The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Screenplay byJames Warner Bellah
Willis Goldbeck
Based on"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"
by Dorothy M. Johnson
Produced byWillis Goldbeck
StarringJohn Wayne
James Stewart
Lee Marvin
Vera Miles
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byOtho Lovering
Music byCyril J. Mockridge
Color processBlack and white
John Ford Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • April 22, 1962 (1962-04-22) (USA)[1]
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.2 million
Box office$8 million[2]

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (/ˈvæləns/) is a 1962 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and James Stewart. The screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck was adapted from a 1953 short story written by Dorothy M. Johnson.

In 2007, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[3][4]


Senator Ranse Stoddard and his wife Hallie arrive in Shinbone, a frontier town in an unnamed western state, to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon. As they pay their respects, local newspaper editor Maxwell Scott asks Stoddard why a United States senator would make the long journey from Washington to attend the funeral of a local rancher. Stoddard's story flashes back 25 years. Upon entering the territory as a young attorney, Ranse is beaten and robbed by Liberty Valance and his gang. Tom Doniphon finds Ranse and takes him to Shinbone. Ranse's wounds are treated by Tom's girlfriend, Hallie, and others, who explain to him that Valance terrorizes the residents, and the town's Marshal Appleyard is powerless to stop him. Tom is the only man who stands up to Valance, stating that force is all Valance understands.

Ranse is determined that law and justice can prevail over Valance; however, Ranse begins practicing with a gun. Hallie, attracted to Ranse and concerned for his safety, tells Tom of Ranse's gun practice. Tom advises Ranse of Valance's trickery. Tom also makes sure Ranse understands Hallie is Tom's girl by showing renovations to his ranch house are intended for his marriage to her. Shinbone's men meet to elect two delegates to the statehood convention at the territorial capital. Ranse and Dutton Peabody, the local newspaper editor, are elected, despite Valance and his gang's attempt to bully the residents into nominating him to represent the cattle barons. Valance challenges Ranse to a gunfight to be held later in the evening. Tom offers to assist Ranse in leaving town, but Ranse stubbornly declines.

Valance and his gang vandalize Peabody's newspaper office and beat him badly after Peabody runs a story about the murder of some farmers previously carried out by Valance. At a saloon, Valance learns Ranse is waiting for him outside. Valance toys with Ranse, shooting him in the arm, and then aims to kill him, when Ranse fires his gun and Valance drops dead. Ranse returns to Hallie to treat his arm. Tom sees how much the two care for each other, and he retreats to his farm in a drunken rage, where he burns down his house.

At the territory's convention to consider statehood, Ranse decides to withdraw as a candidate for delegate to Congress, concluding he is not worthy after killing Valance. As presented through another flashback within the flashback that frames the story, Tom tells Ranse it was he who fired the fatal shot, not Ranse. Tom regrets saving Ranse's life, because he lost Hallie to him, but encourages Ranse to accept the nomination for Hallie's sake.

In the present, Stoddard's political accomplishments fill in the intervening years, but editor Scott says Stoddard's story about who killed Valance will not be published, stating, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." As Stoddard returns to Washington, DC, with Hallie, and contemplates retiring to Shinbone, he thanks the train conductor for the railroad's many courtesies. The conductor replies, "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance." Stoddard blows out the match for his unlit pipe, and stares downward.



Publicity stills from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

In contrast to prior John Ford Westerns, such as The Searchers (1956) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Liberty Valance was shot in black-and-white on Paramount's soundstages. Multiple stories and speculations exist to explain this decision. Ford claimed to prefer that medium over color: "In black and white, you've got to be very careful. You've got to know your job, lay your shadows in properly, get your perspective right, but in color, there it is," he said. "You might say I'm old fashioned, but black and white is real photography."[5] Ford also reportedly argued that the climactic shoot-out between Valance and Stoddard would not have worked in color.[6]

Others have interpreted the absence of the magnificent outdoor vistas so prevalent in earlier Ford Westerns as "a fundamental reimagining [by Ford] of his mythic West" – a grittier, less romantic, more realistic portrayal of frontier life.[7] A more pragmatic interpretation cites the fact that Wayne and Stewart, two of Hollywood's biggest stars working together for the first time, were arguably considerably older (54 and 53, respectively) than the characters they were playing. Filming in black and white helped ease the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept that disparity.[8] According to cinematographer William H. Clothier, however, "There was one reason and one reason only ... Paramount was cutting costs. Otherwise we would have been in Monument Valley or Brackettville and we would have had color stock. Ford had to accept those terms or not make the film."[9]

Another condition imposed by the studio, according to Van Cleef, was that Wayne be cast as Doniphon. Ford resented the studio's intrusion and retaliated by taunting Wayne relentlessly throughout the filming. "He didn't want Duke [Wayne] to think he was doing him any favors," Van Cleef said.[10] Strode recounted that Ford "kept needling Duke about his failure to make it as a football player", comparing him to Strode (a former NFL running back), whom he pronounced "a real football player". (Wayne's football career at USC had been curtailed by injuries.) He also ridiculed Wayne for failing to enlist during World War II, during which Ford filmed a series of widely praised combat documentaries for the Office of Strategic Services and was wounded at the Battle of Midway,[11] and Stewart served with distinction as a bomber pilot and commanded a bomber group. "How rich did you get while Jimmy was risking his life?" he demanded. Wayne's avoidance of wartime service was a major source of guilt for him in his later years.[12] Another credible explanation is that Ford kept Wayne off balance to increase the focus and power of his performance.

Stewart related that midway through filming, Wayne asked him why he, Stewart, never seemed to be the target of Ford's venomous remarks. Other cast- and crew-members also noticed Stewart's apparent immunity from Ford's abuse. Then, toward the end of filming, Ford asked Stewart what he thought of Strode's costume for the film's beginning and end, when the actors were playing their parts 25 years older. Stewart replied, "It looks a bit Uncle Remussy to me." Ford responded, "What's wrong with Uncle Remus?" He called for the crew's attention and announced, "One of our players doesn't like Woody's costume. Now, I don't know if Mr. Stewart has a prejudice against Negroes, but I just wanted you all to know about it." Stewart said he "wanted to crawl into a mouse hole", but Wayne told him, "Well, welcome to the club. I'm glad you made it."[10][13]

Ford's behavior "...really pissed Wayne off," Strode said, "but he would never take it out on Ford," the man largely responsible for his rise to stardom. "He ended up taking it out on me." While filming an exterior shot on a horse-drawn cart, Wayne almost lost control of the horses and knocked Strode away when he attempted to help. When the horses did stop, Wayne tried to pick a fight with the younger and fitter Strode. Ford called out, "Don't hit him, Woody, we need him." Wayne later told Strode, "We gotta work together. We both gotta be professionals." Strode blamed Ford for nearly all the friction on the set. "What a miserable film to make," he added.[14]

Stewart received top billing over Wayne on promotional posters and the trailers, but in the film itself, Wayne's screen card appears first and slightly higher on a sign post. The studio also specified that Wayne's name appear before Stewart's on theatre marquees, reportedly at Ford's request.[15] "Wayne actually played the lead," Ford said, to Peter Bogdanovich. "Jimmy Stewart had most of the sides [sequences with dialogue], but Wayne was the central character, the motivation for the whole thing."[16]

Parts of the film were shot in Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, California.[17][18]


The film's music score was composed by Cyril J. Mockridge, but in scenes involving Hallie's relationships with Doniphon and Stoddard, Ford reprised Alfred Newman's "Ann Rutledge Theme", from Young Mr. Lincoln. He told Bogdanovich that he used the theme in both films to evoke repressed desire and lost love.[19] The film scholar Kathryn Kalinak notes that Ann Rutledge's theme "encodes longing" and "fleshes out the failed love affair between Hallie and Tom Doniphon, the growing love between Hallie and Ranse Stoddard, and the traumatic loss experienced by Hallie over her choice of one over the other, none of which is clearly articulated by dialogue."[20] Portions of the song There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight are played in scenes by bar musicians and a marching band.

Mockridge's main theme that opens the picture can also be heard, in a somewhat different form, in a trailer for River of No Return with Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe released in 1953, currently available for viewing as the trailer for River of No Return on

The Burt Bacharach-Hal David song "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" became a top-10 hit for Gene Pitney. Though based upon the movie's plotline, it was not used in the film. Pitney said in an interview that he was in the studio about to record the song when "... Bacharach informed us that the film just came out." It seems unlikely that the song would be used for the opening credits since its lyrics give the film's surprise ending away. The picture was released April 18, 1962, and the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 the week ending April 28, 1962, peaking at number four in June.[21] Jimmie Rodgers also recorded the song, in the Gene Pitney style. James Taylor covered it on his 1985 album That's Why I'm Here, as did The Royal Guardsmen on their 1967 album Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. It was also covered by Australian rock band Regurgitator on its 1998 David/Bacharach tribute album To Hal and Bacharach. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the top 100 Western songs of all time.[22]


Liberty Valance was released in April 1962, and achieved both financial and critical success. Produced for $US3.2 million, it grossed $8 million,[2] making it the 15th-highest grossing film of 1962. Edith Head's costumes were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (black-and-white), one of the few Westerns ever nominated in that category.[23]

Contemporary reviews were generally positive, although a number of critics thought the final act was a letdown. Variety called the film "entertaining and emotionally involving," but thought if the film had ended 20 minutes earlier, "it would have been a taut, cumulative study of the irony of heroic destiny," instead of concluding with "condescending, melodramatic, anticlimactic strokes. What should have been left to enthrall the imagination is spelled out until there is nothing left to savor or discuss."[24]

The Monthly Film Bulletin agreed, lamenting that the "final anticlimactic 20 minutes ... all but destroy the value of the disarming simplicity and natural warmth which are Ford's everlasting stock-in-trade." Despite this, the review maintained that the film "has more than enough gusto to see it through," and that Ford had "lost none of his talent for catching the real heart, humor and violent flavor of the Old West in spite of the notable rustiness of his technique."[25] A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that "Mr. Ford, who has struck more gold in the West than any other film-maker, also has mined a rich vein here," but opined that the film "bogs down" once Stoddard becomes famous, en route to "an obvious, overlong, and garrulous anticlimax."[26]

Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film "a leisurely yarn boasting fine performances," but was bothered by "the incredulous fact that the lively townsfolk of Shinbone didn't polish off Valence [sic] for themselves. On TV, he would have been dispatched by the second commercial, and the villainy would have passed to some shadowy employer, some ruthless rancher who didn't want statehood."[27] John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Director Ford is guilty of a few lengthy, slow periods in his story-telling, but for the most part the old, reliable Ford touches are there."[28] Harrison's Reports gave the film a grade of "Very Good",[29] but Brendan Gill of The New Yorker was negative and called it "a parody of Mr. Ford's best work."[30]

More recent assessments have been more uniformly positive. The film is considered one of Ford's best,[31] and in one poll, ranked with The Searchers and The Shootist as one of Wayne's best Westerns.[32] Roger Ebert wrote that each of the 10 Ford/Wayne westerns is "... complete and self-contained in a way that approaches perfection", and singled out Liberty Valance as "the most pensive and thoughtful" of the group.[33] Director Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) listed Ford as a major influence on his work, and Liberty Valance as his favorite Ford film. "It was the only film," he said, "where [Ford] learned about something called pessimism."[34] In a retrospective analysis, The New York Times called Liberty Valance " of the great Western classics," because "it questions the role of myth in forging the legends of the West, while setting this theme in the elegiac atmosphere of the West itself, set off by the aging Stewart and Wayne."[35] The New Yorker's Richard Brody described it as "the greatest American political movie", because of its depictions of a free press, town meetings, statehood debates, and the "civilizing influence" of education in frontier America.[33]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. ^ "This Week's Movie Openings". Los Angeles Times. April 15, 1962. Calendar, p. 18.
  2. ^ a b "Box Office Information for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". The Numbers. Archived from the original on June 10, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  3. ^ "Librarian of Congress Announces National Film Registry Selections for 2007". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Archived from the original on October 14, 2020. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  4. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Archived from the original on October 31, 2016. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  5. ^ McBride (2003), p. 306
  6. ^ Kalinak (2007), p. 96
  7. ^ Coursen, D. (May 21, 2009). "John Ford's Wilderness: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Parallax View. Archived from the original on September 11, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
  8. ^ McBride (2003), p. 312
  9. ^ Munn (2004), p. 232
  10. ^ a b Munn (2004), p. 233
  11. ^ "A Look Back ... John Ford: War Movies". Archived from the original on December 13, 2014. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  12. ^ Wayne, Pilar. John Wayne. pp. 43–47.
  13. ^ McBride (2003), p. 631
  14. ^ Munn (2004), p. 234
  15. ^ Matthews, L. (1984). History of Western Movies. Crescent. p. 132. ISBN 0517414759.
  16. ^ Bogdanovich (1978), p. 99
  17. ^ Schneider, Jerry L. (2015). Western Filming Locations, Book 1. CP Entertainment Books. p. 116. ISBN 9780692561348.
  18. ^ Fleming, E.J. (2010). The Movieland Directory: Nearly 30,000 Addresses of Celebrity Homes, Film Locations and Historical Sites in the Los Angeles Area, 1900–Present. McFarland. p. 48. ISBN 9781476604329.
  19. ^ Bogdanovich (1978), pp. 95–96
  20. ^ Kalinak (2007), pp. 96–98.
  21. ^ Sisario, Ben (April 6, 2006). "Gene Pitney, Who Sang of 60's Teenage Pathos, Dies at 65". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  22. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on August 10, 2014.
  23. ^ "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on February 2, 2018. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  24. ^ "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Variety: 6. April 11, 1962.
  25. ^ "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 29 (341): 78. June 1962.
  26. ^ Weiler, A. H. (May 24, 1962). "'Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' Opens at Capitol Theatre". The New York Times: 29. Archived from the original on April 17, 2019. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
  27. ^ Coe, Richard L. (April 21, 1962). "Way in Egg Role". The Washington Post: C9.
  28. ^ Scott, John L. (April 20, 1962). "'Liberty Valance' Tale of Frontier Violence". Los Angeles Times: Part IV, p. 10.
  29. ^ "Film Review: 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'". Harrison's Reports: 58. April 21, 1962.
  30. ^ Gill, Brendan (June 16, 1962). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 102.
  31. ^ "Top 7 John Ford films (because we couldn't pick just 5)". movie Archived from the original on September 16, 2014. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  32. ^ "Readers suggest the 10 best westerns". archive. Archived from the original on March 11, 2017. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  33. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (December 28, 2011). "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". archive. Archived from the original on December 2, 2017. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  34. ^ Nixon, R. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Turner Classic Movies archive. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  35. ^ Erickson, H. (2013). "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on November 1, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  36. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). AFI. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 21, 2015. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  37. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). AFI. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  38. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). AFI. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

Further reading