The Significance of John Wayne, After 30 Years

wayne.jpgThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a story about the death of the American West. John Wayne does more than simply play the title character; he also serves as a clear symbol of the American spirit, and his heroic sacrifice in this film is John Ford’s meditation on the paradox of American individualism.

“Wayne plays Tom Doniphon, the only man tough enough to stand up to Liberty Valance, the local thug. It is the arrival of Ransom Stoddard, an idealistic lawyer, that forces Tom to shoot Liberty, and in the process he sacrifices his own happiness, his own way of life, and the woman he loves.

“The core of Wayne’s appeal is not his swagger or his charm, but his willingness to act and accept the consequences, even when it means the end of his own way of life. Although we see his character dead, largely forgotten, it is Stoddard’s wife who puts the cactus blossoms on his coffin, an unspoken confession of her own love for him. She speaks for us all. We may be married to the security and safety of Stoddard’s government, but John Ford reminds us that it is the cactus roses of Tom Doniphon that grow in the heart of everry Amwrican”

— Nicholas Tucker, a San Francisco–based filmmaker. His latest project is Do As I Say, based on Peter Schweizer’s bestselling book, at National Review

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