powered by AFI
In 1910, Sen. Ranse Stoddard and his wife, Hallie, arrive in the small town of Shinbone to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon. A reporter questions him about his unannounced appearance, and Ranse tells about his early days as a young lawyer in Shinbone, when he opposed the ruthless rule of Liberty Valance, a notorious gunfighter. The only other two men in the town who were unafraid of the outlaw were Dutton Peabody, a drunken but courageous newspaper editor, and Tom Doniphon, a respected rancher in love with Hallie, who was then a young waitress. Valance became outraged when Ranse was elected delegate to a territorial convention and taunted him into a duel. Hallie knew that Ranse could not handle a gun and pleaded with Tom to save Ranse; but Tom, sick of Ranse's foolhardy bravery, refused. Late one night, Ranse and Valance faced each other on the darkened main street of the town. Several shots were fired, and although Ranse was wounded, Valance was the one who lay dead. Ranse became known as "the man who shot Liberty Valance" and was nominated to run for Congress. Unable to face a career built on a killing, he decided to refuse the nomination. Tom then appeared and confessed that it was he who, out of love for Hallie, fired from the shadows that night. Tom, in effect, became Ranse's conscience, the force that carried him to the U. S. Senate and a brilliant career in Washington, while Tom died a pauper. Ranse's story finished, the reporter decides not to print it because in the old West the legend had become fact.