Of Lessons and of Love: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

  • Edward Gallafent
Part of the Palgrave Close Readings in Film and Television book series (CRFT)


In his biography of the political thinker and traveller Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, E. M. Forster paraphrases Dickinson’s reactions to his tour of America in 1909, which we might say is approximately the moment of the present day in Ford’s film. Dickinson comments, not on the absence of culture, but the lack of intimacy: ‘Culture can wait, but how can any civilization grow out of people who can’t or daren’t be intimate with one another? There just isn’t the soil.’1 We might think of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as a meditation on these matters: the challenge posed by intimacy and what does, and does not, grow in such ground.


Political Thinker Hollywood Film Musical Accompaniment United States Senator Capitol City 
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  1. 1.
    E. M. Forster, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), Abinger Edition Vol. 13, p. 110.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    A more comprehensive sense of how the film sets up its meanings through the opening sequences can be gained from Andrew Sarris and Robert Pippin. See Andrew Sarris, The John Ford Movie Mystery (London, Secker and Warburg [Cinema One Series], 1976), p. 176–177 and Robert B. Pippin’s chapter ‘Who Cares Who Shot Liberty Valence’ in his Hollywood Westerns and American Myth (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2010), particularly pp. 71–74.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    A period of suspended time perhaps, when it is too hot to be out in the open for long. That the weather seems appropriate for telling a long tale is one of several echoes of Heart of Darkness (1899), where a calm evening provides the moment: ‘The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance.’ See Joseph Conrad, Youth: A Narrative and Two Other Stories (Edinburgh, John Grant, 1925), p. 46.Google Scholar

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© Edward Gallafent 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward Gallafent
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WarwickUK

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