The Sons of Katie Elder looks epic in the sweeping vistas of its Mexican locations and its large cast of characters, but it doesn’t feel epic in the scope of its story. Its two-hour length is more than enough to contain its narrative, with a solid twenty minutes to spare. It’s not a bad movie so much as a decent one that takes its sweet time getting to the point.
While John Ford would go on to direct several more pictures after this one, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance represents a sort of exclamation point of one of most celebrated directorial careers in American film. His previous high-water mark, The Searchers, was a film torn between the conventions of a previous era and emerging modern sensibilities. Liberty Valance is thoroughly modern by 1962 standards and virtually timeless by any other.