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Shane (1953) More at IMDbPro »

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FAQ Contents

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Shane can be found here.

A gunfighter who refers to himself simply as Shane (Alan Ladd) seeks respite from gunslinging by taking a job as a farmhand on the homestead of a Wyoming family—Joe (Van Heflin) and Marian (Jean Arthur) Starrett and their eight-year-old son Joey (Brandon De Wilde). However, a conflict has developed between homesteaders and cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), who wants to drive away the homesteaders and take over their land for grazing his cattle. Rufus brings in gunflighter Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) from Cheyenne, and things grow even more heated more ways than one.

Shane is based on a 1949 novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer, an American author of Western stories. The story is loosely based on the Johnson County War, a shootout that took place between ranchers, a band of hired killers, a sheriff's posse, and eventually the U.S. Cavalry in April 1892 in and around Johnson County, Wyoming. The novel was adapted for the movie by American writer A(lfred) B(ertram) Guthrie Jr.

The first page of the novel begins: "He rode into our valley in the summer of '89, a slim man, dressed in black. Call me Shane, he said. He never told us more." To give some perspective to the year 1889 in the Old West, the day of gunfighters was coming to an end. The American Civil War had ended almost 25 years earlier (in 1865). In 1876, General Custer was killed at Little Bighorn, "Wild Bill" Hickok was shot, and Geronimo surrendered to the U.S. Army. Billy the Kid and the Gunfight at the OK Corral both happened in 1881, and Doc Holliday died in 1887. Barbed wire, which marked the beginning of the end for open range ranching, was patented in 1874. As Shane said at the end of the movie to Ryker, "your days are over".

Shane was filmed at or near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The mountains seen in the background are the Grand Tetons. Some other exterior shots were done at locations in South California like Big Bear Lake and the Iverson Ranch.

Shane clobbers Joe with the butt of his gun in order to prevent him from going into town to meet with Rufus Ryker. Shane goes alone, but Joey follows him. Shane enters Grafton's and asks Ryker about his terms, but Ryker refuses to deal with him, as the plan was to get Joe there so that they could ambush him. Shane turns to Wilson, saying, "So you're Jack Wilson?" Bystanders start creeping out; a dog moves away, and a look of terror covers the bartender's face. Wilson says that he has no quarrel with Shane, until Shane calls him a "lowdown Yankee liar." To which, Wilson replies, "Prove it." They draw on each other. Shane shoots Wilson several times then quickly turns to his left and shoots Ryker, who is also drawing on him. As Shane walks to the saloon door, Rkyer's brother Morgan (John Dierkes) gets a shot at Shane from the balcony. Fortunately, Joey (who has been watching all this time under the saloon door) yells at Shane to watch out. Shane reels around and fires at Morgan, and Morgan falls over the railing. Shane goes outside where Joey is waiting. Joey asks him for a ride home, but Shane says that he's moving on and mounts his horse. He explains that he has come to realize that he must be what he is. He tells Joey to take care of his family and to grow up strong. Joey notices that Shane is bleeding, but Shane says he's all right and rides off towards the mountains. Joey calls out, "Shane! Come back!" But Shane continues on past the gravestones on Cemetery Hill, riding toward the mountains until he disappears into setting sun. [NOTE: In some versions, Joey calls out a final "Bye, Shane!"]

The film leaves that question unanswered, although viewers can be found to support either side of the argument. Those who conclude that Shane dies argue that the last scene in which he rides through a cemetery is an indication that he is dying or is already dead. They point out that he is slumping slightly with his arm to his side and that, in the novel, the gunshot was to his abdomen. They reason that he goes off to die as one last favor to the Starretts. Shane admires and likes Joe but is in love with Marian. He leaves so that they do not know for sure that he has died; he knows that the guilt Joe and Marian would feel at his death would poison their marriage. Those who conclude that Shane is not dying counter that the cemetery is simply on the way back to the mountains and that he is leaning forward because he is going uphill, as horseback riders tend to do. Although he was shot, they argue, it appears to be a superficial wound to his upper arm. The wound isn't bleeding profusely, Shane isn't acting like the wound is serious, he could mount and ride his horse, and he is holding up the reins. Others circumvent the argument entirely by pointing out that it matters little whether or not Shane dies from his wound. The movie itself is an allegory saying that the gunfighter, like the free range cattle rancher, are dying breeds. The West is being settled, civilized and developed. It's giving way to a new era where the rugged individual was being replaced by families... where peace would prevail and gunfighters no longer had a place.

There are usually gunfights in most movies about the Old West, but viewers who have seen Shane often name the following as among their favorite classic gunfighter movies, many of them classics: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Gunfighter (1950), C'era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West) (1968), Pale Rider (1985), The Shootist (1976), Destry Rides Again (1939), The Magnificent Seven (1960), Hour of the Gun (1967), My Darling Clementine (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), Law and Order (1932), Tombstone (1993), Unforgiven (1992), and Open Range (2003).


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