Over the weekend we watched "The Man who Shot Liberty Valance".
I heard it was a good classic movie and kicked it up after we got the kids to bed on Saturday. I can say that we enjoyed the movie and I would recommend it. It is a good story (and story telling) more than an action western.
The acting is good (Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne) and some of the action and scene shots bear the fact that they were done in the 60's. Wider views (which I like) and some camera angles that aren't natural to the story (which I don't like).
There are great layers into the story - romance, political statehood, and the power of legends.
The brief story - (beyond this spoilers may abound and wikipedia tells it further and better)
Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) is a US Senator returning to a smalltown for the funeral of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). The local press corner him for an interview and he tells a story (flashback 20-ish years).
Ransom is a lawyer heading out west. As he was approaching Shinbone for the first time he gets mugged & beat by Liberty Valance. Liberty is the lead thug supported by the big ranchers. The only person tougher is a horse trader, Tom Doniphon. Ransom is nursed back to health and after some time is one of two delegates for a convention regarding statehood of the territories. Liberty beats the other delegate and forces Ransom into a shootout. Ransom can't shoot. He can but it's similar to playing football with a 4 y/o; no competition. Liberty toys with him and somehow Ransom shoots him dead. At the statehood convention Ransom is nominated to be a delegate to US Senate. He ducks in back and is packing to leave when Tom corners him. Tom tells a story of his own....he was in the side alley and Tom shot Liberty Valence, not Ransom. Tom tells Ransom to man up and go be a force for good.
Back to the present day and the press scraps the notes from the interview. The newspaper chief tosses the notes into the stove and says "When the legend becomes fact; print the legend."
Ransom and his wife are on the train heading back to Washington. The conductor passes along some strings that they pulled to expedite the Senator's travel. Ransom expresses his thanks and the conductor replies "nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valence".
The Gospel of the story -
I've been thinking a few days about this story. Ransom's career and his life is built on a lie. Even the newspaper would rather hold to the legend rather than tell folks the truth.
There is a basic law at work in the story. Ransom has no arena (or court) in which he can win against Liberty. Ransom tries desperately to hold to the law of the books but that has no authority over Liberty. He refuses guns frequently and starts to try to train with one knowing that the showdown will someday happen. Ransom isn't good enough though. Tom had to fulfill the law.
Ransom rides on the coattails of the victory. He rides into Washington as the legendary man who shot Liberty Valance.
There is something required of us that we can't measure up to. I know there is good and I don't measure up; my words, thoughts and actions don't measure up. There is an enemy waiting to kill us and let us die under the law. But there is also a real hero who is ready to save us. He doesn't destroy the law he fulfills it and we can rejoice in the victory.