Many a man would face his gun and many a man would fall

I think I understand why John Ford disliked the song and don’t believe it was a generational thing between the 68-year-old film director and Gene Pitney, the 22-year-old teen idol who had been hired to sing it.  I say it was a case of a proposed theme song that cut across the deep aesthetic grain of a rare artist who remains the only person ever to win four Best Director Oscars.

Although his major awards were won for adaptations of iconic 20th Century novels, he is best remembered for his acute feel for the 19th Century American frontier. In addition to customarily breathtaking cinematography and a consistently clear visual style, Ford was highly adept at incorporating a film’s musical score into the story. So much so that it sometimes took on greater importance than dialogue.

So despite the many merits of a pop song that had been commissioned by the studio for what would prove to be Ford’s last great film, in 1962, it didn’t blend well with the director’s elegaic vision.  And John Ford wasn’t one who liked to be told what to do, as one studio executive famously learned when he complained that one of Ford’s films was falling behind schedule.  The accomplished director quietly held up the script and tore out an entire scene saying, “There, now we’re all caught up!”  True to his word the scene was never filmed.

Nor was the song, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” written by a couple of Brill Building collaborators named Burt Bacharach & Hal David, used in the now classic film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Instead, Ford opted for the “Ann Rutledge Theme” from his 1938 film,” Young Mr. Lincoln,” starring Henry Fonda.

Not that it was a tragic decision. Evocatively filmed in Black & White and starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, the movie was a huge success and, peaking at Number 4 on the Billboard Charts, so was the song.  Be sure to listen for those two shots after “…shot Liberty Valance,” if you’re in any doubt about the bravest of them all.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Tuesday 12 March 

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

When Liberty Valance rode to town the womenfolk would hide, they’d hide

When Liberty Valance walked around the men would step aside

‘Cause the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood

When it came to shootin’ straight and fast, he was mighty good

 From out of the East a stranger came, a law book in his hand, a man

The kind of a man the West would need to tame a troubled land

‘Cause the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood

When it came to shootin’ straight and fast, he was mighty good

Many a man would face his gun and many a man would fall

The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance

He was the bravest of them all

The love of a girl can make a man stay on when he should go, stay on

Just tryin’ to build a peaceful life where love is free to grow

But the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood

When the final showdown came at last, a law book was no good

Alone and afraid she prayed that he’d return that fateful night, awww that night

When nothin’ she said could keep her man from goin’ out to fight

From the moment a girl gets to be full-grown the very first thing she learns

When two men go out to face each other, only one returrrrns

 Everyone heard two shots ring out, a shot made Liberty fall

The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance

He was the bravest of them all

The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance

He was the bravest of them all

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