[[quoteright:296:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/The_Man_Who_Shot_Liberty_Valance_1729.jpg]]

->''"This is the ''West'', sir. When the legend becomes fact...print the legend."''
-->-- '''Maxwell Scott'''

Directed by Creator/JohnFord in 1962, the film opens with the return of Senator Ransom Stoddard (Creator/JamesStewart) and his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles), to the small frontier town of Shinbone. Stoddard is an influential and well-liked political figure, but nowhere is he more revered than in Shinbone, the place where his career started. On this sad day, however, Ransom has returned to pay tribute to an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Creator/JohnWayne), who has died. Initially, he intends to slip in and out of Shinbone with little fanfare, but, when a newspaper reporter corners him, he decides to reveal the true story about how his life in politics began.

We see in flashback when years earlier, Ransom arrives in Shinbone broken, bruised, and bloodied after being robbed and beaten by the notorious outlaw, Liberty Valance (Creator/LeeMarvin, dripping malice and paranoia). With the help of Hallie and her parents, he recovers his health and vows to bring Valance to justice. For Ransom, a book-learned attorney with little knowledge of the real world, "justice" means "arrest and jail." But in Shinbone, where the marshal (Andy Devine) is completely spineless and almost everyone else is afraid of Liberty, justice is a bullet. This is the lesson that Tom tries to impress upon Ransom, that in Shinbone, enforcing the law requires a gun, not a book. Tom is one of the most respected men in Shinbone because of his prowess with a gun and because he is the only one who can, and will, stand up to Liberty and make him back down. The two become rivals for Hallie's affections, but each earns the other's grudging respect.

By the way, this is the film responsible for introducing John Wayne's famous CatchPhrase of calling someone "pilgrim."

''Spoilers ahead! Tread carefully.''

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!!Tropes:

* AdaptationExpansion: Understandable, since it's based on a short story. The movie adds Pompey and Link Appleyard as major characters, and it expands Ranse's efforts to start a school into a major subplot. The territory becoming a state (which was only alluded to in the short story) also becomes a pivotal plot point.
* AdaptationNameChange: Ransom Stoddard and Tom Doniphon were named Ransome Foster and Bert Barricune in the original short story.
* AdaptationalHeroism: Ransom is far more sympathetic than in the original short story. His literary counterpart is a naive, arrogant, somewhat weaselly man who goes West for lack of anything better to do with his life, and the story largely focuses on how his pointless quest for revenge against Valance ends up consuming him. In the movie, he's a mild-mannered lawyer-turned-schoolteacher who's dedicated to bringing education and progress to the West, and his showdown with Valance is presented in a much more sympathetic light (since Valance is actually shown to be a menace to the town, instead of just a random thug that Ransom has a grudge against).
* AffectionateNickname: "Pilgrim" for Ransom, courtesy of Tom.
* TheAlcoholic:
** What happens to Tom. In the flashback, Tom had given up the demon drink to stay sober for Hallie's sake. When he loses her...
** Ransom's flashbacks reveal half the civic leaders of Shinbone - Newspaperman Peabody, Doc Willoughby for examples - were drunk most of the time too.
* AntiHero: The film changed the Western hero from the clean cut sheriff who cleaned up the town and dispensed justice with a gun to the worn down grizzled antihero who dispensed justice with a gun.
* ArchEnemy: Liberty Valance to Tom Doniphon and Ransom Stoddard.
* ArtisticLicenseHistory: Mention InUniverse as a reason not to spread the truth even when Ransom confesses.
* AskAStupidQuestion: Upon seeing the "Ransom Stoddard: Attorney At Law" sign, an amused Tom asks Ranse "You really aim to hang that up outside somewhere?" Ranse looks about ready to roll his eyes as he replies, "That's why I ''painted'' it!"
** Another one between Liberty and Tom. Liberty: "You looking for trouble, Doniphan?" Tom: "You aiming to help me ''find'' it?"
* BadassBoast: Tom saying Valance is "the toughest man south of the Picketwire...next to ''me''."
* BasedOnAGreatBigLie: The whole point of the movie.
* BeingGoodSucks:
** Ransom gets this in the start: being an upstanding paragon of civilization gets him beat, threatened, and ridiculed in TheWildWest. [[spoiler:Tom gets it in the end. By secretly helping Ransom and letting him take the credit, Tom loses his girlfriend, turns into a drunk, and ultimately winds up forgotten, broke, and buried in a simple pine box.]]
** An even more powerful example with Tom. In the brief flashback scene before he kills [[spoiler:Liberty]], the anguish on his face when he steps out of the shadows is incredibly palpable. He knows he's about to kill a man, save the life of someone he doesn't particularly care for, and lose the woman he loves. Everything in his life is about to change, and not for the better. Also, what is overlooked in this scene is that Pompey ''had already gotten there before Tom and was standing there with his rifle,'' and given how much Pompey clearly respected Ransom, Pompey may have been about to kill [[spoiler:Liberty]] himself. Tom would not have wanted Pompey to be punished if the truth ever came out, which was another reason for him to kill [[spoiler:Liberty]] himself.
** Another subtle sign of how far Tom had fallen since the incidents of the film takes place early in the movie. Pay close attention to Tom's coffin when Ransom opens the lid to view the body. Simply put, the coffin is just not long enough or wide enough for Tom's body to fit, ''if Tom had been the man he used to be.'' It's not a case of the undertaker simply contorting the body any way he could to make it fit, Ransom would have gone ballistic if that had been the case. The implication, which becomes more plain over the course of the film, is that decades of apathy, alcoholism, bitter regret, and brooding over what might have been had all combined to make Tom waste away to a mere shadow of the man he used to be.
* BigBad: Liberty Valance.
* BittersweetEnding: Tom, [[spoiler:just as much a hero as Ransom (in his own way),]] dies drunk and alone. Ransom hasn't gotten over his guilt [[spoiler:that Tom never got his credit]], and that he took Tom's happiness away when Hallie fell for him. Worse, the legend [[spoiler:that Ransom killed Liberty Valance - a total lie -]] remains. The only good thing at the end is that Ransom lived up to Tom's hopes [[spoiler:of using that lie]] to give Hallie - and the residents of Shinbone and the West - a better life.
* TheCameo: Creator/JohnCarradine shows up as an ex-Confederate orator representing the cattle barons during the convention for statehood.
* CentralTheme: Is the truth more important than a good legend?
* ChangedMyMindKid: Subverted when [[spoiler:Tom Doniphon acts the part of the cavalry in the gunfight with Valance, but neither audience nor characters know it until much later]].
* CitySlicker: Ransome is a Tenderfoot. In a reversal of the usual pattern, he doesn't toughen up to fit the Town, instead acting as a civilising influence. Once, that is, a certain Liberty Valance has been shot.
* ClearMyName
* DareToBeBadass: An interesting example, where Tom challenges Ranse to fess up, [[spoiler: accept the false story of killing Valance]], and give Hallie "something to read and write about"!
* DarkerAndEdgier: This is one of the harshest Westerns John Ford ever made. It mocks his earlier works like ''Film/MyDarlingClementine'', which wholeheartedly embraced the need for heroes. Only ''Film/TheSearchers'' can top this film's dark mood. This film does echo ''Film/FortApache'' with the theme of [[BasedOnAGreatBigLie needing our heroes more than the truth]]. But where the earlier film ended on an uplifting [[BittersweetEnding note]], the later film holds no such illusions.
* DeadMansHand The [[spoiler:titular character Liberty]] draws this hand right before being shot.
* DeliberatelyMonochrome: There's some debate among film historians whether the movie was deliberately shot in black-and-white for stylistic reasons (i.e., to emphasize the flashback elements by invoking Ford's earlier work), or else due to a limited budget. Ford, cinematographer William Clothier and others gave conflicting answers over the years. In a letter to critic Bosley Crowther, Ford said that he was trying to go back to the style of westerns in the silent era which many historians note [[OOCIsSeriousBusiness is so unusual for him]] to explain his intentions, least of all to a lowly critic, (being a TrollingCreator), that it probably was his intention.
* DidNotGetTheGirl: Tom never does a formal proposal to Hallie and eventually misses his window when Ransom steps up. This makes Tom an embittered, tragic man in his old days.
* TheDogBitesBack: "I don't like tricks, myself!"
* TheDreaded: Liberty.
* {{Eagleland}}: Played with. The movie suggests that our UsefulNotes/ManifestDestiny of moving Westward was not as clean and heroic as the school books want us to think.
* EndOfAnAge: A major theme of the film. It opens with a funeral for Tom Doniphon, one of the last true cowboys in the West. The climax comes when Doniphon is ultimately overshadowed by Stoddard, the meek politician who helps "civilize" Shinbone by spearheading the Territory's efforts to gain statehood.
* EvenEvilHasStandards: Valance's flunkies Reese and Floyd occasionally seem shocked by their boss's bloodlust. Floyd tries (unsuccessfully) to diffuse the confrontation between Liberty and Tom in the restaurant, and both men prevent Valance from actually killing Ranse and Peabody.
** Liberty himself seems to have a twinge of shock when he believes he whipped Peabody to death, like he didn't intend to go that far. It doesn't take him long to get over it, though.
* ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin: The title.
* FakeUltimateHero: Senator Stoddard as the title character. [[spoiler:He didn't]].
* FlowerMotif: The cactus blossom that Hallie places [[spoiler: on Tom's coffin.]] [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saguaro Saguaro blossom]] is the state wildflower of Arizona, hinting at which territory the film depicts.
* ForegoneConclusion: Liberty Valance is going to get shot. By a man.
* {{Foreshadowing}}: Liberty is playing poker when Ransom calls him out for his lynching of the newspaper editor Peabody. He tosses down [[spoiler:Aces and Eights - The infamous "Dead Man's Hand"]]. John Ford uses this often.
* FramedForHeroism: Ransom gets a heroic reputation for killing a man, and that reputation can propel him into the White House if he wants. [[spoiler:He didn't commit the killing in the first place. He gets rewarded for something he didn't do. On the other hand, his ''real'' heroism is being willing to make a stand and face Valance rather than fleeing.]]
* GenreDeconstruction: The film is ultimately about the death of the Old West, and it ends with Tom [[spoiler:dying alone and unremembered after succumbing to his alcoholism, while another man marries his only love and takes the credit for his final heroic deed]].
* GigglingVillain: Floyd, one of Liberty's henchmen.
* GiveMeASword: Tom silently signals to Pompey to throw him the rifle as they watch the showdown between Liberty Valance and Ransom Stoddard.
* GrammarNazi: Ranse frequently corrects others' speech errors.
* TheGreatestStoryNeverTold: No one will, or can, ever know who really killed Liberty Valance.
* TheGunslinger: Both Liberty and Tom are feared gunmen. Tom is the only one Liberty fears.
* HamToHamCombat: Every major character is {{chewing the scenery}} like nobody's business. And the one-scene cameo by John Carradine tops them all in the LargeHam category. It's amazing by film's end that the soundstage they filmed on is left standing.
* HeartbrokenBadass: [[spoiler:Tom Doniphon, who lost the woman he loved and his chance to become a heroic, legendary figure, though the last part probably didn't bother him as much as the first part. Losing the woman he loved to Ransom haunted Tom for the rest of his life and he was never able to move on from it and find love again with anyone else.]]
* TheHero: Left open to interpretation.
* HeroicBSOD: Played straight, both ways. Ransom feels guilty enough about shooting a man, even if it was a monster [[spoiler:like Liberty Valance]]. Tom doesn't feel guilty [[spoiler:about ''really'' shooting Liberty]], but his life falls apart anyway when Hallie switches her affection to Ransom, whom Tom despises AND respects.
* HeroicSacrifice: Tom refuses to take credit for killing [[spoiler:Liberty Valance]] because Hallie loves Ransom now, and because Tom knows that Ransom can do better - and provide for Hallie better - with that reputation than Tom can.
* HypocriticalHumor: The orator arguing for the cattle barons' desire that the territory remains a territory (that they can control) denounces the settlers' attempt to promote Ransom as the Congressional representative to get them statehood. He argues - while wearing the Confederate officer's uniform no less - they shouldn't send the man who killed Liberty Valance to the same place where UsefulNotes/AbrahamLincoln died like a saint.
* IJustWantMyBelovedToBeHappy: Tom Doniphon [[spoiler:shoots Liberty Valance]] and saves Rance because Hallie would have been sad if he had died. He also bows out when he finds that Hallie has fallen deeply in love with Rance and not with him, and ends up miserable and alone as a result.
* IronicEcho: "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!"
* {{Jerkass}}: Liberty Valance.
* KnightInSourArmor: Tom Doniphon is a much better man than he'd like to be, and does he ever pay the price for it.
* LargeHam: Peabody--'''[[UpToEleven and how!]]''' John Carradine also makes the most of his one scene.
* LoveTriangle: Ransom, Hailie and Tom Doniphon. It's played with in that it seems at first that Hailie loves Ransom which she does, [[spoiler:which drives Tom to sacrifice his future for Hailie's. But the final scene implies that years later, Hailie may have loved Tom after all]].
-->'''Ransom''': ''Hallie, who put the rose on Tom's coffin?''\\
'''Hallie''': ''I did''.
* MeaningfulName: Liberty Valance embodies the dark side of the freedom offered by the Old West, where the strongest always emerge on top. Ransom Stoddard embodies the trade-off of freedom for education and progress (to "ransom" something means to exchange it for something else).
* MistakenForBadass: Tenderfoot lawyer Ransom Stoddard kills the notorious outlaw Liberty in a gunfight, making him a local hero. [[spoiler:Except it wasn't really Stoddard...]]
* NeverLiveItDown: In-universe; Ransom's life is forever defined by the demise of Valance, and years later people keep bringing it up cheerfully. However, deep down he's haunted by this association.
* NoodleIncident: Ransom agrees to give an interview to the young reporter because the founder of that paper once fired him. However, this is never shown to happen during the flashback that constitutes most of the movie.
* NoPartyGiven: Ransom's party is never established.
* NoPlaceForMeThere: Tom realises that civilisation has no use for a man like him.
* TheNounWhoVerbed: The title.
* OffhandBackhand: During the restaurant scene, Doniphon kicks one of Liberty's men in the face without taking his eyes off of Valance for a moment.
* PoliticallyCorrectHistory: Averted. When Pompey (Doniphon's black farmhand) enters the town saloon, he is bluntly told that he can't come in.
* PropagandaHero: Ransom Stoddard is for better and worse, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", even if he was pacifist by nature and did not want to shoot Liberty Valance [[spoiler:and ultimately did not shoot Liberty Valance]], that reputation got him into political office and led him to do great deal of good for the lawless town and promote much progress. That myth is so powerful and so important to the town's reputation that the legend has indeed become fact as is clear in the film's closing lines:
* {{Rancher}}: Tom Doniphon had a small ranch. He was going to marry his sweetheart and grow cactus blossoms. [[spoiler:She falls in love with Ransom instead.]]
* RecycledSoundtrack: At the beginning of the movie, in the scene in which Hallie comes near Tom's burned house, the music from Ford's ''Film/YoungMrLincoln'' is played.
* {{Retcon}}: In-universe. "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
* SensitiveGuyAndManlyMan: One of the leads is Jimmy Stewart, the other is John Wayne.
* SettlingTheFrontier: The theme of this film (and many of Ford's other Westerns):
--> '''Hailie''': ''Look at it. Once it was a wilderness. Now it's a garden. [[ArmorPiercingQuestion Aren't you proud]]?''
* ShadowArchetype: Liberty to Tom, oh so very much. A great deal of the film's conflict comes from that fact that, in Ranse's eyes, they're really NotSoDifferent: they're both cynical, tough-as-nails Western gunfighters who love the freedom of the Old West above all else, and believe that [[MightMakesRight justice can only be dealt out with a gun]]. The only difference is that Tom has a CodeOfHonor that compels him to defend the innocent, whereas Liberty is an amoral thug who simply lives to take what he wants, but in either case neither of them has any place in the post-Wild West America.
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVsCynicism: Falls somewhere in the middle, though it is still arguably the most cynical of all the films that John Ford directed and both of the lead actors starred in. On one hand, Tom does [[spoiler: give up everything he holds dear for the sake of the town, his friend, and the women he loves.]] Yet on the other hand [[spoiler: he dies alone and forgotten while his friend takes the credit (even if reluctantly so).]]
* SmugSnake: Liberty Valance knows enough of the law to figure out how to get away with murder, even though everyone in Shinbone knows he and his pack are involved.
* SpoilerTitle: Only halfway.
* TheStoic: Reese, Valance's non-giggly henchman who's a man of few words--played, appropriately enough, by Creator/LeeVanCleef.
%%* TechnicalPacifist
* TemptingFate: When Doc Willoughby works up the nerve to denounce Liberty for all the harm he's done, and notes how happy he'll be when the day comes for him to perform his physician's duty of declaring the gunman dead, Valance laughs and tosses a stolen gold coin at the doctor. "Payment in advance!"
* ThrowingOutTheScript: Subverted. The pro-rancher candidate claims to do this. However, when the "notes" he so dramatically scrawled up and threw away are examined they turn out to be blank paper. The "words from his heart" was the speech he had memorised all along.
* TragicHero: Tom Doniphon is a man perfectly adapted for survival in a lawless culture of violence, respected by all, even his enemies. He has a sense of justice that won't allow him to let the strong to victimize the weak, and his own heroism ultimately brings about his undoing and destruction. Tom could have let Liberty Valance kill Ranse Stoddard, which in turn would have let Tom keep his girl. Instead, he commits murder to save Ranse, with the certain knowledge that he would also lose his girl. By his own hand, he destroys his own hopes and dreams. That which gave his life meaning is gone. In the end he is nobody, a dissipated life, a forgotten man.
* TrailersAlwaysSpoil: While the title gives us [[ForegoneConclusion a hint that Liberty won't make it to the final credits]], and we ''see'' [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA2JgS6zycQ him being shot in the trailer]]--the left half of the screen is blacked out, so you can't see who's firing the shot.
* TranquilFury: A powerful example after Ransom lifts up the lid of Tom's coffin and sees that the undertaker has stolen the boots from his corpse. His face barely changes expression but there's no doubt whatsoever that he's ''seriously'' pissed. The undertaker only digs himself in deeper by trying to make excuses.
* TheSoCalledCoward: It's not that Ransom isn't brave. He just doesn't think a steak is worth dying for.
* TitleDrop: Most notably, these are the very last words spoken in the film, an IronicEcho to an earlier utterance.
* TreacheryCoverUp: The film ends on an inversion. The reporters chose to cover up the fact that Ransom confessed [[spoiler:that he did not kill the eponymous outlaw which made him a legendary figure]].
* TwilightOfTheOldWest: Peabody's RousingSpeech points out the changing norms of the territory: cowboys and gunmen of a lawless frontier giving way [[SettlingTheFrontier to settlers and civilization]] in need of statehood.
* UnbuiltTrope: If you primarily know of John Wayne's work through PopCultureOsmosis, watching this film can be a bit jarring. While not Wayne's first movie as a leading man (that was ''The Big Trail''), it's largely responsible for solidifying American pop culture's image of him: it was the first movie to cast him as a LovableRogue cowboy in a ten-gallon hat and a neckerchief who defends the weak while snarking cynically, and it spawned his iconic CatchPhrase "Pilgrim", among other things. It's also a vicious GenreDeconstruction of Westerns that's ultimately about [[EndOfAnAge the death of the Old West]], and it ends with Wayne's character [[spoiler: dying alone and unremembered after succumbing to his alcoholism, while another man [[DidNotGetTheGirl marries his only love]] and [[StealingTheCredit takes the credit]] for his final heroic deed]].
* TheWestern: Deconstructed. A man's heroic deeds in taming the West, which involve killing a killer, [[spoiler:prove to be a sham]], and worst of all [[spoiler:when he finally tells the truth about how it happened,]] the people he tells it to refuse to accept the truth.
* WhamLine: Tom to Ransom: [[spoiler: "Besides...''you'' didn't kill Liberty Valance."]]
* WhereTheHellIsSpringfield: It's never actually said ''which'' US territory is fighting for statehood in this movie, making Shinbone's location simply "The West". (However, a little research reveals that the Picketwire River (actually [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatoire_River the Purgatoire River]]) runs through Colorado.)
* WholeEpisodeFlashback: Which itself has a {{Flashback}} embedded in it.
* YoureCuteWhenYoureAngry: Tom to Hallie at least twice.
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