This revered John Ford movie makes James Stuart’s character a straw man – a fake and a phony. He ventures into the frontier and believes he can use only law (and law books) to resolve disputes. Someone who is that idealistic could not live during the time the movie was set (1865 – 1875). Stuart isn’t a Quaker so he doesn’t have that religion as support. Stuart mouths off while joining the community of Shinbone. It’s no wonder people beat him up or wonder about him.

Everyone in the American west knew that law was a casual thing. Adherence to laws found in books was isolated. The late nineteenth century in America was greatly affected by the Civil War. Violence frequently proceeded or accompanied law. Frequently there was a sense of community equity. Those lessons were not forgotten by the generation which fought the War, nor subsequent generations.

But the movie only makes sense if the audience forgets history and goes along with the  thinking of James Stuart’s character. Spoiler alert! I can only say, to make it a story, thank God John Wayne shot Liberty Valance. Spoiler alert!


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