17 June 2008
Meet some of my old friends: Dutton Peabody, Cassisus Starbuckle, Link Appleyard, Doc Willoughby, Pompey, Ransom Stoddard and Tom Doniphon. I like to hang out with them for a couple of hours every so often. They all live in a movie called The Man who Shot Liberty Valance. Mr. Valance is there too but doesn't make for such good company.
This 1962 John Ford film is peopled with colorful characters, all given free reign by the director to emote, evoke and elucidate. It's a damn entertaining story with themes aplenty ranging from the civilizing of the old west to the preeminence of legend in Americana. In the person of the title character there was one of cinema's most starkly drawn villains. You'll find no nuance to Lee Marvin's performance, he is pure black-hat-wearing bad guy and audiences just can't wait for the varmint to be shot deader than a mackerel.
There is far more subtlety and ambiguity to, of all people, John Wayne's performance as Doniphon. He's a wise cracking good guy who believes that justice should be administered from the barrel of a gun and never mind your fancy law books, pilgrim. He's also a man in love whose heart is easily broken. Clearly Doniphon wants to believe in the better angels of our nature but knows to believe in his rifle. Jimmy Stewart as Stoddard is the story's sane and sober centerpiece he bookends the movie as a highly respected politician most recently of the US Senate but at its core is an idealistic young lawyer trying to introduce -- more like force -- civilization into the west.
Edmund O'Brien who played a lot of lot drab middle aged white men in his time, is a revelation as the editor of Shinbone Star (what a great name for a newspaper!) and a grandiloquent drunk (O'Brien was similarly wonderful seven years later in The Wild Bunch). Drunk too is the town doctor, Doc Willoughby regally realized by Ken Murray. Andy Devine is the cowardly marshall, Link Appleyard (what a great name for a law man!). The cast also includes Denver Pyle, Strother Martin, Lee Van Clef, John Qualen, the lovely Vera Miles and Woody Storde as Pompey. Strode was a fine actor as evidenced in this film and as the heroic but doomed gladiator in Spartacus. Yes it is an amazing cast and it proves there are are no small parts only small actors.
What's it about? If you have to ask you need to rent this fine film soonest and enjoy!
I had the pleasure of spending two hours with this amazing group of people out in Shinbone today. As always I enjoyed it very much. I appreciate the story they have to tell, the morals to be learned from them, the history of the old west they relate but mostly just being around them is a delight (except for that bastard Valance -- hate him). I thank John Ford for bringing them together. I already look forward to my next visit.