The cast in the film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” quite precisely portrays the distinct set of characters present in a any typical John Wayne Western. Together, Liberty Valance, Tom Donophin, and Rance Stoddard fill these corresponding roles as specifically identified in Sue Matheson’s “The West-Hardboiled: Adaptations of Film Noir Elements, Existentialism, and Ethics John Wayne’s Westerns.”
According to Matheson, Tom Donophin exemplifies the classic John Wayne antihero. He is the tough and independent, hardboiled cowboy. He is his own “moral center,” living life by his own rules. Although he has many faults, he is portrayed as a man of honor and respect. However, his antihero status would not be possible without the corresponding characters of Valance and Stoddard. Valance represents the psychopathic villain, terrorizing the town, robbing and killing without mercy. He is dirty and disheveled, reinforcing Matheson’s assertion, “the dirtier their faces, the darker their hearts.” Stoddard, on the other hand, represents the opposite extreme. He is a man of the law whose deontologist ways clash with everything the West represents. In contrast to the alpha male cowboys, he is viewed as particularly feminine, evident not only in his lack of aggression but in his continuous carrying out of female tasks such as working in the kitchen, waiting tables, and wearing an apron. Thus, Donophin is seen as virtuous and honorable, not because he is particularly moral, but because he is the mean between two extremes.