Today! Because courage can be purchased at yon’ tavern –
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Directed by John Ford (x2)
Starring James Stewart (x2), John Wayne (x2), Lee Marvin, Vera Miles, Edmond O’Brien (x2), Andy Devine, Ken Murray, Woody Strode, John Carradine (x3), John Qualen, Jeanette Nolan, Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin (x2), Denver Pyle, Carleton Young, Paul Birch, Joseph Hoover
In concocting this list, I realized that many of the movies I considered my favorites came to me because they were clearly the favorite of someone around me first. Hell, my little sister watched Strictly Ballroom so many times that I’ve committed lots of its dialogue to memory, and it nearly fought its way on here (Strictly Ballroom is great, by the way). My older sister had a poster for Moonstruck hanging up in their room for years, and it had all the glitz and glow of an Oscar winner, even for eight-year-old Joe, that even now I’m like “Yeah! Moonstruck! That movie’s great!” even though I have no recollection of what that movie is about. Does Nicolas Cage only have one hand in it? Is that right?
But the handful of John Wayne movies on this list I can attribute directly to my old man. Many of them blend together into one Indian massacre of a film that I can’t precisely distinguish, but a few others stand out pretty well. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is at the top of this western list. John Wayne is John Wayne as always (here, one Tom Doniphon), and Jimmy Stewart is the tenderfoot bookworm come to town, just as elections and the east are infiltrating old west life. The movie starts at the end, with Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard returning to Shinbone (the town is named Shinbone!) for a funeral, then jumps back to his initial arrival – and all the drama connected to Lee Marvin’s odious Liberty Valance. Along for the ride are a wonderful bunch of great comic turns – an odd staple of the best John Ford films – including Andy Devine’s hilarious Link Appleyard and Edmond O’Brien’s drunken, raging publisher Dutton Peabody.
And yes, Liberty Valance gets shot, which – while being the title of the movie – also is its central mystery, a legend forming event that twists everyone’s lives from that point forward. It’s also kind of the climax of the film, if that’s possible, but so complicated is the event itself, and who knows what about it, that the movie is never at a lack for intrigue and curiosity. For someone who made Stagecoach and the brilliant The Searchers, John Ford may have captured the perfect western in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
My dad – who we nicknamed Rosco (without the ‘E’) even though his name was Bob, for reasons I don’t have time or space to explain – wasn’t much for practical advice, even around when my life started entering an era when I probably needed it. I’m not sure why this was – maybe he felt that he’d made enough mistakes himself that it wasn’t his place? I don’t know. But the one concrete time he tried to dissuade me from a pretty catastrophic series of choices was in 2002, when I was first moving out of my parents home, having graduated from college after commuting all those years. There was some girl involved, and the less said about that the better (I know this all feels a bit off topic, but bear with me). Rosco took me to a Red Barons game (they were the AAA Phillies franchise locally at the time), where we got royally drunk, as it turned out to be a doubleheader. I want to say it might’ve been the 1,000th win in franchise history? There was some other lucky significance to this evening. Anyway, during the course of these games, he tried to address my impending terrible decision making, which I sort of drunkenly ignored at the time, but did ultimately come to heed, when I extricated myself from the above alluded-to situation.
I don’t remember much about the end of game, but we ended up at some random bar afterward, where we decided (as those well intoxicated are wont to do) that we had to – HAD TO! – go home and watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance right that instant. There was no question about it. It was an absolute necessity. When we got there, my mom and sister were watching something, and our declaration that we HAD TO watch this movie right now didn’t seem to make much difference. So we ended up sitting in the kitchen – still, pretty hammered – where I’m not positive, but I think we drunkenly said we loved each other. This is the only time I ever remember this happening. And so, in a roundabout way – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – dragging drunken emotions out of dudes since 1962.
Ford (#364 She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) shoots his way into the Two-Timer director club, our 45th multiple film helmer so far, while Stewart (#303 After the Thin Man), Wayne (Yellow Ribbon), O’Brien (#302 Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid), and Strother Martin (#213 Slap Shot) all join the acting Twos. Our only advancing actor is #333 The Hound of the Baskervilles/#200 Les Miserables co-star John Carradine, reaching the Threes!
(Oh, and incidentally, I’m not 100% sure we even watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that night of the Red Barons game. I think we at least started it, but by that point I think we just fell asleep on the couches. Good times.)