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"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." That's more than the code of a newspaperman in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; it's practically the operating credo of director John Ford, the most honored of American filmmakers. In this late film from a long career, Ford looks at the civilizing of an Old West town, Shinbone, through the sad memories of settlers looking back. In the town's wide-open youth, two-fisted Westerner John Wayne and tenderfoot newcomer James Stewart clash over a woman (Vera Miles) but ultimately unite against the notorious outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Ford's nostalgia for the past is tempered by his stark approach, unusual for the visual poet of Stagecoach and The Searchers. The two heavyweights, Wayne and Stewart, are good together, with Wayne the embodiment of rugged individualism and Stewart the idealistic prophet of the civilization that will eventually tame the Wild West. This may be the saddest Western ever made, closer to an elegy than an action movie, and as cleanly beautiful as its central symbol, the cactus rose. --Robert Horton
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