John Ford’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is considered to be one of the greatest of American movies. This Western film begins with Senator Ransom Stoddard and his wife, Hallie, returning to Shinbone for the funeral of Tom Doniphon, an ex-outlaw and old friend of theirs. Upon the Stoddard’s arrival, the editor in chief of the Shinbone Star begins to question the Senator’s reason for visiting, forcing him to revisit his past. From then on, a flashback of events in the Old West begins.
In John Ford’s decision to film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in black and white, as opposed to the latest innovation of colored production, he suggests a sense of nostalgia. As Ransom Stoddard reflects on his past, he is reminded of the changes that the Old West has undergone. Through John Ford’s cinematography and various plot devices, one could argue that his perception of the changing West was optimistic.
One way John Ford presents the history of the West as a history of progress is the notion that established law is better than vigilante law. As the West became more civilized and Ransom Stoddard began to prosper, vigilante law faded out in to obscurity just as Tom Doniphon did. One can assume that John Ford meant that the overall progress of the West towards a more established law was the main goal, although it was done at the heroic figure Tom Doniphon’s expense.
Another approach John Ford uses in this film to suggest progression in the West is to bequeath the idea that the West was not won in violence, but in transformation of morals. Politicians served as substitutes for gunmen and government practices began to thrive. By implementing democratic politics into the West, Ransom Stoddard raised the idea of claiming statehood. At the time, Shinbone was a territory, a designated region that does not have the rights of a state. In order for a territory to be granted statehood, the region must raise its population. The only way for a territory to...
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