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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Shane' is not a Western like Howard Hawk's 'Red River', nor a
meditation on history and character like John Ford's "The Searchers."
It is the most tasteful achievement ever invented to create a legend,
an instant myth... Only Stevens' meticulously picturesque visuals and
his evident desire to treat Western as art, could have mastered the
archetypal simplicity and vitality of 'Shane.'
In 'Shane,' the good and evil govern Stevens' mastery of technique... With his golden good looks, his calm authority, and his almost magical magnetism, Alan Ladd is the mysterious lone rider called Shane... His antithesis a sinister figure all in sable and enemy, a merciless gunfighter from the Cheyenne area, named Jack Wilson (Jack Palance).
Wilson is dark, dresses in black, and even drinks black coffee from a dark black pot... Shane sparkles with personality and presence... Wilson spreads menace and evil... Shane is 'the fastest gun alive' who shoots to kill only when it is inevitable... Wilson - wearing two guns, and walking with jangling spurs - is a psychopath and a sadist, a man totally without moral redemption...
The film controls that mystical force that runs like a fine thread through a Western story - the mysterious gunslinger who rides into town at exactly the right moment that history requires him, fulfills his destiny and then rides on...
There is novelty and charm in 'Shane' because the stranger, who appears from nowhere, is a man of exceptional quality, admired by a wonderful kid with bright face and resolute boyish ways... Shane tests the spirit of this little eight year-old boy, Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde) in the midst of all the tensions and excitements on that open range...
What is admirable about Shane is not his skill with his gun, but his restraint in using it... Shane knows that Joey is admiring him for the wrong reasons even though he knows that if he kills Wilson, he'll have to leave the valley... He tells Joey: 'There's no living with a killing.' However we want him to show Joey how brave and fast he is... The ultimate confrontation in that depressed and faint saloon gives the movie the quality of a fine album of paintings of the frontier...
Joey's plaintive call ('Come back, Shane') is the famous cry of all the audience for a mythical idolized hero so complete and correct, who would not permit himself to be admired by a boy for living by the gun... The closing scenes remain among the most haunting memories in the history of cinema...
The characters that Stevens' actors have drawn might be considered portraits of familiar frontier types:
- Marian Starrett (Jean Arthur) is the mother who criticizes Shane for initiating her young boy into young manhood by passing on his values... She is the little woman unsettled who always wanders: 'What are you fighting for? She is the married woman who reveals an unspoken love...
- Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), is the stubborn father and a hard working rancher determined, with his forcible patience and fortitude, to build a life on the land for his family...
- Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is the evil aging cattle rancher who considers the arrival of homesteaders is reducing grazing opportunities for his herds limiting their access to water... He does everything to rid the land of the humble farmers...
- Morgan Ryker (John Dierkes) is Rufus' brother/foreman, who invites Starrett to "talk" reasonably...
- Chris Calloway (Ben Johnson) is the authentic cowboy who has had a change of heart and has quit Ryker's bunch... He warns Shane in the barn that "Starrett is up against a stacked deck."
- Frank 'Stonewall' Torrey (Elisha Cook Jr.) is the pale-eyed pathetic local farmer who, in a fit of fury and mad courage, attempts to challenge his tormentor... But an outraged amateur can never beat an accomplished professional... He is brutally gunned down in the first shocking and horrific showdown on the Western screen... Palance toys with the little man and kills him in one of the most realistic scenes staged until that time...
"Shane" is an immensely beautiful film, stunningly photographed in color, rich in memorable and exhilarating moments... Every scene is composed with extreme care:
- The deer will raise its head and frame the oncoming rider perfectly between the branches of his antlers...
- Shane's first appearance descending into a majestic valley rimmed by mountains, shining a pearl-handled 'six-shooter' gun...
- Shane friendship with Joe Starrett, cemented that evening as together they swing axes in common task to cut and pull up a large tree stump...
- Their energy battle (filmed through the windows of the cabin and through the frantic, kicking hooves of horses disturbed by their vicious struggle) to determine who will go to town to face Ryker's hired gun...
- Shane slow ride into town for a showdown... The low tracking camera angle, the darkness, and the musical soundtrack emphasize Shane's heroic yet lonely position on the horizon, set among the wide view of the mountains...
Certainly "Shane" is a romantic film, and yet it is full of integrity about time and place... It may be interesting to compare the idealized interest, attraction and love between Shane and Marion with the unspoken love between John Wayne and Dorothy Jordan in 'The Searchers.' In the latter film, Dorothy caresses Wayne's army cape and is observed by Ward Bond, who simply notices her gesture and looks away... In 'Shane', Marion implies her love for Shane as she cautions her son Joey about becoming attached to him...
In "Shane," Stevens combined so many elements that are 'classically' required and combines them so well He directed 'Shane' with great feeling, and turned it into a classic...
"Shane" should be required viewing for anyone setting out to make a film.
It tells its story visually, through subtext, and creates a realistic
portrait of people; it is also emotionally and morally complex. It is
stated that Shane had been a gunfighter; we just understand this, from his
appearance and from what we glean through the dialogue. Likewise, there
no overt moments of intimacy between Shane and Marion (Mrs. Starrett), but
we are aware that there is a deep attraction between them. When Joe,
Marian's husband, realizes it, it is not because of anything he states,
a line at the 4th of July party, when Marian (in her wedding dress) is
dancing with Shane: "Looks like I'm fenced out," and what is spoken as a
joke becomes serious as we watch the expression on his face. The closest
comes to actually saying anything is toward the end, when he's going to
into town to face Ryker, and tells Marian that if anything happens to him
knows she'll be taken care of. Likewise, at the end of the film, when
little Joey is calling across the plains for Shane to "come back," he
to Shane, "Mother wants you, I know she does," and the words echo back, we
see a close up of Joey, his expression changing, and we know the child
realizes too that Shane does (or could) mean something more to his
Stevens also didn't make the "bad guys" black-and-white villains. We understand that these men fought and tamed the land and are now being displaced by the homesteaders. What they want might not be fair, but it is not completely unreasonable either.
Most of the scenes, even the simple ones, play in montage. It looks as though Stevens shot each scene from about 15 different angles and edited them together. The effect is striking.
Far and away one of the best films ever.
Shane is an awesome film. Loyal Griggs' cinematography uses the Grand Teton
Mountains as a scenic backdrop in framing a simple story of ranchers vs.
homesteaders in early Wyoming. Alan Ladd stars as the enigmatic gunfighter
named Shane. Ladd has seldom been better. He sides with a homesteader
family (Van Heflin, Jean Arthur and Brandon DeWilde) against local ranchers
named Ryker (Elisha Meyer and John Dierkes). The Rykers hire a gunfighter
(Jack Palance) from Cheyenne to drive off the homesteaders. Shane tries to
put down his gun and start a new life, but the plot inevitably forces him to
a fateful climax with the Rykers and the hired gun.
The film has a darkly realistic look. Grafton's saloon is dark and moody, far different from the brightly lit and colorful dance halls in other Westerns. The film is alternately bright and dark. The sadistic killing of the homesteader by the gunfighter is a dark moment even though it occurs in broad daylight. Director George Stevens took advantage of an afternoon thunderstorm and plenty of mud to make one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. The thunder provides an appropriate backdrop to the confrontation between Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.) and the gunfighter. This is little more than an execution and the gunfighter goes about his business with a cool, detached professionalism. Although small, Jack Palance's performance as the gunfighter from Cheyenne is one of the most memorable in the film.
Shane's background provides plenty of questions but few answers. "Where will you go", Marian Starret (Jean Arthur) asks. "One place or another. ..someplace I've never been," Shane says. All we know is that he's a gunfighter. It becomes clear that he knows about gunfighting. He's even heard of the gunfighter hired by Ryker. Chris Calloway (Ben Johnson) and another cowboy are playing cards in Grafton's saloon when Shane walks in. Calloway starts to pick a fight. The other man gets up and says "Deal me out. . .Let's just say I'm superstitious." Does he know Shane? More than likely he does, but we'll never know for sure. Shane's mysteriousness is one of the film's strengths.
This is a film about personal relationships. Shane and Joe Starret (Van Heflin) become friends. The relationship between Shane and Marian Starret defies description. Is it love? Respect? Whatever it is, it becomes clear in the late moments of the film that her husband has observed it, too. There is also a close bond between Shane and Little Joe Starret (Brandon DeWilde). The film is told through the eyes of the boy.
This is a film about good and evil, but good and evil sometimes overlap. Jack Palance represents evil. His black hat, black gloves and black vest leave little doubt which side he's on. The Rykers are bad, but they are not all bad. Rufe (Emile Meyer) tries to make a deal with Starret and speaks with sincerity and feeling about his right to the range. The homesteaders are good, but one of them, Torrey, is a hot head. Shane is a good guy. Or is he? Marian Starret tells him in one memorable scene that she won't be happy until all the guns are out of the valley--"even yours". Shane realizes this. Despite his attempts to start a new life, he tells Brandon DeWilde after the final showdown at Grafton's: "Tell your mother that there are no more guns in the valley."
The image of death stalks through this film in many forms. The scene where the gunfighter rides into town makes it clear that he is the messenger of death. Shane tells Marian Starret that "a gun is a tool", but she knows that it is an engine of death. "Guns aren't going to be my boys life," she says. The scene where Shane shows Little Joe how to shoot demonstrates the power of the gun. The shooting of the homesteader in the dark, muddy street is followed by his burial in a cemetery on a bright, sunny day set against the grandeur of the mountains. In the final frame Shane rides out of the valley and through that same cemetery. Death once again rides a horse.
I really enjoy Victor Young's musical score. The opening melody, "Call of the Faraway Hills", has been frequently recorded and is only a little less familiar than "The Magnificent Seven". It is unfortunate that no-one has seen fit to make the score for this film available to collectors. I keep hoping.
Shane is a memorable film with fine performances. The story of cattlemen vs. homesteaders is a familiar one, but it is told here with originality and feelings. The characters, whether good or bad, are vivid and deep. I'll never get tired of watching it. I only wish they'd make a wide-screen version available.
Considered by most a masterpiece and by a few 'a waste of film', 1953's
SHANE is a mini-epic that tells of the arrival of the mysterious stranger
who comes to 'town' and impresses the innocent and threatens the guilty.
good versus evil western was never been more defined. Alan Ladd plays the
stranger in an outfit that has been criticized since day-one. He wears a
buckskin shirt ala Davy Crockett and if I heard it once, I heard it a
thousand times, "that shirt ain't right"! Well, 'pards, I ask you, "Have
ever heard of "Buckskin Frank Leslie?" Just happens to be one of the
baddest-ass real life western gunslingers who ever strapped on a gun-rig.
Why they haven't made westerns about Leslie I will never know. Doc
known for reckless bravery, knew enough to stay out of Frank's way. And
he was known for his 'patented' Buckskin Shirt. But I digress...
Shane was directed by George Stevens who admittedly directs with a strictness that borders on fascism. And yet he pulls it off with aplomb. Ladd's character is criticized as well, because he is played by Ladd himself, an actor that is an easy target for certain critics. There's the old joke about Ladd standing in a hole (outside of camera view) to match the heights of his leading ladies, or by standing on a ramp or box so their heights in close-ups would be matched for love scenes. Is this the 'stuff' of western heroes? Not hardly. So here we have "little Alan" taking on one of the most vicious actors that ever played 'Satan Incarnate', the incomparable Jack Palance! Jack's 'Lucifer' is a messenger from hell hired by the bad'uns to save them all from Ladd's goodness. Jack wakes up shortly after arriving in town to assassinate another little man, Elisha Cook Jr., in a scene which was completely and shamelessly ripped off by Eastwood in 'Pale Rider'. The death is completely believable and establishes Palance's character as unstoppable.
The characters in Shane are cut from a woodcarving, they glisten with familiar yet surprising motivations. Ben Johnson, the Sainted actor of westerns plays a very small part that almost steals the film. The bad guys in this film are a textbook rendition of meaness.
But some say that the action is subdued in Shane. But I say the build-up is worth the wait as the final climatic shoot-out has been described by many western film scholars as the best that was ever put to film.
Shane a waste of film? I think not.
A gunslinger, a farmer, a wife, a little boy, a dog, and some dastardly
I first saw "Shane" from the back seat of a '51 Ford, at a drive-in theater somewhere in Montana. The movie was new, and I was about 4 years old. From that time, I remember quiet male voices and the ring of spurs. Those sounds have lived in my mind for decades.
"Shane" is a classic -- no, not a bang-bang shoot-em-up B Western, but it is a solid Western that gives fans of the genre some something to think about besides "they went thataway." The scenery (Jackson Hole, Wyoming) is grand and was even moreso on the big screen. When well known Western novelist A.B. Guthrie wrote the screenplay, he kept fairly faithful to Jack Schaefer's novel. The movie makes a reasonable attempt, for that time, to look authentic in costume and gear, and gives fans of the movies of the '40s and '50s some interesting cinematic moments (see the small things, like how the camera was used to make Alan Ladd seem more "heroic").
I'd probably recast some of the secondary roles, if I had the chance, but Ladd's soft-spoken, gentlemanly way is just right for Shane, and Jack Palance is subtly evil.
Yes, "Shane" contains a few clichés, but they weren't yet quite so cliché, in 1953. Besides, they were well done clichés, so, while you may recognize them, you probably won't mind them.
But, what's "Shane" about, exactly?...
Courage. Loyalty. Honor. Friendship.
It will leave you wishing you knew what happened next.
Often mentioned as one of the greatest westerns ever, it is easy to see why.
This film stands as a masterpiece of the art, even more so since it was
filmed so long ago. It starts with a great story, the story of Shane (Alan
Ladd), a quiet gunslinger who is trying to escape his past and befriends a
pioneer family who have settled out west. He attempts to settle down and
become a hired hand to Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and his wife Marian (Jean
Arthur), but the ranchers who need to drive cattle through the homesteader's
property are attempting to drive them out. Shane tries to stay out of the
disputes, but keeps being drawn in and is finally compelled to put his six
shooter back on when the ranchers hire Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) a noted
gunfighter to intimidate the farmers.
This story is outstanding in so many ways. It is a classic battle of good and evil. It has its share of fist fights and shoot outs, but this film is more about principles than action. It exemplifies principles and values that unfortunately have become outdated in today's society such as, character, integrity, loyalty, pride in accomplishment, persistence and the willingness to fight for what is right. It is also an excellent human interest story and succeeds in getting the viewer to love the homesteaders and hate the ranchers.
George Stevens directed this film late in a notable career and does a splendid job. The locations were breathtaking, shot with majestic mountains in the background of almost every scene. The cinematography was stunning, and the color rich despite the fact that it was filmed almost 50 years ago.
The acting was superlative. Van Heflin wins us over almost immediately with his high minded principles and unshakeable character. He actually has far more lines than Ladd, who was more of an icon of strength than a vocal character. Jack Palance is the archetypal western villain and went on in his career to become the most prominent and enduring villain in movie history. His sneering arrogance and haughty gait made him the villain we loved to hate for decades.
Elisha Cook, as Stonewall Torrey, had a prolific career as a supporting actor, with over 150 appearances in film an TV that spanned almost 60 years. This is one of his best an most memorable roles as a fearless, proud and petulant former confederate that gets goaded into a gunfight with Jack Palance.
Brandon DeWilde as young Joey, gave a compelling performance. One of the best scenes in the movie was when he asked Shane to shoot at a small rock and Shane shot it 5 or 6 times and hit it every time. The wide eyed look of surprise was terrific. Though he went on to do about a dozen mostly minor films, he was never able to capitalize on his success in this role.
Finally, there is Alan Ladd. I've often heard criticisms of his performance of being too low key. I could not disagree more. His understated performance made him loom large as an imposing figure in the film. It created an almost godlike presence. This strong silent portrayal is very attractive adding humility to his many positive qualities. This unassuming style is also what made Gary Cooper so popular.
This film is on my top fifty list of all time. It is a magnum opus that the film industry can be proud of. It combines great filmmaking, direction and acting with a memorable and morally instructive story. This should be required viewing for any serious film buff. A perfect 10.
I am little biased in favor of "Shane" because I was awed with this a
young boy in the theater so it has some sentimental value. It certainly
doesn't have the impact it did back then, but it will always be
considered by many as one of the great classics in film history,
certainly regarding Westerns.
These classics, particularly the westerns, were good vehicles in promoting values and definite good vs. evil stories. The evil here is personified by Jack Palance. He doesn't have many lines but he doesn't need them. His body language in this film spoke volumes, and he was one scary dude. Even the dog gets up and moves when Palance moves! However, an unsung role (eighth billing in the credits) in here was the one by Emile Meyer, who played the real villain in here, "Ryker." (Palance was just called in at the end.) A young Ben Johnson plays a member of his gang.
Alan Ladd, meanwhile, is the hero, the man who comes to the aid of family man Van Helflin, his wife Jean Arthur and young son Brandon De Wilde. The kid, De Wilde, steals the film and made himself into a young star with his role here. Whether feverishly chewing on his candy while witnessing Ladd fighting the bad guys or his plaintiff cries for "Shane!" at the end of the film, he made a memorable impression.
The only overdone part - as seen in so many old-time westerns - is the amount of punches people took, blow after blow, when in real life they would have knocked unconscious right off the bat! But, that's part of the genre, I guess.
"Shane" was a forerunner of many of western that copied its successful formula. This movie was so famous that a lot of newborns were named "Shane" for awhile.
"Powerful" is another adjective that describes this film - back then and still now. Great stuff!
This western epitomises how a film should be made.
Classic scenery and outstanding performances from all. From the various cultures of the farmers bonding together through the harshness of farming life. Happy to raise families on land built and developed by their own hands. This is then threatened by the ranchers unwillingness to share the common land. Brutality and force is their tool, they try to force out the farmers (even resorting to hiring the gunslinger - Jack Wilson - Jack Palance). One farmer holds the other farmers together (Starett - Van Heflin), though even his resistance is weakening until a lone retired gunslinger rides in to save the day...
The sheer quality of characters and acting makes this film. The friendly (though not always) banter over Torrey's rebel background, the bond amongst the children, the affection shown in all families. The turning of Chris Calloway, the cold hearted nature of Ryker.
Finally the performances of the main characters. Van Heflin and Jean Arthur as the Starett's have a simple but loving relationship. Their son Joey loves his parents, but is greatly impressed by the mystery and skill of Shane (Alan Ladd).
Shane is reluctant to return to the way of the gun until Ryker hires a top gunslinger (Jack Palance). Palance is the perfect clinically precise cold hearted killer. Every aspect of his manner portrays cold efficiency (even to drinking water and mounting his horse).
There is simple humour added, for example when Shane is hit with an "Easy Chair".
Even the two dogs could act ! When Shane finally confronts Wilson the dog in the bar skulks with his tail between his legs.
The scenery and music were the icing on the cake.
This film will remain a benchmark for all western's to follow.
So much has been written over the years about SHANE; it's beautiful
composition, its precise, if mechanical direction by George Stevens, and
its good against evil theme, that there seems to be little left to say in
the way of superlatives, but I will give it a try.
There are so many scenes in SHANE that standout as epic. They are like the jagged mountainscapes that dominate the picture: A young boy, slogging around in a marsh, aims his toy gun on a deer grazing on some grass stems, the deer lifts it's antlers and perfectly frames a lone rider approaching in the distance, a struggling family homestead held together by hard work, the father splitting wood, the mother baking in the kitchen, and always the mountains jutting upwards away off in the distance.
We have a stranger, lean and handsome, dressed in fringed buckskin. His dress and gun belt suggest something other than a farmer or rancher, yet we never really know, or ever know, of his past. He is kind and modest, and takes time to address the boy as though someone worth talking to, "You were watching me down the trail quite a spell, weren't you. I like a man who watches things going around.....He can make his mark someday." the boy smiles up at him, and an instant bond is formed, an idol worship in the making.
We have snickering, troublesome ranchhands who spend any free hours swilling whiskey at Graftons General Merchantile. "I thought I smelled pig. Which one of those tatter-pickers are you working for? Or are you just squattin' on the range?" this is the kind of menace that dogsany farmer who dares to come into town.
We have Shane, although trying to lead the simple life of farming, goaded into a fight by a sweaty-faced cowpoke (Ben Johnson). His bloodying of the cowpoke is like a violent ballet, graceful and cutting.
There is a meeting of the homesteaders, huddled together by lamplight, trying to solve there problems by resolving to go into town all together so that they would have strength in numbers. This is a rather sad scene since WE know that will be in vain.
There is touching elegance to the 4th of July celebration where there is fiddle music and dancing. Shane and Marion (the boy's mother) take a few turns to a reel..... dancing with others in the corral. Van Heflin (the Boy's father) is symbolically shut out beyond the fence. "Marion, they fenced me out" he grins. Yet we know that there is a growing affection between the two dancers.
There is tension in the late evening when the head of the ranchers pays visit to the homestead. "Look Starrett. When I come to this country you weren't much older than your boy there........ How would you like to go partners with me." It's sad because this is a real if clumsy attempt to "be reasonable" But as Shane would say on more than one occasion, "it's no use".
I could go on; the murder of the Stonewall at the hands of an especially evil hired gun from Cheyenne has great impact. And, the final confrontation at Graftons one fateful night, is one of the best in Westerns.
The characters are well developed and the story, while exiting, is a little melancholy.
The best Western ever made.
A lonesome stranger rides on to a homesteader's farm looking for water
and right after him comes the big cattle baron with several riders
issuing the latest of several warning to this particular squatter about
getting off 'his' range. Something about the man's bullying attitude
rubs the stranger the wrong way and he decides to stay and lend a hand.
So begins the classic western Shane which has entertained millions since its release in 1953. It gave Alan Ladd his career role and resulted in Oscar nominations for Jack Palance and Brandon DeWilde in the Best Supporting Actor category. It could have revived Alan Ladd's career, but for a fatal career decision by his agent/wife Sue Carol.
Shane was shot in 1951 completely on location in the Grand Teton mountains in Wyoming. Another reviewer pointed out that director George Stevens seem to meticulously shoot the same scene from many angles. He did just that and spent a year editing his masterpiece.
But in the mean time Sue Carol made a decision for her husband to leave Paramount and sign with Warner Brothers. Had she held out and waited for Shane's release, she might have gotten a great deal from Paramount that might have included better parts. As it was Paramount had no reason to push this film at Oscar time, so Ladd got no nomination for Best Actor which he could have with some studio backing. By the time Shane was out, Ladd was with Warner Brothers and doing some of the same routine action adventures films that he was doing at Paramount. No classic roles for that man any more.
The rancher versus homesteader is an old western plot story and there have been many films made from both points of view. Shane leaves no doubt that the homesteaders are in the right. The cattleman's point of view is eloquently argued in Elia Kazan's Sea of Grass by Spencer Tracy. That western icon John Wayne's been on both sides of the fence, in McLintock he's a cattle baron, in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance he's a small rancher and protector of the homesteader.
Even Emile Meyer as Rufe Ryker does make a valid point that his kind settled the west when it was really wild. Van Heflin as Joe Starrett argues equally eloquently that doesn't give him the right to say no one else has any rights in the territory.
Shane marked the farewell big screen performance of Jean Arthur. A talented, but terribly strange woman with a whole lot of issues, Arthur delivers a good performance as Van Heflin's missus. She felt she was miscast as a farmer's wife, in westerns she saw herself more in the frontier woman roles she did in The Plainsman and Arizona. And at that she much preferred screwball comedy to any western. They weren't making her kind of films any more as she saw it, so she left.
When Shane's done doing what fate brought him to do in the valley he has to leave. For the community to grow there must be no more guns in the valley as he well realizes. So he leaves to an unknown fate, living in the hearts and memories of the Starrett family and the rest of the small farmers, especially young Brandon DeWilde.
And in the hearts of all lovers of the western genre including this little cowpoke who saw him as a small lad on the big silver screen so many years ago.
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