Movie #107 2020: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

After a bout of newer features, I felt it was time to dial it back to the classics for a hot minute. And boy, these are the types of films I wish I’d been made to watch as part of my American History/Politics degree.

What is so immediately striking about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is its music. More scores should be like this one. It’s pure, it’s emotive, it’s whimsical… it’s honestly so many things at once that I was overwhelmed. I really do feel as though some movies would be greatly improved if they had their own score like this one.

I don’t even know where to start with the scenery? It literally looks like a dodgy, cardboard cutout of a low budget school play. But you know what? It’s forgivable. It’s 1962 for crying out loud. Instead of being too distracting, it ends up becoming more charming.

One of the most interesting things about this movie is that the use of black and white is clearly a stylistic choice – colour pictures had been around for years already at this point. I’m not complaining at all, but it really is intriguing. It only becomes more of an enigma when you try to research this choice – no one really knows why John Ford made the decision.

While we’re on decisions made by the director… did he invent the concept of using hairstyle changes to show the passage of time?! That’s so groundbreaking to me. Even modern movies such as one of my favourite films of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, uses this technique today. It’s really cool to see the old having influence on the new.

Performances are great all round. John Wayne is still the coolest guy ever, even in a pair of mighty fine flared chaps. It was kind of strange seeing James Stewart play a more surly, brooding character, but he’s still such a good egg that it all makes sense and he does a brilliant job. There’s one sequence in which you see his character teaching a history class to both children and adults that is so pure and joyful that I felt nothing but happiness watching it. (Before everything went a bit west, of course).

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance won’t be for everyone. There’s very little pay off – despite the plot twist at the end being brilliant – but I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of film.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is available to stream on Sky Go and NowTV.

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