The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Greenhorn attorney Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) comes West with the idea of building a law practice, but he doesn't get very far before a thug named Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) personally introduces him to the real law of the frontier: brute force. So begins director John Ford's most underrated major Western. To be sure, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance sprawls a bit, including far too much corny business from the stock hapless marshal (Andy Devine), the stock drunken newspaper editor (Edmond O'Brien), ad nauseum. But at its core, the film deals seriously with the frontier transition from rule by the powerful few (represented by sadistic bully Valance and the faceless cattlemen for whom he works) to rule by the formerly powerless masses (championed by the stalwart Stoddard, likely as not to be wearing a kitchen apron). Meanwhile, in the background lurks Tom Doniphon (Ford's onscreen alter ego, John Wayne), a man of the Old West who's savvy enough to realize that there's no place for him in the New West that Stoddard heralds. It's Doniphon's actions--and his tragedy--that give Valance's black-and-white tale its compelling shades of gray, and make it one of the most thought-provoking comments on the nature of our nation's history and our nation's politics ever put to film.