- Produced and Directed by George Stevens
- April 23, 1953
A gunfighter with a mysterious past attempts to start over ago with a family of homesteaders but a smoldering conflict forces him pick up his gun and act.
Shane is a dramatic Western from when dramatic Westerns were not filled with just everybody being terrible people to one extent or another. Instead these were complicated characters trying to live lives with no sinister motives or dark and hidden agendas. That is very refreshing today.
The character of Shane (Alan Ladd) is a mysterious stranger who finds himself in an isolated valley in the Wyoming Territory. Little about his past is revealed in the story other than that he is/was a gunfighter. There is even an implication at the end that his real name is not Shane but what it is is never revealed. What we do know about him is only what is important to the story and that is his current situation.
Despite wanting to leave his past behind, Shane finds himself in the middle of a conflict when he decides to reside with a homesteader family that is being bullied and intimidated by local rancher Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) who believes their land along with that of several other families is rightfully his simply because he was there first.
Shane attempts to turn away from the conflict and not fight but as the conflict escalates with incidents of intimidation and even murder, his hand is forced. Shane sees a life with the Starrett family he wants but eventually realizes he cannot have. He gets a friend in Joe (Van Heflin). Joey (Brandon deWilde) becomes a bit of a son. And there is the wife Marian (Jean Arthur). Shane sees the life he wants but he knows he cannot really have.
There is much implied or hinted at throughout this film. It is clear during the course of Shane that Shane is feeling an attraction for Marian, and she somewhat reciprocates that but it’s never a full-on affair. Even Joe sees it. Today they would consummate their feelings and Joe might be mad but somehow it would work itself out. Shane and Marian maintain their distance and keep things under control.
There is a theme of standing up for yourself. Joe is sick of being pushed around and it has come to a point where he does not want to run and feel a coward. He has been pushed too far and he is standing his ground even though he knows what it might cost him. You can only turn the other cheek for so long before you lose your self-worth and Joe knows he is reaching that point.
There is a sense of inevitability in this story. At the beginning of the film you expect Shane to survive but as the movie goes along you realize that he cannot run from who or what he is or the fate that awaits. And perhaps in his only really selfless act he takes the place of Joe in a fateful final confrontation.
We have a pretty good cast here. John Wayne regular Ben Johnson plays Chris Calloway who is an employee of Stryker. At first a nemesis of Shane, he comes to respect Shane for his strength and ability to stand firm. Jack Palance plays hired gun Jack Wilson who is employed by Stryker to help deal with the homesteaders. I remember him more from an episode of Buck Rogers or hosting the series Ripley’s Believe It or Not so seeing him act and doing it so well was a real treat. Elisha Cook Jr. plays Frank “Stonewall” Torrey who is a Southern man living among the Yankee homesteaders. He may not be a huge name, but he was a talented actor and can be found in such things as The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, The Killing, William Castle’s horror film classic House on Haunted Hill, Rosemary’s Baby, Blacula (yep), and my personal favorite the episode “Court Martial” of Star Trek TOS. That is just touching the surface of his work but still an impressive and cool list.
This is a classic Western everyone should take in. It is beautifully shot and well-acted by a superb cast. The cinematography embraces and loves the landscape. Not only that but it has one of the best death scenes for a central character in just about any movie at the end. You could make a weak argument that Shane is wounded but does not necessarily die at the end (see The Negotiator). The stronger argument though is definitely that he died with the confirmation coming when his horse rides through Cemetery Hill.
They just do not make Westerns this good anymore. There is a sense of dread and menace. At least in the scenes when Shane was around. Alan Ladd was able to project toughness for the character without doing much of anything. There is a word in French for it: acting. Joe and Stryker were two strong characters who were a combination of pride and stubbornness and refused to change their ways. Shane was a neutral party and the only one who could dish out anything resembling real justice.
Shane is a classic piece of all Hollywood filmmaking. It has strong, sophisticated characters. With good acting and a good script, this is definitely a must see!