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4K Ultra HD Review: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

May 17, 2022

By John Corrado

John Ford’s great 1962 Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which brought together iconic screen stars John Wayne and James Stewart for the first time, is turning sixty years old this year, and Paramount Home Entertainment is celebrating by releasing the film for the first time on 4K Ultra HD this week.

Stewart stars as Ransom “Rance” Stoddard, a Senator who returns to his old town of Shinbone with wife Hallie (Vera Miles) for the funeral of Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The film mainly unfolds in flashbacks, as Rance recounts the story of his old friend, and the dangerous outlaw known as Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).

The film was shot on Paramount’s sound stages, as opposed to on-location like Ford’s other big Westerns including The Searchers, and there are arguments over whether the black-and-white cinematography was a cost-cutting decision by the studio or a purely aesthetic choice by the director (it does help patch over the illusion of the actors playing both the older and younger versions of their characters). But these choices add a stripped down sense of intimacy to the film, which is more focused on characters and themes than big shootouts.

Based on a 1953 short story by Dorothy M. Johnson, adapted by screenwriters James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance feels innovative in its narrative structure, telling a story that is about storytelling, myth-making, and how history chooses which heroes to remember (this is brought home by the film’s famous line “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend”). There is a great sense of poignancy to the story, which in some ways serves as a deconstruction of the Western mythos. This poignancy has only grown over the years, and the film has aged like fine wine.

The film, which was Ford’s last movie to be shot in black-and-white, looks exceptional in 4K. The format allows us to really see the textures of the different sets and Edith Head’s Oscar-nominated costumes, and the clarity on faces is striking. It’s an often stunning remaster that offers a wholly satisfying viewing experience, doing justice to the production design and powerful performances of the film’s leads.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

There are no bonus features on the 4K disc, but the set comes with a regular Blu-ray that includes a number of legacy bonuses, along with a new Filmmaker Focus featuring Leonard Maltin. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (7 minutes, 37 seconds): Maltin offers a nice overview of the film’s history, touching on the careers of Ford and key actors, and noting how this particular picture has grown in stature over the years.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 45 seconds)

Selected scene commentary with intro by Dan Ford along with his archival recordings with John Ford and Lee Marvin:

Stagecoach Holdup (3 minutes, 10 seconds)

Bringing Injured Ransom Back to Town (2 minutes, 10 seconds)

Showdown at Peter’s Place (7 minutes, 14 seconds)

Town Meeting (8 minutes, 17 seconds)

Ransom Shoots Liberty (54 seconds)

Who Really Shot Liberty Valance (1 minute, 31 seconds)

Leaving Shinbone (1 minute, 18 seconds)

The Size of Legends, The Soul of Myth:

Chapter 1: Changing of the Guard (2 minutes, 54 seconds)

Chapter 2: The Irascible Past (4 minutes, 43 seconds)

Chapter 3: The Hero Doesn’t Win, The Winner Isn’t Heroic (10 minutes, 41 seconds)

Chapter 4: Most Things Happen By Accident (13 minutes, 55 seconds)

Chapter 5: The Great Protector (5 minutes, 19 seconds)

Chapter 6: Spotlight – Lee Marvin (8 minutes, 4 seconds)

Chapter 7: Print the Legend (5 minutes, 58 seconds)

Feature Commentary by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, along with his archival recordings with John Ford and James Stewart

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 123 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: May 17th, 2022

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