The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, this was a good transfer.
Sharpness seemed fine for the most part. Wide shots could be a litle soft and blocky, partially due to some light edge enhancement. Nonetheless, the majority of the film showed acceptable clarity and definition. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering.
Source flaws were essentially absent. I noticed the odd speck here or there, but those were inconsequential. Grain remained within acceptable levels and never became intrusive.
Blacks showed positive depth, and contrast looked solid. Shadows were also quite good, as low-light shots demonstrated nice clarity and opacity. The mild softness kept the transfer from “A”-level, but I found it to be very satisfying.
In addition to the original monaural audio, Shot came with a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. As a fan, I’d rather stick with the theatrical audio, but I thought the expanded track worked well. The soundscape didn’t go crazy with various elements, so it felt like a moderate expansion of the mono mix. Music showed decent stereo spread, and effects broadened to the sides in a convincing manner. Much of the audio remained focused in the center, but some elements like coaches moved across the front speakers in a nice manner.
The 5.1 remix of Shot didn’t do much with the surrounds. At best, the track used the back speakers to reinforce the music and effects. I never became aware of anything more active from the rear channels, and that was fine with me; I didn’t think the movie required any more auditory expansion than it boasted.
Audio quality aged well. Though speech occasionally appeared a little thick, the lines usually sounded pretty natural and concise. Music was reasonably engaging, and effects showed good clarity and definition. My only complaint came from a mild thumping sound that briefly popped up around the 47-minute mark. Nothing here really impressed, but the results were more than acceptable given the age of the material.
How did the picture and sound quality of this 2009 “Centennial Collection” DVD compare with those of the original 2001 release? Both offered virtually identical audio, but the 2009 disc provided substantial visual improvements. The new disc boasted a much cleaner transfer, and it also showed better clarity in low-light situations.
While the old disc included virtually no extras, the “Centennial Collection” package adds a mix of components. On DVD One, we start with an audio commentary. It combines a running, screen-specific chat from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich with archival recordings from director John Ford and actor James Stewart. The commentary covers cast and performances, sets and locations, music and visual styles, and elements of the story.
When you look at my thoughts about prior Bogdanovich commentaries, you’ll see that they’re generally not positive. Does the filmmaker improve on that weak track record? Unfortunately, no. Bogdanovich presents a presence so low-key that he threatens to vanish into the ether. He rarely shows any spirit as he sleepwalks through the movie.
At least the remarks from Stewart and Ford prove more effective. Those offer some interesting stories and thoughts. Unfortunately, they don’t pop up with great frequency, so we’re usually left with Bogdanovich – when he bothers to talk, since we suffer through more than a few dead spots. You’ll learn a smattering of decent facts from the chat, so I don’t want to paint it as a disaster. However, it never becomes better than average, and it often seems dull and flat.
More archival material appears during a selected scene commentary. This includes an intro from director’s grandson Dan Ford and provides notes from John Ford, Stewart, and actor Lee Marvin. If you select the “Play All” option, this collection runs a total of 22 minutes, 43 seconds. We learn that Ford conducted these interviews in the early 1970s as research for a book. The clips cover cast and performances as well as various aspects of the production and the careers of the participants.
Expect a lot of interesting notes here. To my surprise, we don’t get a ton of info from John Ford. Since his grandson led these interviews for a book about the director, I thought he’d dominate, but instead the clips from the actors take up most of the time. All three provide interesting insights, though Marvin’s are probably the best of the bunch.
Over on DVD Two, we find a seven-part featurette entitled The Size of Legends, The Soul of Myth. Viewed as a whole, this show runs 50 minutes, 52 seconds as it presents notes from Bogdanovich, Dan Ford, film critic/historian Richard Schickel, John Ford biographer Scott Eyman, Paramount Picture producer AC Lyles, film historian Michael Blake, Lee Marvin’s widow Pamela, and film critic/author Molly Haskell. We also hear from John Ford, James Stewart and Lee Marvin via archival elements.
The program looks at the status of Hollywood in the early 1960s and how these factors affected Shot. We also examine the source story and its adaptation, the flick’s development and John Wayne’s involvement, John Ford’s approach to the subject matter, themes and interpretation, cast and performances, and the flick’s reception.
“Size” gives us a somewhat disjointed look at Shot. While it digs into some interesting subjects, it doesn’t follow a particularly logical and concise path. It repeats a fair amount of information heard elsewhere, and it doesn’t feel like an especially dynamic take on the material. Oh, it still allows us to learn a reasonable amount about the film, but it never really brings the subject matter to life.
In addition to the film’s trailer - the only extra found on the earlier DVD – we get some Galleries. These break down into “John Ford” (25 stills), “Production” (21), “Publicity” (14) and “Lobby Cards” (8). All prove to be interesting, though the amusingly stiff publicity shots provide the most enjoyment.
Finally, the set includes a booklet. The eight-page piece provides some short production notes and a few photos. It’s not memorable but it’s a nice way to finish the set.
With John Ford behind the camera and both James Stewart and John Wayne in front of it, 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance presents a meeting of cinematic giants. Even with all that such a combination promises, Shot lives up to expectations, as it offers a dynamic, dramatic western. The DVD presents good picture and audio along with an inconsistent but acceptably informative set of supplements.
Shot remains a rich tale, and this “Centennial Collection” DVD gives us its best home video incarnation to date. It improves on the problematic visuals that came with the original 2001 disc and it also includes all-new extras. Fans will definitely want to upgrade to this version.
To rate this film visit the John Wayne Collection review of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE