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Is John Wayne the reason why so many westerns were great, or was Wayne just fortunate enough to appear in so many great westerns? That's a question I will have to leave to the more learned film scholars. However, I do know is this- John Wayne is a name that is synonymous with the western film genre. You can't have a conversation about westerns, without his name coming up and Wayne appeared in more classic westerns than any other actor. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE ($30) is another great western classic, in which the legendary Wayne starred. Working once again with John Ford, the greatest of all western directors, Wayne gives a memorable performance in a highly memorable film. Sharing the spotlight with Wayne is James Stewart, who starred in his own share of great westerns during the course of his long and varied film career.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is a remembrance that tells the real story of an occurrence that became a legend in the old west. James Stewart portrays Ransom Stoddard, a young attorney who moves out west to practice law. Unfortunately, the stagecoach bringing him west is robbed at gunpoint by a small band of highwaymen. Because Stoddard tries to protect one of the female passengers, he receives a savage beating and is left for dead by the side of the road. Stoddard survives the ordeal and discovers that the man who robbed and beat him was Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), a sadistic hired gun that everyone in the town Shinbone fears, except for Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Stoddard wants Valance brought before the law, but he quickly learns from Doniphon that "the gun" is the only law that will stop Valance. Being a man of principles, Stoddard refuses to pick up a firearm, but the situation between him and Valance continues to intensify, forcing Stoddard to reexamine his principles if he wants to stay alive.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is a great movie, regardless of genre, which benefits from its solid script of sharply drawn characters, as well as a first rate cast that brings them all to life. Stewart brings the earnest appeal of the "everyman" that he embodied so well throughout his career. Wayne portrays a flawed hero, but a hero nonetheless; who accepts the hand that life deals him. Marvin makes for a rather intense villain, whose sadistic zeal is downright frightening. Director John Ford demonstrates that he is a consummate craftsman by allowing his actors to make their characters their own, while slowly building tension as the story moves to its inevitable showdown. The great cast of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE also features Vera Miles, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray, John Carradine, Jeanette Nolan, John Qualen, Willis Bouchey, Carleton Young, Woody Strode, Denver Pyle, Strother Martin and Lee Van Cleef.

Paramount Home Entertainment has made THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. The black and white image is clean, sharp and nicely defined, making one forget that this movie is nearly forty years old. Certainly, there are a few blemishes and a bit of noticeable grain, but it's nothing that detracts from this wonderful presentation. Blacks are suitably inky, plus the image provides a healthy dose of shadow detail and fairly impressive depth. Contrast is quite good, as are various gradient of gray and the clean, stable whites. Digital compression artifacts never rear their ugly heads on this dual layer DVD.

For this release THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE has been given a remix into Dolby Digital 5.1. For an older monaural film, this is an effective reworking of the material that doesn't try to exceed the limitations of the original recordings. Gunshots and other sound effects have some directionality, plus the film's music garners some benefits by being spread into the periphery. The fidelity of the music is limited by age, but still manages to sound pretty good. Dialogue is fully intelligible and the actors' voices are clean and distinct sounding. The original English monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is a great western, in addition to being a great film. Film buffs, as well as fans of John Wayne and James Stewart will want to pick up their own copy of Paramount's terrific looking DVD release. Recommended.


 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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