I Found It At the Movies: 1962–The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)


Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1962: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)

I have a thing for great directors’ later works. I love Dreyer’s Gertrud, Bresson’s L’argent, even John Huston’s The Dead (and the list could go on). There’s an element of spring cleaning that occurs in these later works. A director looks at their tools and gets rid of all but the most essential.  

I still have a good many Ford films to see, but I’ve always felt that Ford could take an unusually “spare” eye to landscape. Meanwhile, to avoid being too minimal or abstract, he would often counter with frames of hundreds of people conversing, battling, or doing whatever else the film might demand. Valance is the first Ford film I have seen that keeps everything–from the landscapes to the interiors–a little more stripped down. I like the austerity and the uncluttered nature of it all.

I guess I’m also a formalist, since certain stylistic elements of moviemaking can singlehandedly determine whether I care for a film. The way that Ford shoots the titular scene is among the most formally solid and brilliantly executed moments I have ever seen.

I love Ford’s humanity in Valance, but that’s not what I love the most about the film. What I truly love is kicking back with a master director as they share a little of the distilled stuff.  

What moviemakers can learn:  One of the most well-crafted scenes in the history of the medium is the titular one here. Study it, analyze it, and think about all the decisions Ford made to make it so well-executed and memorable.   

Other contenders for 1962: I still have a number of things to see from this year. These include: Blake Edwards’ Days of Wine and Roses, Robert Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc and J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear. At some point, I need to revisit Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country, Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water, François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le doulos, as none of them impacted me on first viewing like I would have expected. I also need to re-watch Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7, Jean Renoir’s The Elusive Corporal and John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, as it’s been too long since I’ve seen them to know where they’d place on this list. But I really like Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita and Yasujirô Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon. I love David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker, Alberto Lattuada’s Mafioso, Howard Hawks’ Hatari! and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood. Meanwhile, my closest runner-up is Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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