Maybe, I don’t know; I am not a psychologist. Maybe I’m getting old ”. This is what John Ford answered when Peter Bogdanovich asked him why the image of the West in The man who killed Liberty Valance (The man who shot Liberty Valance, 1962) was so sad. The answer radiographs Ford’s personality: sullen, pragmatic, prone to anger, fixed-term drunk, shy and, despite all his coercive deployment with the environment, socially awkward. Jim MacBride says that, during the filming of MogamboFord gave Ava Gardner one of his growls. “I don’t know what you’ve seen a skinny Italian weighing 50 kilos [Frank Sinatra]”. “You’re right, John, but it’s just 50 kilos of cock.” Jung would not hesitate to place Ford in the Intravert-Intuitive category and Ava Gardner in the Extrovert-Sentimental category.
On April 13, 1962 it was released The man who killed Liberty Valance; Yesterday it was 55 years old, which although it does not give to build an anniversary is reason enough to remember that there was a time when one could believe in cinema as a major art. Liberty Valance It is surely one of the three best westerns in history (the other two must also be by Ford) and one of the best films ever made. The importance that has been attached to its political message is striking; The Shinbone Star, the newspaper directed by Dutton S. Peabody (an immense Edmond O’Brien), is the recurring example when you want to move the reader with the defense of press freedom. The conflict between large and small ranchers faces a Hobbesian world with the idea of the law as an order for all (the lawyer Ransom Stoddard, a Jimmy Stewart as imposing as ever).
But the concealment of one of the sources of the conflict – of the large cattle ranchers, only their armed wing, Liberty Valance, an outrageous Lee Marvin as in his best days and his two henchmen are clearly visible – reveals that it is not a political film. Liberty Valance’s strength is in its dazzling planning. Three sequences (among many) are enough to show the greatness with which complex emotions can be shown.
In the restaurant’s kitchen, Tom Doniphon (and anyone could say John Wayne was a bad actor!) Wanders absorbed after Hallie (Vera Miles, Ford’s right eye), so that the viewer knows immediately that he is in love with her and that she knows she is … but does not accept what is taken for granted. In the dining room, Liberty trips Ramson and sets off an electrifying, pinpoint sustained shot between him and Tom, where the stage space between them becomes a trench of tension rarely equaled in cinema. The cactus flower, which Tom gives to Hallie at first, eventually becomes the luminous axis on which the planning and discourse around Tom’s coffin rests. Liberty Valance is actually The man Hallie Stoddard loved. Ford was with Tom; And with Tom there have always been all the spectators who have been moved by the (almost) testament of a movie genius.