The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a 1962 American Western film directed by John Ford starring James Stewart and John Wayne. The black-and-white film was released by Paramount Pictures. The screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck was adapted from a short story written by Dorothy M. Johnson. The supporting cast features Vera MilesLee MarvinEdmond O'BrienAndy DevineJohn CarradineWoody StrodeStrother Martin, and Lee Van Cleef.

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".


 [hide*1 Plot


Elderly and famous U.S. Senator Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) arrive by train in the small western town of Shinbone, to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Prior to the funeral, Hallie goes off with Link Appleyard (Andy Devine) to visit a burned-down house now filled with cactus flowers. She returns so she and Ransom may pay their respects to the dead man at the undertaker's establishment, but the senator is interrupted for a newspaper interview to explain why he would travel so far to pay honor to Doniphon, a common rancher. Stoddard grants the request.

Stoddard's story flashes back to several decades prior when he arrived in Shinbone via a stagecoach, which was robbed by a gang of outlaws led by gunfighter Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Stoddard is brutally beaten, left for dead, and later rescued by Doniphon. and nursed back to health by restaurant owner Peter Ericson (John Qualen), his wife Nora (Jeanette Nolan) and daughter Hallie (Vera Miles), who explain to Stoddard that Shinbone's townsfolk are regularly menaced by Valance. Since Link Appleyard (Andy Devine), then the town marshal, proves cowardly and unwilling to enforce the law, Doniphon is the only local courageous enough to challenge Valance's lawless behavior.

Penniless, Stoddard rooms at the Ericson's restaurant and washes dishes. Forced to wait tables on a busy night, Stoddard carries a steak to Doniphon when he is tripped and humiliated by Valance. Doniphon intervenes; Valance stands down and leaves. Force, Doniphan tells the inept Easterner, is the only thing Valance understands, and he needs to either leave the territory or buy a gun. Stoddard maintains he will do neither, explaining he is an advocate for justice and intends to open a law practice. Many in Shinbone believe him crazy, as this makes him a target for Valance, but Stoddard earns the respect and affection of the town when he begins a school for the townspeople with the aid of Hallie, who he discovers cannot read or write and whom he offers to personally teach. Hallie greatly appreciates his help and her role at Stoddard's school.

Secretly, Stoddard tries to teach himself how to shoot a gun. However, Doniphan catches wind of this and takes Stoddard to his house. He shows him an addition he is building on his house in anticipation of marrying Hallie. Doniphon then gives Stoddard a gun lesson to humiliate him by shooting a can of paint which spills on Stoddard's suit. Doniphon warns that Valance will be just as devious. Infuriated by another humiliation, Stoddard punches him in the jaw and leaves.

Shinbone's residents meet to elect two delegates to send to the statehood convention at the territorial capital. Dutton Peabody (Edmond O'Brien), the local newspaper owner, has published a story about local ranch owners' opposition to the territory's potential statehood, and Stoddard claims statehood will ensure solid infrastructure, safety, and education. However, Valance (who is employed by the cattle barons) interrupts the meeting and attempts to bully the townspeople into electing him as a delegate. Despite this, Stoddard and Peabody are elected, prompting Valance to challenge Stoddard to a duel that evening. Doniphon tells Stoddard he should leave town and even offers to have his farmhand Pompey (Woody Strode) escort him. Stoddard stays.

That evening, Valance confronts Peabody for unflatteringly publicizing Valance's defeat in the election. He and his gang destroy Peabody's office and assault him. Seeing that Peabody has been nearly beaten to death, Stoddard goes into the street to face Valance in the duel. In the dark street, Valance toys with Stoddard by firing a bullet into a bucket, drenching Stoddard before Valance disarms him with a shot to the arm. Valance allows Stoddard to bend down and retrieve the gun. Valance then aims to kill Stoddard promising to put the next bullet "right between the eyes," when Stoddard fires and miraculously kills Valance with one shot. Hallie responds with tearful affection. Doniphon congratulates Stoddard on his success but later sees how lovingly Hallie cares for Stoddard's wounds. Sensing that he has lost Hallie's affections, Doniphon gets drunk in the saloon and drives out Valance's gang (Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin), who have been calling for Stoddard to be lynched for Valance's "murder," after which Pompey drags Doniphon home. There, Doniphon, in a drunken rage, sets fire to his house's addition. Pompey is able to save Doniphon in the blaze, but the house is destroyed.

Subsequently, Stoddard is hailed as "the man who shot Liberty Valance" at the territorial convention for statehood. Called out for his actions by a rival delegate, Stoddard is reluctant to serve based upon his notoriety for killing a man in a gunfight. Seeing Stoddard's shame at this reputation, Doniphon tells Stoddard that he, Doniphon, actually killed Valance from an alley hidden across the street, firing at the same time as Stoddard. Doniphon explains that he knew Hallie's affections belonged to Stoddard and shot Valance to secure her happiness. Knowing this, Stoddard returns to the convention.

The flashback ends and the now aging Stoddard informs his interviewers that he was then elected to Congress, married Hallie, and served terms as Governor, U.S. Senator, Ambassador to Great Britain and again in the Senate. The newspaper man, understanding the truth about Liberty Valance's death, burns his notes and says to Stoddard, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend". Stoddard and Hallie then board the train for Washington, where he informs Hallie, to her delight, that he plans to retire from politics and return to the territory to set up a law practice. When Stoddard thanks the train conductor for the many courtesies extended to him by the railroad, the conductor says, "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!" The words beleaguer Stoddard, and as the train moves along, he and Hallie stare off into the distance.



The film was shot in black-and-white on Paramount sound stages, a marked contrast with Ford's other films of the period, such as The Searchers, which featured vast western landscapes and color photography.[2] Paramount executiveA. C. Lyles maintained that Ford wanted to make the picture, but Paramount could not budget the necessary cost. Ford then offered to make it for whatever budget was available, although he had James Stewart and John Wayne, two of the industry's biggest attractions, both at the heights of their careers, lined up to work together for the first time.[3] However, Lee Marvin claimed in a filmed interview that Ford realized that the film would not be as effective shot in color, because the atmosphere and use of shadows would be adversely affected, and insisted on filming in black-and-white.[citation needed]

Although admired as a filmmaker, Ford was known for making life difficult for his casts. About halfway through the filming Wayne asked Stewart why Ford never seemed to put him "in the barrel". Stewart later related in a commentary on John Ford that this eventually circulated through the crew and set, and Stewart began to feel a bit complacent about it. Then, a few days before the end of filming, Ford asked Stewart what he thought of Woody Strode's costume. Stewart responded, "it looks a bit Uncle Remussy to me." Ford then called for the crew's attention and announced that "one of our actors 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."[4] In Michael Munn's 2003 biography of John Wayne, Strode was quoted as saying that Stewart was "one of the nicest men you'll ever meet anywhere in the world".[3]

Wayne made many films with Ford, with whom he was close, but was a frequent target of the director's venomous remarks. Strode claims that Ford "kept needling Duke [Wayne] about his failure to make it as a football player" while Strode was "a real football player". (Wayne's potential career in football had been curtailed by an injury.) Ford also admonished Wayne for failing to serve in World War II, while Stewart was regarded as a war hero: "How rich did you get while Jimmy was risking his life?" Wayne's failure to serve in the conflict was a source of great guilt for him.[5]

Ford's behavior caused Wayne to take his frustrations out on Strode, who believed that they could otherwise have been friends. While filming an exterior shot on a horse-drawn cart, Wayne almost lost control of the horses and knocked Strode away when he tried to help. When the horses did stop, Wayne almost started a fight with Strode, who was much fitter. Ford gave them time to calm down, and Wayne later told Strode that they had to "work together. We both gotta be professionals." Strode blamed Ford's treatment of Wayne for the trouble, adding, "What a miserable film to make".[3]


The film's dramatically hard-driving music score was composed by Cyril J. Mockridge. In certain scenes involving the character of Hallie, Ford used part of Alfred Newman's "Ann Rutledge Theme" from his earlier film Young Mr. Lincoln. Ford told Peter Bogdanovich in the latter's book John Ford that the theme evoked the same meaning, lost love, in both films.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David later wrote a song based upon the plotline of the movie and called "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", which became a Top 10 hit for Gene Pitney but was not used in the film. Apparently, Pitney was not asked to record it until after the film came out.[6] The chorus of the Pitney recording features two hard strikes on a drum by session drummer Gary Chester in order to represent the shots that were fired. Jimmie Rodgers also recorded the song, in the Gene Pitney style. James Taylor covered the song on his 1985 album That's Why I'm HereThe Royal Guardsmen also covered the song on their 1967 album Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. It was also covered by the Australian rock band Regurgitator on the 1998 Hal David and Burt Bacharach tribute album, To Hal and Bacharach.

Location of film[edit]Edit

The film appears to be set somewhere in the Southwestern United States in the 1870s or 1880s, but the exact setting appears deliberately vague (e.g. the reference to "Capital city") and a few historical and geographical clues cannot be fully reconciled. There are frequent references to the "Picketwire River", an aberrational name for the Purgatoire River in southeastern Colorado. Very early we see the sign "Cantina" above the saloon, suggesting somewhere with a Mexican influence. The US flag in the schoolroom scene has 38 stars, dating the film after Colorado became the 38th state in 1876. Saguaro cacti are visible in parts of the film; the only section of the US where this plant is native is theSonoran Desert in Arizona and a small area in California. Arizona and New Mexico became states in 1912, too late to be the setting. (California gained statehood in 1850.)

The movie was filmed on location in California in Thousand Oaks and Jamestown, and at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood.


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was an instant hit when released in April 1962, thanks to its classic story and popular stars John Wayne and James Stewart. Produced on a budget of $3.2 million, the film grossed $8 million at the box office,[1] making it the 16th highest grossing film of 1962Edith Head's costumes for the film were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, one of the few westerns ever nominated for the award. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has continued its popularity through repeated television broadcasts and the rental market. It is also widely considered one of director John Ford's best westerns, and generally ranks alongside Red RiverThe Searchers, and Stagecoach as one of John Wayne's best films.

Sergio Leone, director of such classic Westerns as Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and one of the directors Ford influenced the most, said it was his favorite John Ford film because "it was the only film where he (Ford) learned about something called pessimism."[citation needed]

American Film Institute Nominations[edit]Edit


Stewart was given top billing over Wayne in the film's posters and previews, but in the film itself Wayne has top billing. Their names are displayed on pictures of signposts, one after the other, with Wayne's name shown first and slightly higher on its post. Ford remarked in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich that he made it apparent to the audience that Vera Miles' character had never gotten over Tom Doniphon because "I wanted Wayne to be the lead."

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