The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962

Director: John Ford

Main Characters/Players:
Rance Stoddard: Jimmy Stewart
Tom Donothan: John Wayne
Hallie: Vera Miles
Liberty Valance: Lee Marvin
Link Appleyard
Dutton Peabody

Plot Summary:

As the train pulls into Shinbone, Charlie the reporter hears that Senator Rance Stoddard has come back to
Shinbone for the funeral of Tom Donothan, and wants to know why. "The public has a right to know, " he insists,
and Senator Stoddard, who is used to talking to reporters even in private moments like these, agrees to tell the
story which connects him to Tom. It is, as Stoddard full well knows, his chance to be honest at last without facing
embarrassing consequences, because he knows that the story he tells Charlie is a story which will never
be printed.

On his way West as a young man, Rance is robbed and beaten by the vicious outlaw Liberty Valance.
Tom Donothan, Hallie's suitor, brings Rance to Hallie to be taken care of. Rance recovers slowly, and in the
process tells Hallie about his ambitions to be a lawyer. He also discovers that Hallie can't read, and volunteers
to help her parents with their restaurant and to help Hallie and others learn to read.

Rance may be weaker than Tom, but he is brave enough to want to fight his own battles, even against an
arrogant bully like Liberty Valance. Rance starts a school and makes friends with Mr. Peabody, the drunken
editor of the Shinbone Star. At the school and through the newpaper we see that grassroots American
democracy is being exercised and tested: he big ranchers--opposed to statehoood and the law and order statehood
would bring with it--fight both legally and illegally against the peace-loving but sheep-like citizens of the town,
who want law and order nd statehood, but who lack the courage to fight for it. As natural leaders in the town,
Tom and Rance don't become friends, exactly, since both are in love with Hallie, but they dislike each other in a
respectful way, and they both oppose the brutality and lawlessness of people like the big ranch owners.

Liberty Valance is hired by the big ranchers to frighten the people into voting to keep their state a territory.
He challenges the town, Peabody and Donothan and Stoddard to stop him. One night, after Peabody
prints an article accusing Liberty Valance of being a criminal, Liberty beats him almost to death. Liberty also tells
Rance to get out of town or be killed. Rance decides that he will have to face Liberty Valance, even though he is
still a poor shot with a gun. That night, it seems that Rance wins against incredible odds, killing Liberty
Valance in a shootout. Tom apparently arrives too late to help him.

Some time later, Peabody and Stoddard are elected to represent the town at the capitol when the whole
territory votes on the question of statehood. Some genuine American stump politicians give their speeches
--using lariats, horses, cowboys and all the tricks of the trade--and then Rance gives his speech. He also learns the
truth from Tom, who comes to the elections, about who really shot Liberty Valance. "It's cold-blooded murder,
but I can live with it," says Tom. Tom urges Rance to take the nomination to be the people's representative.
Rance Stoddard is elected, partly through his fame as the man who shot Liberty Valance, as governor and senator.
He marries Hallie, and leaves Shinbone behind. But his fame rests on a lie.

Can Charlie tell the truth at last? Nobody would want to know the true story, that law and order was
upheld by a cold-blooded murder, not a fair fight, and that the famous Senator Stoddard did not, after all,
kill Liberty Valance. "This is the West. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

And so the newspaper and the elected officials are all complicit in a lie that insures peace for the people of Shinbone.


Watch for creative use of lights and shadows. Also pay attention to the ideas being presented about how
democracy functions and how it is upheld. Who are the good people in the movie? How and why are
they good?