Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blog#2 - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

In the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a feminist character, Ransom Stoddard, enters a western town caught in a power struggle between to alpha cowboys, Liberty Valance and Tom Doniphon. The plot revolves around the interactions between these characters and how those interactions affect the town and its citizens.
The first character introduced is Valance, whose attire, acts, and personality quickly establish him as the antagonist. As Sue Matheson notes, Valance to the viewer is "callous, remorseless, and manipulative." In the process of robbing Stoddard and his company, these qualities are become eminent as he disrespects an older woman regardless of her innocence. Mathueson labels Valance as a "prime example" of an outlaw, a "pathological liar(s) with poor behavioral controls". Valance is protected against the law and order of Stoddard's East because his brutality and ruthlessness instill fear among any who would attempt to bring him to justice.
Stoddard, as I mention earlier, plays the role of a relatively feminist character new to "western law" and its practices. When he first arrives in town, Stoddard is determined to send Valance to jail for robbery and, presumably, assault. From the beginning Stoddard is identified as "A rather naïve and gullible idealist" who "expects the West to be a place where 'civilized' values are respected." After a partial recovery, Stoddard maintains his Eastern views and refuses to carry a gun, despite Tom Doniphon's advice to "start packing a handgun... Out here a man settles his own problems." Stoddard's moral values shift as he spends more time out west, eventually taking the law into his own hands by facing Valance as a western man should, gun in hand.
Despite his protagonist appearance and reputation, Tom Doniphon shares many qualities with Liberty Valance. Mathueson explains further: "Both men settle their problems in the same fashion. In Shinbone, the individual does not enforce the law; he is the law... Doniphon may wear a white hat in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he too exhibits a highly antisocial and disordered personality." In Shinbone, the line between hero and villain is thin and Doniphon seems to cross that line once or twice.
While he remains opposite Valance in the fight to establish an Alpha Male of Shinbone, he is too similar in character to be defined as a stereotypical hero of the past; rather, Doniphon is hard-boiled. Doniphon is another one of "Wayne's antiheroes [who] find themselves enmeshed in double binds of their own making." In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Doniphon becomes the alpha male by dismissing his own desires in order to ensure the happiness of Hallie. As Mathueson puts it, "Doniphon could have secured his relationship with Hallie by standing aside and letting Valance kill Stoddard, or by standing aside and allowing Stoddard to return to the East, but he does not. Instead, Doniphon destroys his personal happiness by acting in good faith."
Sacrifice, in westerns, defines the true alpha male. The alpha male's willingness to put his own desires second to those of others separates him from the apparent "good characters." For instance, while Stoddard stands up to Valance in the name of justice, he reaps the rewards from Doniphon's actions; his political and social success is established from killing Liberty Valance. As Mathueson concludes "... it is not the agents of civilization -the town sheriff, the newspaper editor, the lawyer, or the United States senator-but Doniphon, the loner living in the desert wilderness, who is responsible for Shinbone becoming a thriving community." This establishes Tom Doniphon as a hardboiled alpha male.

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