The Heart Of The Wingnut “Valance” Of Power?

close_libertyvalance(Giving health care reform a break for now…)

While progressive activists are meeting at Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh at this moment (the duties of a job and family life do not permit such an endeavor for yours truly, but oh well), Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner has been moderating comments concerning the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by John Ford, in addition to trying to propagate wingnut talking points and narratives that I won’t dignify here (for the uninitiated, here is a pretty good synopsis of the film from Wikipedia).

Lopez addresses women primarily in her post, but I have a thing or two to say also…

In my continuing Claremont Institute–sponsored John Ford/John Wayne movie marathon here in Newport Beach, last night I watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. After The Searchers, this is the second Ford/Wayne movie I’ve ever seen (I grew up in Chelsea, Manhattan; cut me a break!). What terrified me about it — really, about us — is that Jay Marini, who watches it with groups frequently, explaining that young women increasingly like the Jimmy Stewart character, Ransom Stoddard, whereas women used to go for the Wayne character, Tom Doniphon.

God help us.

In a tribute to the Duke earlier this summer, Nicholas Tucker summed the movie up well:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a story about the death of the American West. John Wayne does more than simply play the title character; he also serves as a clear symbol of the American spirit, and his heroic sacrifice in this film is John Ford’s meditation on the paradox of American individualism.

Wayne plays Tom Doniphon, the only man tough enough to stand up to Liberty Valance, the local thug. It is the arrival of Ransom Stoddard, an idealistic lawyer, that forces Tom to shoot Liberty, and in the process he sacrifices his own happiness, his own way of life, and the woman he loves.

The core of Wayne’s appeal is not his swagger or his charm, but his willingness to act and accept the consequences, even when it means the end of his own way of life. Although we see his character dead, largely forgotten, it is Stoddard’s wife who puts the cactus blossoms on his coffin, an unspoken confession of her own love for him. She speaks for us all. We may be married to the security and safety of Stoddard’s government, but John Ford reminds us that it is the cactus roses of Tom Doniphon that grow in the heart of every American.

(Lopez again) Corner ladies, tell me all hope is not lost.

I’m sure it will not surprise you in the least that I related more to the Stoddard character in the movie, who represents idealism and sacrifice (I believe) more than the Tom Doniphon character (though he undoubtedly does also – and I think it speaks volumes to wingnut insecurity generally that the fact that the sympathies of many women resting with the James Stewart character is a problem for Lopez; he is pictured above with Vera Miles).

After all, it is the Stoddard character who is continually beaten up and abused by Liberty Valance (played by Lee Marvin, one of many iconic performances in the film), though he perseveres, even building a school house to teach the town’s children (and Hallie, played by Miles, who was Doniphon’s girlfriend until Stewart showed up). As it turns out, it is her pleading that ends up motivating Doniphon to defend Stoddard in the gun fight (Doniphon, of course, is the one who kills Valance, though Stoddard is alleged to be the hero, and that’s how the legend emerges).

But as usual, in the “all or nothing” world view of most conservatives I’ve encountered in my life, it is Doniphon who is strong and Stoddard who is weak, and there is no gray area. Although, had Doniphon not interceded on Stoddard’s behalf and Stoddard had been killed by Valance, another “tenderfoot,” as Doniphon called Stoddard, surely would have come along and ultimately ended up winning over the town and advancing his political fortunes (with Doniphon acting a bit like Bogie in Casablanca by sacrificing for the girl he loves on behalf of a “greater good”…in real life, though, the politics of John Wayne and lefty Humphrey Bogart could not have been less alike).

I just wanted to chime in here and say some words in defense of the Stewart/Stoddard character in the movie, as long as Lopez had apparently taken such an affront to the sympathies of her “sisters” now residing with the emoting eschewer of violence as opposed to the strong, sturdy “man of action” (though in real life, Stewart was a hero of World War II and Wayne did not see combat, a fact for which Wayne was apparently persecuted to no end by Ford).

So that’s my movie critique for the day (and given Lopez’s attitude about Stewart in Valance, I can only imagine what she thought of him in Vertigo).

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