Jimmy Stewart spent the summer learnin’ how to shoot.
It’s been a good summer for watching films, but not one for writing about them. And with each mini-essay I wrote in my head in concert with the film on the TV, the pressure to turn those scraps of thought into a coherent product built.
Ultimately, that pressure gave way to a new realization. That those essays are not happening. There was also a multi-week diversion attributable to getting caught up on “Mad Men.”
So, instead, here’s a roll call of some of the movies I experienced for the first time over the last eight weeks, with a line or two of how they struck me.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) dir. by John Ford.
What happened to the John Ford who so faithfully sought out to faithfully recreate the rituals of the Army cavalry in the Old West? Liberty Valance is so stage-bound that it looks like TV western. John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart are far too old for their parts. The dramatic reveal is obvious from the title of the movie.
So why does it work? Ford had increasingly been boiling down his work so it that it worked most predominantly on the thematic level, often in highly idealized settings.
The Ireland in The Quiet Man (1952) is more like a dream that Irish-Americans have of the auld country than reality. The Searchers (1956) seems to be almost a parable about hate and revenge.
Wayne’s race-hatred was outdated in that film and his entire character and way of life is passing from the scene in Liberty Valance. (Wayne, of course, would go on to play many versions of this archetype in subsequent films.)
For me, the movie came alive in two late scenes: one in which Wayne’s character, Tom Doniphon, burns down the house he was constructing for his life with Hallie (Vera Miles) and the subsequent scene at the state nominating convention that codifies the movie’s themes about the triumph of the civil society over the lawlessness of the Old West.
By the way, an early “Mad Men” episode contains a Liberty Valance spoiler, so watch carefully.