Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
The Man Who Shot Lilberty Valance

Paramount releases a Classic John Ford western on 4K disc

By Jim Bray
May 19, 2022

This is not your average Western! And it isn't your average 4K disc package, either.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a classic western from John Ford, one of the last major outings for the four-time Oscar winning director (at least, that's what they say in the generous extras that come on the included Blu-ray disc). It features a cast of big names and small names – journeyman actors all, and all combine to create a believable and compelling drama. Warts and all.

Yet nowhere in the movie or its supplements – except for a brief teasing mention at the end of the original theatrical trailer – does the Gene Pitney hit song appear. I almost cried myself to sleep!

Anyway, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance pairs James Stewart with John Wayne, apparently for the first time together. Stewart plays Ransom Stoddard, Attorney-At-Law, a wet behind the ears dude who follows Horace Greely's advice to "Go West, Young Man" and heads to the town of Shinbone to hang out his shingle.

Before he gets there the stagecoach on which he's riding is attacked by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin, in a deliciously evil performance) and his gang, and Stoddard is beaten up and given his first lesson in the law of the jungle that prevailed in the territory at that time. Once in Shinbone he's befriended by most of the locals, including the lovely Miss Hallie (Vera Miles) who just happens to be the girlfriend of rugged Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), the only man who seems able to stand up to the vicious thug Valance.

Shinbone is a town virtually under siege thanks to Liberty Valance – aided by the fact that the town's Marshall (Andy Devine) is a fat weakling who's easily cowed. Then along comes Stoddard, a man with principle and character who refuses to be cowed by the area bully even though it looks as though it will cost him his life.

And despite the building romantic triangle between Stoddard, Hallie, and Doniphon, the two men form an unlikely bond that leads to one of them becoming The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Which one? Well, you won't get that from me!

Most of the film unfolds as a flashback after now-Senator Stoddard and his wife Hallie return to Shinbone to pay their last respects to the now-deceased Doniphon. A lot has happened since the events in the rest of the film, including a legend that has been built up about Senator Stoddard and his past.

This movie has nearly everything. There's action, romance, politics, morality, social commentary, and some wonderful and well-deserved shots at a media that doesn't appear to have changed much since the days in which this film is set.

There are also terrific performances from a superb cast, a fabulous and smart screenplay, and of course the sure direction of the great John Ford.

The best performances come from Stewart, Miles, Marvin and Edmond O'Brien as Dutton Peabody, Editor of the Shinbone Star newspaper. That shouldn't be taken as if the rest of the performances are substandard, because they aren't. There are excellent ones throughout thanks to such famous character actors as Lee van Cleef, Strother Martin (van Cleef and Martin play Valance's stooges, kind of the way Biff Tannen has his entourage in the Back to the Future movies. Also along for the ride are Ken Murray, John Carradine, Jeanette Nolan, John Qualen, the great Woody Strode and Denver Pyle. Wayne also gives one of his better performances.

The 4K disc, which also comes with a Blu-ray disc and a digital code, is presented in its original black and white, with widescreen video, and the picture quality is excellent, for the most part. I didn't think this is the best example of the 4K beast, but there are sure some moments when the picture looks bloody spectacular – especially close ups of faces, etc. If you ever wanted to count John Wayne's pores, this is the flick!

The audio is offered either in restored mono, which sounds very good, or Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The latter also sounds good and it also gives you some nice stereo perspective to the action happening on the screen, though there isn't much, if anything, in the way of surround. This doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, though, since this is an old analogue soundtrack anyway. It's probably as good as we can expect considering the state of technology then.

The extras that are housed on the Blu-ray are very good. Not only do you get an audio commentary featuring the late Peter Bogdanovich, with period recordings of John Ford and James Stewart, there are also some scene-specific commentaries (Stagecoach Holdup, Bringing Ransom Back To Town, Showdown At Peter's Place, Town Meeting, Ransom Shoots Liberty, Who Really Shot Liberty Valance? and Leaving Shinbone), featuring Dan Ford and his recordings of John Ford, Lee Marvin and James Stewart.

There's also a filmmaker focus with famed movie critic/historian Leonard Maltin, and a terrific "Making of" series of shorts called "The Size of Legends, The Soul of Myth," which breaks down various aspects of the production and the folks who did it. I wish the makers of the disc had given a "play all" option for these featurettes of varying times, but unfortunately you have to go back to the menu after each one. It's not a huge deal, but it's a tad annoying

You also get the original theatrical trailer, which is where you also get the only mention of the hit
Gene Pitney song (though not the song itself)! I checked this out on the Internet, which of course never lies, and apparently the song was commissioned for the movie but never used. Jimmie Rodgers also recorded it, apparently, though I don't remember that version.

Anyway, I had to dig through my music collection for a "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" hit afterward, for closure. Your mileage, of course, may vary,

Paramount's 4K version of this classic western may not be the best 4K presentation to date, but this is definitely the best version of it that I've seen and I recommend it highly for those who may not have purchased this movie before, or who may have an older video release that's due for updating. It's a fine presentation, with very good supplements as well.

Copyright 2022 Jim Bray

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