pain in his ear and the love he feels for this man.

mr gowerGeorge gives up his trip to Europe when his Dad dies.  He gives up college to keep the villain and town Scrooge Mr Potter from taking over the Savings and Loan operated by his benevolent father.  He gives up leaving again to get married and then he gives up his honeymoon to save the Savings and Loan from the run on the bank.

potterLionel Barrymore is excellent as Mr Potter who actually gives reasons for his unfeeling ways.  Reasons you might hear in politics and business today but on a small town level George knows people need a home and a chance and he sacrifices again to give that to others.

But once we get caught up to the date middle aged George’s stupid uncle has lost the deposit all $8000 of it.  This means bankruptcy and possible warrants for embezzlement. It’s all too much for George and he has a breakdown and wonders if he is ‘more valuable dead than alive’.

video-undefined-1A466D7F00000578-219_636x358Stewart is completely convincing as he unravels and reaches that point of no return.  As someone who has had a nervous breakdown (but not suicidal) it feels totally authentic.  The sense of panic and fear in his voice I totally buy.

Just then Clarence comes and decides to teach George what life would be like if he had never been born.

clarenceIt is true that the alternate reality of life without George is pretty stark but it is a fable and I can grant it some dramatic license. (I have pretty healthy self esteem but I don’t think if I hadn’t been born that my hometown would be a den of sin and debauchery…ha).

pottersville2pottersville_470The filming of director Frank Capra and cinematographer Joseph Walker does not get enough credit. The starkness and grittiness of Pottersville verses the light and warmth of Bedford Falls is gorgeous.

Stewart is so good in the many roles he is required to play. In one movie he is young, a dreamer, tough, panicky, frustrated, angry, desperate, drunk, joyous, an engaging father, annoyed, in love and everything else.  And he is equally convincing in every scene.

Its-A-Wonderful-LifeHim and Donna Reed have wonderful chemistry and the dialogue between them is as good as any romantic comedy at first and then confrontational while deeply caring later.  It feels like a real couple.

bedford fallsIt’s just such a joyous picture.  It reminds all of us that we are not alone and that more people love us than we realize.  It can be easy to feel alone in this world but I think if we all got a picture we’d be surprised how many people are praying and worried about us.  And if we are alone we may be Ebeneezer Scrooge’s and not letting them in (It’s a Wonderful Life is kind of the flip side of Christmas Carol when you think about it).

It’s easy to feel cynical about movies like It’s a Wonderful Life.  Modern life can seem so much more complicated with texting, facebook  e-dating and all kinds of impersonal relationships. But this year I saw Boyhood and found myself thinking about It’s a Wonderful Life while watching that movie.

patricia arquette What moved me most in Boyhood is kind of the same thing that moved me in It’s a Wonderful Life.  Like George Bailey, the mother character Olivia played by Patricia Arquette, never really has a moment to commit to her life.  The Ethan Hawke character gets a chance to go to Alaska and decide to be a father and to live a particular kind of life.  Olivia has 2 kids and just has to live and like George she isn’t given a lot of choices, and sometimes the ‘lesser evil’ proves to be a nightmare.  At the end her son is moving away to college and she starts to cry and says ‘my life is over’.  It feels like a similar moment to George Bailey realizing all the sacrificing has been for what to be left alone.

But there is redemption, maybe not as dramatic as in Wonderful Life but she has lived a good life.  She has raised two great kids and done the best she could and realizes she has friends, if only in her children.    I was really moved today when I saw the note from Clarence to George.

failureI think that is the message from Boyhood and It’s a Wonderful Life- no man is a failure who has friends and has loved people as best as he or she can. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true.

At Christmas those who believe in Christ’s sacrifice and life recite the scripture ‘greater love hath no man than this that he lay down His life for His friends’.  That is the message of It’s a Wonderful Life, of Boyhood and of Christmas.  Life is precious because of who we can love.

I know it is just a blog and I know it is just movies but I hope you have sensed my love for stories and life.  Roger Ebert said it best:

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

So in that spirit Merry Christmas friends and fellow-journeymen in life and a Happy New Year.   It is a wonderful life.