The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, John Ford)


Plot : http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056217/


John Ford is a director that is well known for his western classics.


He often places his cast against the surrounding within the frame to let the cast have a contrast against the surroundings to reflect powers.


Ford had many distinctive stylistic ‘trademarks’ and a suite of thematic preoccupations and visual and aural motifs recurs include trains and wagons throughout his work as a director.

Opening Scene of : The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance


Closing Scene of : The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance


The railroad plays a very special role in the films: it’s a symbol of advancement, the bridge between the Old West and the New West; in some ways a bridge between savagery and civilisation.[7]

Film journalist Ephraim Katz summarised some of the keynote features of Ford’s work in his Collins Film Encyclopedia entry [1][2]

Of all American directors, Ford probably had the clearest personal vision and the most consistent visual style. His ideas and his characters are, like many things branded “American”, deceptively simple. His heroes …. may appear simply to be loners, outsiders to established society, who generally speak through action rather than words. But their conflict with society embodies larger themes in the American experience.

Ford’s films, particularly the Westerns, express a deep aesthetic sensibility for the American past and the spirit of the frontier … his compositions have a classic strength in which masses of people and their natural surroundings are beautifully juxtaposed, often in breathtaking long shots. The movement of men and horses in his Westerns has rarely been surpassed for regal serenity and evocative power. The musical score, often variations on folk themes, plays a more important part than dialogue in many Ford films.

Ford also championed the value and force of the group, as evidenced in his many military dramas … (he) expressed a similar sentiment for camaraderie through his repeated use of certain actors in the lead and supporting roles … he also felt an allegiance to places .

This 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 colors.[3]

Frame Grab : The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance


Frame Grab : The Searchers


Often he show a doomed character playing poker , the last hand he plays is always the “death hand” one of them the ace of spades.


In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, shortly before Liberty Valance get shot and die he draws the “Dead man’s hand,’ aces. The legend of the fatal poker deal grew from the hand Wild Bill Hickok supposedly held as he was shot dead in a saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. Ford used the dead man’s hand once before, held by Luke Plummer just before he is shot by the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) in Stagecoach (1939) [5]

In this films John draws between the old west versus the new west, the politics, the bridge between the society, the drawing advancement of the world , the changes that the society causes .

The film’s most favorite line “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Author :Chew Keng Hao , An aspiring director and director of photography. You can find out more about him via : http://chewkenghao.wix.com/kenghao

References :

  1. ^ Ephraim Katz, The Film Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition (2005, Harper-Collins, New York; ISBN 0-06-074214-3), p.490
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ford#cite_note-64
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Shot_Liberty_Valance#cite_ref-JohnWayneTheManBehindTheMyth_3-0
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Ford_4_Allan_Warren_2.jpg
  5. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/82756/The-Man-Who-Shot-Liberty-Valance/articles.html
  6. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-man-who-shot-liberty-valance-1962
  7. http://jaiarjun.blogspot.sg/2006/07/film-classics-man-who-shot-liberty.html
  8. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/31119/The-Man-Who-Shot-Liberty-Valance/overview



The extremely stark cinematography by William Clotheir gives the film a harsh and almost noir-ish atmosphere. and John makes great use of his usual stock company of actors to complement it perfectly.

The film also uses two different editing styles to explain to the audience who really did shoot Liberty Valance. Throughout the film the audience is led to believe that it can only be Jimmy who can and will kill Liberty. An example is seen in the cinematic climax where the shootout scene accomplishes quick edits back and forth from Jimmy to Stewart. This continues until Liberty is dead and Jimmy is left with only his smoking pistol.

The story continues and then John Wayne retells the climatic scene. But this time around, the editing is less dramatic and more narrative. The camera is away from the action and we see the events unfold in a long shot.

By having a contrasting editing strategy for these two characters, the editing style keeps the audience in the suspenseful action and then takes a long pause so that the audience may absorb the reality of who actually killed Liberty Valance.


One thought on “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, John Ford)

  1. Hi! I think you could have touched a little bit more on the cinematography and editing even though there isn’t much to write!

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