The sheer spectacle of the film is another thing in its favour. The battle scenes are BIG, it’s the sort of thing that today they’d use computers for, creating little pixel people and big CGI explosions, but this is done the old fashioned way, with scores of extras in costume as Mexican troops and special effects crews blowing things up. It’s the closest the western came to historical epics like Spartacus (1960) or El Cid (1961).
But the film's biggest plus isn’t even something that you can see. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is one of the all-time classics, generating far more emotion than all the film's speeches put together. The music received an Oscar nomination (one of the film's seven, although it only won one) and perhaps deserved to win; I’d certainly put it above Exodus (the winner that year).
Most first time directors start small but this is John Wayne and he didn’t do anything by halves. He does a decent job behind the camera; there is nothing visually striking about the film other than its scope but it is solidly made. Its main fault lies in the script and in Wayne’s need to bludgeon the viewer with his own ideals. There is nothing wrong with a filmmaker using a film to present their point of view but it should be done subtly and that isn’t a word you’d use to describe John Wayne or The Alamo.
The film was a financial disaster that cost Wayne dearly. Did he learn from his mistake? Not really; his next film as director was The Green Berets (1968) with Duke using the film as a soapbox for his feelings about Viet Nam.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Now this would have made a more fitting finale for the Wayne/Ford team but instead it’s their penultimate outing. The film charts the rise of Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) and how a perceived heroic act (the shooting of the title) affects him and those around him. It’s a film that makes the viewer question the importance and accuracy of what we perceive as historical fact.
The panoramic vistas of The Searchers or the Cavalry Trilogy are absent here, with most of the film shot on the studio lot, but Ford still manages to dazzle the viewer. The gunfight between Valance and Stoddard is expertly staged, with Ford showing two differing points of view that show how easy history can be wrong. The film is shot in black and white, possibly due to Paramount cost cutting, and this along with the use of sound stages instead of location shooting (more studio penny-pinching) gives the film a retro look that sets it apart from other western films made in the ‘60s.