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Expertly cast, Man Who Shot Liberty Valance approaches American politics through iconic movie stars, the soft-spoken Jimmy Stewart and iconic, gruff John Wayne. It’s a western about bringing down the villain, but more so, the cultural fixation on toughness and how we define heroes by their violence.

In its most iconic line, the newspaper editor of Shinbone chooses to “print the legend,” not the truth. Were the truth made public, that of Ransom Sotddard’s (Stewart) actions before taking public office, the myth of a western lawyer-turned-gunfighter taming the west with bullets, Stoddard would be branded a coward. Readers don’t want context, just bloodshed. That sells papers, and that sells masculinity.

Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is about two Americas

Wayne’s Tom Doniphon detests law. He prefers to shoot. He breaks up a classroom session, and demands women stop learning to read. Stoddard’s presence is a changing one though; “You don’t own me,” shouts Hallie (Vera Miles) directly to Doniphon, establishing equality, or at the least, demanding the opportunity to be seen as individuals.

Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is about two Americas, and while set in the late 1800s, it’s disturbingly prescient in regards to a long-winding, often hopeless gun debate. Doniphon isn’t a political man. He even rejects the chance to become one. But he lives by his own laws, and carries with him a sidearm at all times. Stoddard never so much as shot a gun before his arrival in Shinbone. The divisiveness between them however is rarely heated. As a duo, there’s compromise. Their skills complement one another. The brilliance of this script is the detailing in personal views; either side proves their stance is right, and by the end, there’s realization that all perspectives count.

At no point does script veer toward extremes, but neither is it centrist. It’s critical of how people perceive the representatives elected to govern and the systems in place to elect them. Man Who Shot Liberty Valance isn’t shy, but cautiously aggressive. Placing a man like Stoddard in a genre often celebratory of murder and gunplay deconstructs the glamour. “Print the legend” doesn’t only refer to Stoddard, but the western in general, which so often elevated the nobility of lawmen quick to pull a trigger. Those are legends; Stoddard is a calming reality.

Video

Man Who Shot Liberty Valance makes a potent first impression, although in time, suspicions arise. What’s evident is the resolution, sharpness spectacular and precise. Details in and on the costumes break through. Even the sets show exemplary definition.

Paramount’s encode appears fine, handling the grain structure well. While grain maintains consistency, medium shots begin to show signs of filtering. Gradients begin to fall apart the further the camera moves back. Smudgy shadows bleed over, the murkiness unfortunate. In motion, smearing happens. This isn’t a total loss, just an unfortunate – and unnecessary – one.

Beautifully graded Dolby Vision smartly enhances the dynamics, well varied in representing night and day. Under the sun, white shirts reflect intense brightness even with a slight warm push. At night, contrast subdues, yet makes gains thanks to richer black levels. It’s convincing and pure, respectful to the source too.

Audio

The only uncompressed track (in TrueHD) is a 5.1 mix; mono is included, but presented in compressed Dolby Digital. That aside, the quality is absurd for a movie this vintage. What the music lacks in depth/bass, it makes up for with superlative precision and clarity. No distortion, no straining, and no fidelity loss are apparent.

Even better, the dialog – so pristine as to, at times, sound newly recorded. For vintage audio, there are few that offer the same perfection. Plus, Man Who Shot Liberty Valance stays centered, respecting the mono origin, while letting the score branch outward slightly.

Extras

Peter Bogdanovich hosts a commentary (on the Blu-ray only, like all of these bonuses), pulling interviews with John Ford and Jimmy Stewart to round the track out. A second (but only scene specific) commentary is hosted by Dan Ford, and he adds snippets from John Ford and Lee Marvin. In the extras menu, Leonard Maltin speaks on the film. A seven-part documentary looks at the western’s golden era, although there’s annoyingly no play all option, and the segments are brief.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

A perfect story of values and mindsets, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance carefully weaves ideas of open land toughness and city-born intellectualism.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 47 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: