A lawyer goes west and ends up in a small town that's being terrorized by a gunfight. The lawyer works as a dishwasher and is respected by the townspeople. When the gunman goes too far the lawyer stands up to him. There's a gunfight and the gunman is killed. The lawyer is a hero to the town, but he hates what he's done. It isn't until later that the lawyer's friend, another gunfighter, informs him that he shot the outlaw. The lawyer remembers back and realizes it's true. Knowing the truth, the lawyer feels better about himself, he accepts a nomination and becomes a Senator.
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The review of this Movie prepared by Brandon Swenson
Senator Ransom Stoddard, influential politician, and his wife Hallie come to the town of Shinbone to participate in the burial of one Tom Doniphon, an almost unknown drunkard. To the press of Shinbone this is big news, and the editor of the Shinbone Star newspaper is pressing Stoddard for his reason to attend the burial.
A flashback (about 90 % of the movie) reveals the story of Stoddard and Doniphon.
Ransom Stoddard, a young attorney-at-law, is travelling westward by stagecoach, planning to set up a lawyer's office somewhere. The stage is ambushed by bandits, one of whom carries a whip with a silver knob. In an attempt to protect a woman on board the stage, Ransom is being beaten up badly and left to die. Along comes Tom Doniphon, rancher. He picks up the severely injured Stoddard and brings him to Shinbone, where aquaintances of him run the diner. Doniphon is secretly in love with the daughter of the family, Hallie. Ransom stays with the diner owners, earning his livelihood by washing dishes. Saturday evening sees the arrival of Liberty Valance, No. 1. henchman for the big ranchers and acknowledged bully. Instantly Ransom recognises him as the man with the whip. Valance provokes Stoddard, who tries to stick to his pacifist principles. Enter Doniphon, who in turn bullies Valance, showing that he's the only man in Shinbone not afraid of him. Ransom later blames Tom with that: "No one fights my battles!"
Ransom integrates into the society of Shinbone, he works for the local newspaper, puts up a lawyer's office and even starts to run a school, where he tries to teach about values as the Declaration of Indipendence and democracy. The latter is important for Shinbone, because in short time a census will be hold to decide whether the area around Shinbone is to become a state, granting its citizens full rights, or to stay a territory, as the great ranchers of the area would prefer. Ransom also gets closer to Hallie, who, in spite of liking Tom, falls in love with Ransom. A newspaper article on the issue of territory vs. statehood enrages Valance, who openly challenges Ransom. To everyone's astonishment Stoddard manages to kill Valance in a gunfight. Tom, realizing that he has lost Hallie to Ransom, goes home and burns down the house he has been building for her.
The day of the decision concerning territory vs. statehood has come. The statehood party wants to nominate Ransom, who denies, being stricken with guilt for killing a man.
Enter Tom Doniphon: unshaved, dirty, urging Stoddard to accept the nomination and telling him that he, Tom, has killed Valance - shot him in the back: "It was clear case murder. But I can live with it. Hallie's your girl now, you've taught her how to read and write, now give her something to read and write about."
End flashback, the editor of the Shinbone Star takes his notes and burns them, adressing Stoddard and summing up his political career, rooted in the fact that he's the man who shot Liberty Valance: "This is the west, Sir. If the legend becomes fact, we print the legend."
Back in the train east a very thoughtful Ransom and his wife, apparently childless, think about opening a law office in Shinbone and are being served by the personnel: "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance."
As usual in John Ford movies, there is the distinction between community and society, wilderness and civilization. But in no other movie Ford's point of the distinction between the skills and virtue of the wilderness (embodied in Doniphon) and the compromises and final success of civilization (Stoddard) becomes that clear. The subtext of preferring a legend to the truth so one can progress on one's chosen item is a quotation from Ford's 1948 classic 'Fort Apache'.
The review of this Movie prepared by Volker van Haren