26 July 2006

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

This is a sentence that Joseph Campbell would have understood very well. Every culture has a way of looking at itself, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance tells the "legend" of America as few other films have ever done.

Anyone who has ever seen this movie cannot possibly forget it. It is filled with iconic characters: The intelligent, naive Easterner played by the ultimate idealist: (James Stewart); the noble but flawed cowboy (John Wayne); the bad guy leader (Lee Marvin) of the gang from south of the picket wire; the pure, brave maiden (Vera Miles); strong, loyal former slave (Woody Strode) ; craven but funny sheriff (Andy Divine), and the heroic, drunken newspaperman (Edmond O'Brien) among many others. Even the minor characters were ones that we have seen in a thousand books and movies.

So what does this movie tell you about current politics. We've all heard the phrase "Cowboy Diplomacy", but is the bullheaded, walk all over others Bush style actually the legend of the Cowboy. Absolutely not. The instant we preemptively hit Iraq, allowed Abu Ghraib, and incarcerated combatants without trial in Gitmo, we violated America's vision of itself as the good guys. We became Liberty Valance not Tom Doniphan.

As Dutton Peabody said and all of the modern press knows: "I'd be a poor newspaperman indeed if I didn't know what everyone else in town knows!" We now all know just how misguided this administration has been. Unfortunately, the neocons and the President in particular would rather attack the media than correct the course that is so destructive to our image in the world.

We all need to go to the polls and do a wholesale house cleaning even if there is one major drawback to this proposal:

Tom Doniphon:

According to your friend, Mr. Stoddard, the bar is closed during voting. Says its one of the "Fundamentals of Democracy". No exceptions.

Dutton Peabody:

No exceptions for the working press? Why, that's carrying democracy much too far!


Pogo said...

Loved the film, love the analogy. Maybe PoP doesn't honor this particular fundamental of democracy.

Jamie said...

Pogo, Glad you liked it. Myths are important. They are the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Even when America has behaved with less than noble intentions, the legend was always there to come back to. It is Frank Sinatra singing "The House I Live In". It is Mr. Smith filibustering a complacent and corrupt senate. It is Cohan as the Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Even when we have made horrendous errors: Wounded Knee, Japanese relocation to camps, or Mi Lai, the legend has always brought us back to who we are supposed to be even if we fall short with who we are.

The biggest sin this administration has committed is that it has stolen our idea of ourselves and replaced it with the Ugly American the world rightly despises.

9/11 survivor (sort of) said...

You forgot Woody Strode.

Which everyone does in almost every movie... Sergeant Rutledge included.

I always find that script and characters far more complex than what Ford had looked for in the late forties and fifties.

That includes The Searchers which carries great power but not so great direction.

Keep an eye out for a new DVD of Ford's Steambout Round The Bend with Will Rogers.

That's one of his five greatest. And maybe the best.

Jamie said...

9/11 You're right. I should have included Pompey and thought about doing so, but I couldn't figure out how to get the strong, wise, black man treated as less than a man by everyone except the heroes Wayne and Stewart (again an iconic vision of ourselves) without getting off course.

Maybe this note will help make up for the oversight.

glenda said...

Nice blog, The man who shot Liberty Valance, he was the bravest man of all.
I even remember the Italian Western music.

AlanBoss said...

The shrub is certainly not the cowboy of the real West. Nor is he a movie cowboy. He is the six year old playing Cowboys and Indians, knowing nothing but us against them and six-shooter diplomacy. Like the six year old, he changes the rules as it suits him and, when the others won’t play the way he wants, he runs home and clears brush.

enigma4ever said...

great movie...and yeah, about Bush being a cowboy- nope...he is the worst thing he could be...a smallballed-cowboy-wannabe.

(sorry but it is the Truth...it's why he does thing like bomb countries for peace and flys over drowning people)

9/11 survivor (sort of) said...


This is so for you...


Jamie said...


I'm so easy. :-) That was beautiful. Then I just had to click on one of my favorite arias, O Mio Babbino Caro. It doesn't matter that it gets used for commercials, it is still wonderful.

Thank you.

horsedooty said...

thanks Jamie,

I read it out loud and Rance the Internationally Famous Cow Dog listened. He looked pleased but I have to tell you he looks like that alot. I am not sure he got it. :).

yo soy Horsedooty!