Sample Film and Theater Studies Paper on Movies and the Myth of the American Dream

Movies from the past often serve to depict the present state of affairs to their audience. One such film is John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This work by the highly applauded Ford is about the myth of the American West. In the movie, which is set in 1962, depicts the west as having smoking trains, electric fans, and telephones which at the time represented the modernization of the American West. Also, myths about the West insinuate that it is usually associated with lawlessness since it as inhabited by Indians, cowboys, and prospectors traveling in wagons (Monahan, Peter J, 43).

This nature of the American dream where one has to put in a lot of hard work and bend the rules if necessary is portrayed all through the movie. For instance, Doniphon, one of the characters in the film, is quoted saying “Out here a man settles his problems.” This, therefore, shows an aspect of the American dream that every person is in charge of his or her welfare. Lawlessness in the American myth and movies of the west is further depicted in the movie when Liberty Valance holds up a stagecoach just outside of the town of Shinbone. Liberty Valance is so popular for his disorderliness and is therefore regarded as “the toughest man south of the picket wire.”

In the held up stagecoach is a young Eastern Lawyer; Ransom Stoddard, who comes into conflict with Liberty Valance since he decides to stand up and defend a woman who was being harassed. Stoddard is brutally beaten up by Valance and left for dead, only to be rescued and taken to town by Tom Doniphon. Since Doniphon comes from the East, he starts demanding the arrest of Valance. However, Doniphon tells the lawyer that the law means nothing out there in the west. He proceeds to advise him that if he needed to exact revenge from Liberty Valance, he should instead look for and start carrying a handgun since that was the way of the west. This, therefore, serves to bring to light the myth associated with the west which is little regard for the law.

This film, however, does challenge this myth and in the event serving to inspire and give hope. This is depicted via the events of the movie where the town where it is set has to select two representatives to the statehood convention. Since Stoddard was a lawyer from the East and valued human rights, he stood up to challenge his sworn enemy Liberty Valance. Stoddard enjoys the support of the people of the town; who was statehood. This means they pushed for government protection of their rights, the building of schools and the establishment of railroads. On the other hand, Valance and his cattle barons want none of that, and they want to keep all the land for themselves.

Eventually, Valance challenges Stoddard to a shooting showdown since he knew Stoddard barely knew how to hold a gun. However, Stoddard miraculously ends up being victorious and finally having his revenge and then proceeds to the convention. He later realizes that he will be nominated because he is the man who shot Liberty Valance and this makes him feel disgusted and decides to leave town only to be stopped by his old friend Tom Doniphon. Doniphon urges him to accept the nomination which he finally does. This particular film is not propaganda since history about the West narrates ideas of Lawlessness as depicted in the movie. This, therefore, serves to show how the film establishes a clear plan and direction to address this myth about the west. In the end, the myth is shattered since Valance I killed, and a new system based on human rights and development is put into place.



Works Cited

Marvin, Lee, James Stewart, John Wayne, and Vera Miles. Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.          Hollywood, Calif: Paramount Home Entertainment, 1962.

Monahan, Peter J. The West. New York: Scribner, 1979. Print.