Wasting time yesterday – and everyday – I began watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, a 1962 John Ford picture starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. I’d seen the m=film a number of years prior, but felt the two hours spent pouring over Ford’s Western was as good a way to kill an evening as any other. Thing is, just about a minute into the thing, Andy Devine’s name washes across the screen on a dusty sign post announcing the appearance of a guy I’d thought about a great deal, but never pictured properly in my mind.
Turns out pretty much anyone in the western world whose watched a cowboy movie probably recognizes the guy. He’s just a doffy looking washed up sheriff no one pays too much attention to unless they need him. He’s kind of like a Western styled baxter.
In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence Devine’s character likes eating steak, avoiding work and most importantly, avoiding Lee Marvin’s Valence character. That last part’s probably a wise move as Marvin looks as lean and awful as in any of his various roles as a bad dude. And yes, he says the word dude repeatedly, most often in reference to the Stewart character.
Either way, there’s a battle for lawfulness at hand with Wayne and Stewart at least sympathizing for each other as both seek the affection of the same women and go about similar ends with drastically different means. Devine’s character, though, always crops up just in time to punctuate a scene of make one completely irrelevant. Most often the sheriff just sits around and eats or verbally belly aches. But regardless of what he’s doing at the beginning of the film which quickly snaps off into a flashback, or the end of it when viewers are back in the ‘present,’ it doesn’t seem that the character’s engaged with anything different. And that’s just how the world is – and that’s why Westerns still work now. There’s always gonna be a Lee Marvin bad guy and a John Wayne good guy accompanied by a worthless Devine character. We’ve each just got to figure out which one we should pretend to be and get on with it.