Starring: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles
Director: John Ford
Running Time: 123 mins
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is an American film about a US senator who travels to the Wild West and comes under fire from a violent outlaw, leading him to abolish his pacifist thoughts and kill the evil bandit.
This film, whilst being full of top actors and having a pretty interesting story on paper, just isn’t as exciting as it needs to be. The problem is that it just takes so long to get going, whilst the pacing throughout isn’t exactly rapid, so it loses the more dramatic feel that could have made this so much more exciting.
Let’s start on the positive side, however. Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne working together in a film is always an ideal, and these two titans of classic cinema really do have a great chemistry on screen, despite their characters’ polar opposite personalities. Wayne brings across that stylish cowboy image that he does so well, but he accommodates the weaker character played by Stewart, who adds charm to the film in something that would normally be classified as a relatively generic western.
Also, the story that unfolds here is initially intriguing. Although it ultimately drags just a bit too much, at the beginning of the flashback, which is what the majority of this story is told in, the premise of this senator learning to become a tough enough guy to bring down one of the most notorious outlaws in the West was really exciting.
Despite that, the writing doesn’t help to sustain that thrill and excitement. The problem is that it’s just so slow-paced. The opening stages, before we travel back to the time of the flashback, are really dragging, and once you get into the bulk of the story, it just never feels like it had too much relevance, or at least not enough to warrant over 20 minutes of slow conversation.
What also doesn’t work is the way in which this film tries to create tension between the senator and the bad guy. Apart from a few choice scenes where you do really get that feeling, it’s just never that strong due to the fact that the villain is hidden away for such long periods of the film, most likely intended to create a scarier sense of facelessness, however it just doesn’t work.
Overall, this gets a 7.2, due to its strong performances and intriguing premise, however it falls down in the development of the story and the creation of proper excitement.