Curiously, the beautiful title song performed by Gene Pitney, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," is not heard on the soundtrack of the film of the same name, though it was written & recorded for release simultaneously with the film:
"Cuz the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood
It is one of the rare cases of a film & a theme song so perfectly matched that it's just odd not to have them together.
When it came to shootin' straight & fast, he was mighty good."
Jimmy Stewart plays a pacifistic naif from back east, an attorney who believes intellect is what will tame the west.
Lee Marvin is malevolent Liberty Valance who knows one well-placed bullet always defeats intelligence.
John Wayne plays a decent cowpoke with a liking for the idea of a civilized west, but too much pragmatism to second Stewart's brand of naivete.
The fate of these three men come together with incredible balance, Stewart foolishly brave but untrue to his values, Marvin villainous without relent, Wayne conveying greater ironic depth than in any of his films until the dispiritingly heroic The Shootist (1976).
On one level The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is merely an exciting western about a grimy town & an incredible showdown, & no greater depth or purpose needs to concern a viewer merely eager for entertainment.
But it does in fact also possess moral depth, in its measure of the sustainability of non-violence in the face of violence, & assessing the nature of valor.
The West is changing & eventually civilization will win -- maybe. But in the meantime, in the town of Shinbone, violence takes a stand for its own sake, proving there is no recourse apart from the gun.
There is a great deal of sensitivity in a script that embraces this savage morality. There is such perfection in the performances that this is most assuredly a western that can be admired even by viewers who're not ordinarily fans of westerns.
Vera Miles as the leading lady/love interest, like every other element of this film, transcends the ordinary.
Sometimes everyone in a western looks like they really stepped out of the wild west, except for the leading ladies who frequently look they stepped out of a fashion magazine from which ever year the film was made. Vera Miles manages to fit into the west as realistically as the men.
Great supporting roles from an array of remarkable character-actors include Lee Van Cleef, Andy Devine, Denver Pyle, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Strother Martin, Jeanette Nolan & Edmond O'Brien. It's always great to see Strode in a western; Hollywood too rarely bothered to note that black folks were all over the wild & wooly west both before & especially after the Civil War.
I wonder if such superb faces as these could be drawn together for a credible western in today's Barbie & Ken Hollywood? Maybe. But who's attempting it?
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl