Senator Ransom Stoddard pays a mysterious visit to his hometown, Shinbone. This is news, and Ransom is hounded by the press from the moment he arrives. It seems the Senator is there to pay his respects to a dead man by the name of Tom Doniphon. The newspapermen don’t know of any Tom Doniphon, and they demand the scoop. And this is the scoop.
Back in the day, Tom’s hot for Hallie. She’s one of those country girls, quick to anger, not too bright, and doesn’t quite realize how hot she is. Tom’s a real man. He owns a ranch and spends his time wearing chaps, and chasing cattle, wearing a gun, and bossing around a black man named Pompey. Tom is also the most respected man in that town, a kind of de facto sheriff who keeps the bad guys at bay. Hallie doesn’t quite seem to get that Tom digs her, even when he gives her a close second-place in a beauty contest between her and a cactus. Little does Hallie know that Tom is building an addition to his ranch home in which he plans to rustle country babies with her.
The young Ransom Stoddard made at least two bad choices. He moved out west with no knowledge of the local culture and customs, and, before that, he went to law school. On his way into town, Ransom’s stagecoach was robbed by a big, bad dude with a silver-handled whip. This man is Liberty Valance, the toughest man south of the picket wire, next to Tom, of course. Liberty gives Ransom a western hello by beating him mercilessly with his whip and stealing his things. Tom finds Ransom’s unconscious body on the road and takes him to town so Hallie can care for him and fall in love with him.
Ransom wants justice. He wants Liberty Valance arrested and tried, and preferably hanged. But the cowardly Marshall, played by the delightful Andy Devine, refuses to do his job, and Liberty remains free. One day, Liberty comes to the restaurant where Hallie and Ransom work. Liberty trips Ransom, humiliating him in front of everyone. Tom steps in and picks a fight with Liberty. Liberty cautiously relents. But, as you might have guessed, it wasn’t over yet. Ransom’s thirst for justice only grows, but he wants things done the legal way. But the law is no help to him…