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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Plot Summary: Questions arise when Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) attends the funeral of a local man named Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in a small Western town. Flashing back, we learn Doniphon saved Stoddard, then a lawyer, when he was roughed up by a crew of outlaws terrorizing the town, led by the tough but vile Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). As the territory decides its fate of whether or not to become a state, the wealthy cattlemen recruit Valance as a hired gun to bully the farmers into backing down on statehood until Tom and Ranse stand up to him, and we see if the law will finally catch up to Valance's gun.


  • John Wayne as Tom Doniphon

  • James Stewart as Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard

  • Vera Miles as Hallie Stoddard

  • Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance

  • Edmond O'Brien as Dutton Peabody

  • Andy Devine as Marshal Link Appleyard

  • Ken Murray as Doc Willoughby

  • John Carradine as Maj. Cassius Starbuckle

  • Jeanette Nolan as Nora Ericson

  • John Qualen as Peter Ericson


  • Nominated for Best Costume Design (Black and White); Edith Head

  • 2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:

    • Tom Doniphon – Nominated Hero

  • 2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:

    • Maxwell Scott: "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." – Nominated

  • 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:

    • Nominated Western Film

  • In 2007, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

  • It is considered the last great film of Director John Ford who still holds the record for most Best Director awards with four. (*His last three films were Donovan's Reef, Cheyenne Autumn, and 7 Women)

Did You Know:

  • John Wayne suggested Lee Marvin for the role of Valance after working with him in The Comancheros (1961).

  • Several reasons have been put forward for the film being in black and white. John Ford once claimed it added to the tension, but others involved with the production said Paramount was cutting costs, which was why the film was shot on sound stages at the studio. Without the budget restraints, Ford would have been in Monument Valley using Technicolor stock. It has also been suggested that since both John Wayne and James Stewart were playing characters 30 years younger than their actual age (Wayne was 54 when the movie was filmed in the autumn of 1961 and Stewart was 53), the movie needed to be in black and white because they would never have gotten away with it in color. The age difference was particularly noticeable in Stewart's case, since he was playing a young lawyer who had only just graduated from law school and had moved west without even practicing law back east.

  • First occasion of John Wayne calling someone "Pilgrim".

  • James Stewart related that midway through filming, John Wayne asked him why he never seemed to be the target of John Ford's venomous remarks. Other cast and crew also noticed Stewart's apparent immunity from Ford's abuse. Then, toward the end of filming, Ford asked Stewart what he thought of Woody 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."

  • The one cast member who could get away with just about anything on the set was Lee Marvin. John Ford appreciated him not only for his acting and his World War II service as a Marine, but for Marvin's genuineness as a person. One day, Ford came on the set and Marvin whistled loudly through his teeth. The crew froze, certain there would be trouble. Instead Ford just smiled, because he recognized that what Marvin was doing was giving the admiral's whistle and piping the director "on board."

  • John Ford was quite harsh on John Wayne during filming. Some have ascribed it to Ford's age and increasing impatience with filmmaking. Others say he resented Wayne because so few of the scenes Ford worked on without credit for Wayne's film The Alamo (1960) actually made it to the screen. One day when Wayne casually suggested a minor scene change, Ford lost his temper and screamed, "Jesus Christ, here I take you out of eight-day Westerns, I put you in big movies, and you give me a stupid suggestion like that!"

  • According to Woody Strode, John Wayne was so hurt by John Ford's abuse that he took it out on Strode. 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.

  • Valance addresses several characters as "dude." From the 1870s to 1960s, this was a pejorative term with the approximate meaning of "overdressed city slicker," usually applied to city dwellers visiting rural areas. In the 1960s, surfer culture adapted the term to mean "friend" or "companion."

  • At the time of release, this was dismissed as a lesser work from a once-great director and was stuck on the bottom half of double-bills.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: A new law and order comes to the Old West as law tries to replace the last vestiges of the hired gun.

Best Performance: John Wayne (Tom)

Best Secondary Performance: James Stewart (Ranse)

Most Charismatic Award: Lee Marvin (Liberty)

Best Scene:

  • Cactus Roses

  • Stagecoach Arrival

  • Peter's Place Showdown

  • Tom Teaches Ranse About Liberty's Tricks

  • Statehood Delegates

  • Shinbone Star Ransacked

  • Ranse Duels Liberty

  • Statehood Convention

  • Who Shot Liberty Valance/Print the Legend

Favorite Scene: Peter's Place Showdown

Most Indelible Moment: Print the Legend/Statehood Convention

In Memorium:

  • André Leon Talley, (73, a fashion writer and the former creative director of Vogue) joined Vogue in 1983 as the magazine’s fashion news director before he was promoted to creative director to editor-in-chief Anna Wintour in 1986. He held the role until 1995. He was also a judge on America’s Next Top Model for seasons 14 to 17. Talley is also the author of the 2020 memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, which takes readers through his 50-year-long career in the fashion industry.

  • Gaspard Ulliel, (37, French Actor) was a well-known name in France, working with some of the industry's top actors and directors, including Bertrand Bonello's 2015 biopic Saint Laurent where he played the French fashion mogul Yves Saint Laurent. His breakout performances included roles in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement, Bertrand Tavernier's La Princesse de Montpensier, and Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of The World, which won the actor a César Award in 2017 for his starring role alongside Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux. He made his English-language debut in 2007's Hannibal Rising and stars alongside Oscar Isaac in Marvel's upcoming Moon Knight series.

  • Yvette Mimieux, (80, American Actress) was a 1960s star of hits such as The Time Machine and Where the Boys Are. Her other major titles include Platinum High School, Mr. Lucky, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Toys in the Attic, Joy in the Morning, and TV series The Most Deadly Game. She originated the role of Clara Johnson in Light in the Piazza opposite Olivia de Havilland as her mother. The film went on to be adapted into a Broadway musical. Mimieux was also a writer, penning TV movies such as Hit Lady and Lady Boss, which she also starred in.

  • Fred Parris, (85, Singer, Band-Leader) was the leader of the doo-wop group the Five Satins who penned their signature hit "In the Still of the Night," Parris co-founded the group in his hometown of New Haven, Conn., in 1954, and wrote the 1956 classic's lyrics while on guard duty at a U.S. Army base in Philadelphia. The Five Satins recorded "In the Still of the Night" in the basement of a New Haven church, a modest start for a song that would become one of the most enduringly popular of its era. "I never expected it to have so much of an impact," Parris recalled in a 2014 interview with the New Haven Register. "I didn't know if they were going to listen to it 15 minutes later, let alone 50 years… The song has been real good to me."

  • Joe Dunne, (86, British stuntman and stunt coordinator) is known for his work on Reindeer Games (2000), Mercury Rising (1998) and The Usual Suspects (1995).

  • Ralph Emery, (88, American Hall of Fame disc jockey and television host) began his career in the early 1950s at small radio stations in the state before going on to become one of the most famous TV and radio personalities in country music, including announcing on the Grand Ole Opry from 1961 to 1964, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame. "Ralph Emery's impact in expanding country music's audience is incalculable. On radio and on television, he allowed fans to get to know the people behind the songs. Ralph was more a grand conversationalist than a calculated interviewer... Above all, he believed in music and in the people who make it," Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a tribute on its website. Emery was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

  • Richard Folmer, (79, American actor) known for Straw Dogs (2011), Cleaner (2007) and The Root Cellar (2016).

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Tom Doniphon: Liberty Valence is the toughest man south of the picket wire... next to me.

Liberty Valance: You lookin' for trouble, Doniphon?

Tom Doniphon: You aim to help me find some?

Link Appleyard: The jail's only got one cell, the lock's broke and I sleep in it.

Ransom Stoddard: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?

Maxwell Scott: This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Liberty Valance: You lookin' for trouble, Doniphon?

Tom Doniphon: You aim to help me find some?

Dutton Peabody: Give me a drink.

Tom Doniphon: Bar's closed.

Dutton Peabody: Just a beer!

Tom Doniphon: The bar's closed.

Dutton Peabody: A beer's not drinking!

Conductor: Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 6.25

Impact/Significance: 5.75

Novelty: 8.25

Classic-ness: 8.5

Rewatchability: 9.75

Audience Score: 9 (88% Google, 92% RT)

Total: 47.5

Remaining Questions:

  • If Tom burnt his house and clearly never rebuilt given the scene near the beginning of the movie, what was the rest of his life like and where did he go?

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