The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

I like to sing The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and other songs, on long drives. The Gene Pitney version never made it into the film, but James Taylor covered it years later. So last week I was singing and thinking about the story again.


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is often seen as a deconstruction of the Western myth. A simple reading of the plot sees Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), who represents rule by law, surviving and prevailing over both Valance (Lee Marvin), who represents the outlaw who takes what he wants by force of arms, and Doniphon (John Wayne) a more noble individual who nevertheless also represents survival by force of arms. Stoddard gets the girl, Doniphon’s girl, and eventually rises to the US Senate.

Some reviewers describe Doniphon as the stolid Western hero whose time had passed, but the film’s final irony is that Stoddard (likely) needed Doniphon’s intervention to defeat Valance. Government always needs the force of arms to back up the rule of law, but Doniphon, although fair and just in his own way, was more inclined to be a law unto himself.

Anyway, I was thinking it was interesting that the film gave us a comparison between the good gunman and the evil gunman, but no comparison between the good lawyer and the evil lawyer. Because the world is run by corporations and lawyers, and the bad lawyers have certainly crowded out the good ones.

I see the Doniphons of the world trying to find Stoddards – good, honest lawyers that will represent them – but the lawyers of the world have instead done a fantastic job of dividing citizens into opposing camps while they divide the spoils.