Sunday, October 11, 2009

Skies of Funny Named Stars

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
directed by John Ford
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
seen on the screen at the Egyptian Theatre

Seeing The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on the big screen was probably one of the best movie experiences I've ever had, and this time the new things I noticed all take place at the beginning and the end. I think Syl and I agree that each time we watch the film, we have less and less respect for Ransom Stoddard. Condescending in his average interaction with the good townspeople of Shinbone, he's similarly pathetic throughout the most public example of his "Mr. Law & Order" approach to the eponymous villain: instead of just picking up Tom's steak with a glare, he flops around on the floor and shrilly berates both Doniphon and Valance, making a spectacle of himself and not really convincing (except, I guess, Tom) a soul.

That Hallie's respect for Stoddard's ideals never translates into love makes the final moment on the train all the more devastating. No one ends up happy in Liberty Valance, least of all the Ericson girl. But even at the revelation of the cactus flowers - at the moment when Ransom extinguishes his match and stares, defeated, at the floor - Stoddard can't come out and promise to take Hallie back home. No, they'll return to Shinbone "after we get that water bill passed," meaning later, meaning - given the rumors that Stoddard is about to be approached to be Vice President - never. Stoddard is the classic New England carpetbagger: show up, steal a good man's sweetheart, and return east, with no mind at all for the ensuing devastation.

But the character who knows all this, besides Hallie, besides Tom, and besides Pompey, is Marshal Link Appleyard. Not only does Link keep his mouth shut about the Stoddards' return to Shinbone for Tom's funeral - surprising everyone who knows Link as a loudmouth, from the man at the train depot to the editor of the Star - but Link has clearly kept his mouth shut about what he knows regarding Hallie and Tom. It's Link who suggests taking Hallie to the abandoned Doniphon homestead, Link who was left in town to be Tom's friend when the Stoddards moved to Washington, and Link who seems, with Pompey and Hallie, to be the last protector of all the damage Ransom Stoddard wrought in his short tenure as citizen of the West. It isn't just Tom's sacrifice that Ranse has to carry, but the weight of that whole, small world. I wish he carried it better.