CA and I caught up with the rest of the country last night and finally saw The Dark Knight. Absolutely worth the price of admission. They beautifully shot the film and Heath Ledger was, as everybody has said, wonderful. But I'm not sure I'd give him an Oscar because I've seen the performance before. In fact, I've seen the movie before.
It's called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. 1962. Directed by John Ford, with John (Bruce?) Wayne as Batman, Jimmy Stewart as Harvey Dent, Vera Miles as Rachel Dawes, and Lee Marvin as the Joker. Pretty much a match for the plot if Harvey (a reference to one of Stewart's most famous characters?) Dent had lived and become first the mayor, then Governor, then Senator on the basis of his heroism in bringing down the Joker. That's about the only change. Heck, both movies open with a robbery meant to signify a threat to civilization. Wayne and Stewart court the girl, but Stewart is a civilized lawyer, Wayne is an uncivilized gunfighter, and so Stewart wins her. LV's got the same major theme--the dubious blessings and dark foundations of "civilization." In fact, it's even got a much clearer anti-media message, one that I suspect was left on DK's cutting room floor with much of Anthony Michael Hall's performance.
To back up, Lee Marvin is a crazy anarchist of a gunfighter who torments the greenhorn Jimmy Stewart until Stewart is driven to face him. But Stewart cannot win and he knows it. John Wayne, however, lurks in the shadows and shoots Lee Marvin. Stewart hypocritically (two-faced?) takes credit and becomes famous as the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Wayne heroically lets him do so because the town (the West) needs to be civilized and gunfighters like Wayne can't be civilized heroes. Wayne dies in drunken, broken hearted obscurity, Miles marries Stewart, and they achieve power and glory. Pretty much the plot of Dark Knight, except for the fact that they want yet another sequel and so they couldn't borrow the "happy" ending for Stewart. They borrowed everything else.
Remember Batman's speech at the end? It's done more succinctly (and famously) in Liberty Valance:
Ransom Stoddard: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Maxwell Scott: No sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Which many took as John Ford's final, dyspeptic comment on his entire career. Rent it if you get the chance--fine film and one that the Library of Congress has now included on its National Film Registry.
Update: Oh, and there's obviously a bit of Shane in there, too--particularly with the little blond boy calling out to him at the end and the equivocal relationship between Shane and the townsfolk. And Jack Palance was nearly as twisted as Lee Marvin.