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‘He was the bravest of them all’

"When Liberty Valance rode to town

The women folk would hide, they’d hide.

When Liberty Valance walked around

The men would step aside …

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."

— Title song from the 1962 movie "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"

If you are, say, in your early 40s, you may not believe it when I tell you that back in the day most cities only had one movie theater.

Multiple-screen movie theaters? Ha! You had one theater in town with one screen and, by gawd, you watched what was playing or you watched nothing at all.

In my hometown, we had The Glen Theatre. It sat in the town square in Glendale, Ariz. I remember standing in line on a Saturday morning with enough money in my pocket to buy a ticket, but usually nothing more for candy and popcorn.

As I look back on it now, I guess we were poorish, or maybe we were just Glendale frugal. But Mom taught us to be glad in what we had and, baby, I was in line to see the new Jerry Lewis movie. Could a boy get any luckier than that?

Anyhow, I bring this all up because last week, as predicted, America initiated what I suspect will be a prolonged mud fight about who should get the most credit for administering double-tap justice to the world’s No. 1 terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

Was it the lawyer president, Barack Obama, the man who has called upon the nation to rise above enhanced interrogation techniques (he calls it "torture") and bring justice to al-Qaida with the swift sword of the law, Miranda warnings, public defenders and such?

Or, was it the hombre president from Texas, George W. Bush? He led the nation back from the horror of 9/11 to protect us by any means possible. He called it a war and created Gitmo for the indefinite detention of enemy combatants, as well as secret prisons where enhanced interrogation (or "torture," if you like) extracted valuable information from an enemy we knew little about.

I spent the week trying to recall where I had heard this story line before.

Then it hit me. It was the spring of 1962 on a Saturday afternoon at The Glen Theatre.

This was a real-life remake of John Ford’s movie "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."

Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) becomes a hero for killing Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), a deadly pistolero for the cattle barons.

But on the night Ransom met Liberty on the street, Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) stood hidden in the shadows. All three drew. It was Doniphon who killed Liberty, but Ransom was the only one seen. He took the credit and went on to not only take Doniphon’s girlfriend, but also to live out a spectacular political career.

At this moment, political operatives are out trying to create the legend of who shot Osama bin Laden.

Using leaks and "inside" information, Team Obama attempts to create the image that it was the brave Obama who single-handedly and with great foresight and enlightenment delivered justice for the world.

Team Bush, meanwhile, pushes a story line that says the gritty groundwork came from one tough cowboy who was willing do what it took — even walk into the world of shadows — to root out the evil of al-Qaida and protect America.

Deep down in places we don’t talk about at parties, Republicans say, George W. Bush did his job, and he’d do it again. The existence of enhanced interrogation techniques and secret prisons, while grotesque to some, saved lives and ultimately led to the death of Osama bin Laden. We want George W. Bush on that wall!

But, of course, now I’m mixing movies. That’s the inconvenient truth articulated by Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) in "A Few Good Men." This week, life is imitating art in the form of the movie "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."

I know. I saw it at The Glen Theatre. I was 11 years old. And, it ended like this:

When Doniphon died a nobody, a guilty-feeling Ransom returned as a U.S. senator to confess the real story to a newspaper editor. After hearing the truth, the editor says:

"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Sherman Frederick (sfrederick@reviewjournal.com), the former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/sherm.

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