The Haunting Past (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962)

Man_Who_Shot_Liberty_Valance_PosterSenator Ransom Stoddard and his wife have come back to their home town to pay respects to his late friend Tom Doniphon. Some wonder why a famous senator is attending the funeral of a man who seems not to really be of any note.

A persistent reporter convinces the reluctant senator to give him an interview.  Stoddard made his name by killing the notorious Liberty Valance years earlier. But there is a dark secret hidden away and Stoddard is ready to put it on the record.

Buoyed by strong performances from Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, the Man Who shot Liberty Valance explores living a life on the foundation of a lie.  Stewart’s Stoddard carries guilt over the circumstances involving Tom and Valance.

Valance is a pretty straight forward thug who wants to amass power, the film makes no real effort to get the audience on his side.  You see Stoddard’s actions as fairly heroic, but information he learns later eats away at him as the years go by.

This is a terrific film and a classic of the genre. I say this as one who has never been a huge fan of John Wayne.  Admittedly, some of that is annoyance with narratives about “where have the real men gone”. But I appreciate Wayne in this film.  Tom is a sympathetic character, who finds Stoddard, in some ways, really interfered with his life.

The Wondrous Life (It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946)

its_a_wonderful_life_posterFrank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life was not a hit when released, yet it managed to become a classic.  Due to copyright errors the film became a Christmas mainstay, cementing it as a Christmas Classic.  And that is alright by me.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a wonderful dark fairy-tale.  It focuses on George Bailey, a guy full of big hopes and dreams, for whom none get realized.  There is always something that stands in the way.  And now, married with children, George finds himself in a bind.  It looks like he might lose everything.  Despondent and prepared to commit suicide, even then he is interrupted by goofy angel in training Clarence.

What follows is Clarence walking George through his town, except, it is a town that never had a George Bailey.  And what he finds is that as miserable as he thinks his situation is?  His friends and family were worse off without him.

George is kind and constantly self sacrificing.  Probably the closest he comes to selfishness in his pursuit of Mary (Donna Reed).  He knows his friend Sam has been pursuing Mary, but he is drawn to her, and she has always wanted George.  George fights his feelings for Mary, seeing her as someone who will tie him to the town of Bedford Falls, which he desires to leave ever so badly.

In a way, he is correct.  His marriage to Mary is another nail in the coffin of his dream to travel the world.  Yet, when he sees a world without him, George realizes how much is lost.  There are people who never have homes, because he was not there to run his Father’s Saving and Loan.  The cruel Mr. Potter (in the Scrooge model) is never obstructed by George Bailey.  His mother is bitter, his brother is dead and his Uncle is the local town lunatic.

This is a classic because it strikes at the heart.  We have all felt that lack of connection to our lives, when things get dark, it is easy to wonder why we might matter.  And the film challenges that in it’s special and whimsical way.

This is a superb work from Capra and company, worthy of it’s status of “Holiday Classic”.


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