Posted: 06/02/2009


The Centennial Collection- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and El Dorado

by Del Harvey

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On May 19th Paramount Home Entertainment released two more DVDs from the Centennial Collection - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and El Dorado. These 2-disc sets include new bonus features and an eight page memorabilia booklet. Get ready to return to the Old West with John Wayne, James Stewart and Robert Mitchum as THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and EL DORADO come to DVD.

Howard Hawks made the truly classic Rio Bravo in 1959. It was scripted by Leigh Brackett. In 1966 he essentially remade the film as El Dorado. Although the casts in both films were great, why he remade his own film is something I find mystifying. The original is he far superior film. However, I can only guess that because the original was a WB film, Paramount felt it was a good idea to release the remake in their Centennial Collection. And don’t get me wrong; the remake is not a bad film. In fact, it’s good to see Robert Mitchum and John Wayne acting together; they make a great pair and play well off each other’s strengths.

In fact, El Dorado is considered among Hawks’ classics and offers Wayne an opportunity to play against some strong female co-stars. But the stand out performances here occur when Wayne is acting with Robert Mitchum as the town’s drunken sheriff, or when he’s trying to teach a young James Caan - nicknamed “Mississippi” - how to handle a gun. Wayne even gives in to some comic interplay in the scenes between himself and Caan, which is refreshing and shows that Wayne tried to expand beyond his limited abilities as an actor.

The story goes something like this: Hired gunman Cole Thornton turns down a job with Bart Jason as it would mean going up against his old friend, the town’s sheriff. Sometime later he finds out the lawman has taken to drink and Jason has hired a top gunfighter to kill him. Along with his young sidekick, Mississippi, who is handy with a knife and now armed with a diabolical shotgun, Cole returns to help his old friend and save the town. It’s an exciting yarn which does a delicate job of balancing the comedic bits with what was some dark action scenes for its day.

The great John Ford made many classic films and is perhaps best known for his westerns. By 1962, Ford was nearing the end of a long and prolific career. Among his other accomplishments, he essentially made John Wayne into a movie star and an icon of the American Western genre. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was not only a film which reflected its era and all the inherent social intellect and political views, but it was a film which presented a new side to Wayne, and one which he often attempted to live up to in the best of his films to follow.

In the film, Jimmy Stewart plays Ransom Stoddard, a young lawyer who goes west to seek adventure and fortune. As the film begins, he is an aging senator who takes time out of his busy schedule to see to the funeral and proper burial of an old friend, the former sheriff of the small frontier town where Stoddard’s career truly began. Told mostly in flashback, we see that the town terrorized by a heavy, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), whose rough tactics include whipping people to within an inch of their lives. As a young man, Ransom was one of Valance’s whipping victims. He also became the friend and student of the tough but fair local farmer, Tom Doniphon (Wayne), who, as it turns out, is the only man Valance respects.

There is no doubt that this film is a masterpiece, both for its examination of the theme of civilization rising from its own dark underpinnings as well as for its sensitive handling of a story which is revealing of the truth of the Western mythology. The inclusion of this film alone makes these new additions well worth adding to your own collection.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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