Shane rides into a conflict between cattleman Ryker and a bunch of settlers, like Joe Starrett and his family, whose land Ryker wants. When Shane beats up Ryker's man Chris, Ryker tries to buy him. Then Shane and Joe take on the whole Ryker crew. Ryker sends to Cheyenne for truly evil gunslinger Wilson. Shane must clear out all the guns from the valley.Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Shane is a beautifully photographed film with excellent performances.
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.
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