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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Must-See Cinema! The Western that debates gun control!

The Western is intrinsically the most political movie genre, because it is concerned with the founding of cities, and because it depicts the various abstract functions of government as direct, physical actions. It’s also an inherently romantic genre, because of its connection with the  founding mythology of the United States.

Original poster for the moral fable The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’s most famous line, of course, is that of a newspaperman: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Ford prints it – and prints the facts behind it – and makes a movie about the moral burden of a life lived in the name of a myth and the ethical implications of direct action.

But the movie is also romantic in another, intimate way – it’s a great love story and a painful triangle, involving the tenderfoot lawyer (James Stewart), his gunslinger friend (John Wayne), and the woman they both love (Vera Miles). The tale’s epic span – it’s framed as a flashback to distant youth – stretches that love story over a vast arc of experience and renders it immeasurably poignant. As it draws to a close, there’s hardly a dry eye in the house – at least, in our house.

– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

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