It’s almost a little funny how, in his aging years, James Stewart’s acting became especially… well, Jimmy Stewart. He may even have amped it up for the beginning and end when his character is even older, but this is definitely a Jimmy Stewart performance, all right. That was the first thing I noticed while watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a film made in the twilight years for both Stewart and co-star John Wayne, as well as director John Ford, who would pass away just over a decade later. It is very much a solid entry in the genre, but one can’t help but feel that this is a milestone in the passing of the guard, the old throwing one last work out there before making way for the new. Whether that’s why this was selected for the Book or not, I can’t say, but looking at it on its own merits, there’s very little to be displeased over with this one.
It’s not just James Stewart who is basically a caricature of himself. John Wayne delivers a quintessential ‘John Wayne’ performance, complete with drawling and paced delivery and frequent use of the word “pilgrim”. these two actors are the main sell of the film, and the heart and soul are in every one of the characters on screen (another standout is Andy Devine and his trademark voice as the terrified town marshal). This isn’t a western that’s caught up in the beauty of the American outback; this is firmly a “character interaction” piece, and it’s a pretty good one at that. The black and white cinematography is standard, which I’ve come to expect from Ford; nothing outstanding, it gets the job done and leaves it at that. The story is also where this one has all its pieces in order; while it did seem like it was meandering around a little too much, by the end it had wrapped up everything it needed to, so it worked for me.
This was fairly enjoyable, but looking at it in the bigger context of the list, I couldn’t help but feel that this was just one western too many, and that’s with however many westerns I know I have yet to get to. I have a feeling this made the list primarily as a display for Ford, Wayne, and Stewart in their later years, and again, as a mighty fine western, but mighty fine westerns are a dime a dozen on the list. Now, of course, that’s not to say that this is a bad film, because it is a very solid and entertaining film, provided you can watch and appreciate classic westerns, especially ones that focus on character more than the sweeping landscape. If so, this won’t be too much of a problem for you. But still, I don’t think this had enough to it to call it a “must see”.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10