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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 4K UHD Review

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is one of John Ford’s best films.

1962’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” begins with Senator Stoddard returning to the town of Shinbone alongside his wife Hallie for the funeral of Tom Doniphon. Stoddard then proceeds to tell the local paper (Shinbone Star) a story about his past when a fresh out of law school Stoddard went west and wound up in Shinbone. His entrance to the town was an odd one in that he was beaten up by the villainous Liberty Valance and brought into town only to be helped by Tom Doniphon and his girlfriend Hallie. Stoddard learns that Shinbone is terrorized by Valance and his minions and he hopes that by becoming a lawyer he can bring Valance down. In the meantime, Stoddard works for the local paper, begins to fall for Hallie, becomes a delegate to congress, and inevitably has to confront the criminal Valance again. As the title suggests though, who did indeed shoot Liberty Valance? That is the question.

When director John Ford and John Wayne collaborated together good things happened and that’s certainly the case with the classic western “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Many western films have a clearcut hero and villain, but ‘Valance’ goes beyond that old trope and explores the complexities of characters who might be heroic but also have a gray morality. The script (which is based off of a story by Dorothy M. Johnson) by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbleck also favors themes over gun blazing action as it digs into concepts about truth, myth, legends, freedom of the press, innocence, character of man, sacrifice, and law. It’s a very psychological western to a degree as the mindsets of characters are the central focus here. 

On the subject of characters, the dynamic between Tom and Stoddard is quite fascinating. There’s tensions and feuds between the two but there’s also respect and admiration. Seeing how their dynamic unfolds throughout the course of the movie obviously plays heavily into the story, but again, it goes against the grain by going down a path you don’t often see in a western.

John Ford also deserves credit for world building here. A lot of his films are big, scenic adventures, but with ‘Valance’ nearly the entire tale takes place in the small town of Shinbone. Ford makes it a point to showcase the townspeople and build up this growing city. It feels like a real place and you (the viewer) feel like you are right there with the characters. You don’t always get that feeling in movies but when you do it’s something magical.

The cast is about as good as it gets. John Wayne easily gives one of his best performances here as Tom. It’s not his usual type of character and Wayne really showed some range playing him. James Stewart is James Stewart. You can always count on him for a reliable performance. Lee Marvin makes the biggest impact as the cold brutal titular villain. The supporting cast is also fantastic with the likes of Vera Miles, Lee Van Cleef, Andy Devine, Woody Strode, Edmond O’Brien, and John Carradine among others.

On a side note, keep the 4K westerns coming Paramount. “Shane” next, please?


Presentation: 1.85:1 2160p. How does it look? This is easily one of the best prints you will see all year. The B&W film looks brand new here. The level of clarity is truly astonishing.

Audio Tracks: Restored Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Restored English Mono Dolby Digital. How do they sound? While both tracks are good (especially during busier moments), they are a bit soft in terms of the dialogue. Note: Viewers have the option of playing other language tracks that include Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish and German.

Extras (on the Blu-ray):
* Theatrical trailer
* Blu-ray copy
* Digital copy
* Select scene commentary (and intro) by Dan Ford accompanied by recordings with John Ford and Lee Marvin
* Feature length commentary by the late great director Peter Bogdanovich along with archival recordings of John Ford and James Stewart.
* A brand new Filmmaker Focus segment with film critic Leonard Maltin talking about the film.
* “The Size Of Legends, The Soul Of Myth”- A 7 part extra that covers westerns, Lee Marvin, the original story the film is based on, the characters, John Wayne, the critical response and John Wayne and John Ford’s dynamic. 

May 17, 2022 - Posted by | 4K UHD Review | , , , ,

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