Tag Archives: John Wayne

Oldies but goldies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Director:  John FordMain Cast: James StewartJohn WayneVera MilesLee MarvinEdmond O’Brien;

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“A James Stewart picture must have two vital ingredients: it will be clean and it will involve the triumph of the underdog over the bully” is what the man himself once said and it is a very apt description of this classic film directed by John Ford. Although, canonically, this feature has always been considered a western, it doesn’t have any of its typical trademarks: no shots of the landscape, lack of horse rides, lack of proper gunfights and not a real bar scene. The movie opens with one lead as an old man, even if arrived and very well-respected, and the other one dead, just a pinewood box, also quite atypical. It has more of a post-western vibe: a bleak, claustrophobic black and white tale, with so many enclosed sets and no open range scenery. Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is a State senator who comes back, with his wife Hallie (Miles), to Shinbone for the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The newspaper men have never heard of him, so why would such a powerful political figure visit the town to attend this funeral of a “nobody”? Through a flashback, Stoddard tells them the tale of how he came to town and met Tom. It is the story of a young lawyer full of hope in the progress of the nation and its laws, who goes west to be part of this civilization’s process, reminding me a quote from Dances With Wolves: “You wish to see the frontier? Yes sir, before it’s gone”. Unfortunately he has to face the hard truth: there the law of the gun is the only one truly respected. This lesson is taught right away by Liberty Valance (Marvin), ruthless gunslinger, who robs the stagecoach and beats him to a pulp for trying to defend a woman. Ransom is rescued by Tom and then he finds help and shelter at the Ericsons’ restaurant, where he meets Hallie. Not having a penny to his name but being a resourceful man, Ransom works in the kitchen of the restaurant to pay for bed and board and later starts also working for the local newspaper and teaching children and adults alike to read and write. Ransom is very vocal about upholding the law and fighting the local ruffians by arresting them and not settling matters with a gun but the town’s marshal is not a coeur-de-lion and Tom has a different opinion. In the midst of all this there is also a political issue: the territory is vying for statehood and Ransom ends up as town’s representative, instead of Valance. The latter keeps terrorising the community, he destroys the local newspaper office and brutally attacks the editor (O’Brien). Ransom calls him out, though the conclusion is not quite as straightforward as legend would have it. One very interesting thing about this film is Ford’s approach to violence. The most gruesome acts are never shown directly, the camera is pointed to the perpetrator and the audience sees only the result afterwards. It is a deliberate choice and an effective one, which increases the senselessness of it all. Everything considered, the movie is well acted (special kudos to Marvin and O’Brien), skillfully written and provides a complex and multi-layered analysis of legends and facts: is living a lie as a successful man better or worse than quietly dying as a hero? “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. It is noteworthy to consider that for most of the film Ransom is a man in his late twenties/early thirties while Stewart at the time was in his mid-fifties (and Wayne as well), not exactly a spring chicken, but still he is quite believable in his role. Remarkable and riveting —8.5/10

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This post is part of the James Stewart Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. You can view the complete blogathon schedule here:

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Oldies but goldies: True Grit (1969)

Director: Henry Hathaway, Main Cast: John WayneKim DarbyGlen CampbellJeff CoreyRobert Duvall;

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Mattie Ross (Darby) is determined to find her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (Corey), and see that justice is served. Being a resourceful, determined girl, she hires Rooster Cogburn (Wayne), a U.S marshal, who has true grit and a reputation for getting the job done. This unlikely pair is joined by Texas ranger La Boeuf (Campbell), who is chasing the same man for murdering a Texan senator. They start out from Fort Smith, Arkansas, and venture deep into the Indian Territory, where most outlaws seek refuge. A chance encounter with two of Ned Pepper’s (Duvall) men, a notorious bandit, put them on the right track. On a side note, it is interesting to see Denis Hopper in a small supporting role the same year in which Easy Rider was released, another proof of his versatility. The odd trio lie in wait to ambush Ned’s gang, hoping to catch Chaney as well, but luck is not on their side. Rooster’s knowledge of Ned and of the lay of the land will eventually lead them to their quarry but justice will come at a high price. There is a good on-screen chemistry between Darby and Wayne that sells quite well the story, notwithstanding the incredibly wooden performance of Campbell. The portrayal of Rooster is often celebrated as one of the best among Wayne’s roles and rightly so. He manages to complete disappear in his character and bring an artful mix of grumpiness, gumption and good-heartedness. Already in his sixties and rather portly, Wayne channels strength and make this drunken, beaten man believable as a hardened marshal, even if he looks a bit stiff climbing up or down his horse. I must confess that watching American western films from the 50s and 60s always leaves me baffled by the excess of cleanness and neatness of the people and their clothes, I have seen too many spaghetti western and post-western movies not to find it a little weird. I couldn’t help but notice Mattie’s perfectly manicured hands, her nylon stockings or the fact that no one is ever sweaty, scruffy or, god forbid, cover with dust! Anyway it is still a very enjoyable film. Entertaining —7/10

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This post is part of the Diamonds & Gold blogathon hosted by Caftan Woman and Wide Screen World, so please have a look at reviews of other great films with memorable performances of actors and actresses into their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond:

 

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