The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Running Friday to Thursday this week, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is a late-career classic from director John Ford. The age-worn faces of his stars, James Stewart and John Wayne, are appropriate for a tale looking back several decades before the closing of the Western frontier. Stewart, as the greenhorn lawyer from back East, first arrives in the lawless Arizona territory where the titular badman (Lee Marvin) plays enforcer for cattle barons. Only Wayne’s rancher, in love with town beauty Vera Miles, is tough enough to resist Valance. The code of the Old West (that is, the code of the Colt .45) here collides with Stewart’s civics lessons; he’s naively determined to bring civilization to the uncouth wilderness and its inhabitants who say “ain’t.” (Yes, he’s a bit of a prig.) Only much later—the movie’s mostly a flashback—do we, and Stewart, realize how something is lost in that process. The black-and-white photography suits Ford’s elegiac tone. Stewart dusts off a stagecoach like the one in Stagecoach, and Wayne looks like the father of the Ringo Kid from that movie 23 years earlier (also on hand are Ford repertory players John Carradine and Andy Devine). There’s a sadness, an irony not quite bitter, that Stewart will never escape his reputation—one violent act that Ford films in a perfect single take, flashback within flashback, as Woody Strode fluidly tosses a Winchester to Wayne. When it comes to progress, for a man or a town, ruins also provide a foundation. (NR) Grand Illusion, 1403 N.E. 50th St., 523-3935, $5–$8. 6:30 and 8:45 p.m. BRIAN MILLER

Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 6:30 & 8:45 p.m., 2008

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