In the funeral scene, the dog consistently refused to look into the grave. Finally, director George Stevens had the dog's trainer lie down in the bottom of the grave, and the dog played his part ably. The coffin (loaded with rocks for appropriate effect) was then lowered into the grave, but when the harmonica player began to play "Taps" spontaneously, the crew was so moved by the scene that they began shoveling dirt into the grave before remembering the dog's trainer was still there.
The film was completed in 1951 but George Stevens' editing process was so rigorous that it wasn't released until 1953. This drove up the costs of what should have been a simple, straightforward Western; in fact, they spiraled so much that Paramount approached Howard Hughes about taking on the property, but he declined. He changed his mind when he saw a rough cut and offered to buy the film on the spot. This made Paramount rethink its strategy--originally it was going to release it as a "B" picture but then decided it should be one of the studio's flagship films of the year. This proved to be a good decision, as the film was a major success and easily recouped its inflated budget.
Jack Palance had problems with his horse during filming. When Shane and Jack first look each other over at the Starrett Ranch, Palance was supposed to dismount for a minute, then remount his horse. He could not remount, so the director had Jack dismount his horse slowly, then ran the film in reverse for the remount.
Jean Arthur, then aged 50, came out of semi-retirement to play Marian Starrett, largely as a favor to her friend, director George Stevens. She would retire completely from the film business after this picture.
Meticulous care was taken at all levels of production. All the physical props were true to the period, the buildings were built to the specifications of the time and the clothing was completely authentic. Director George Stevens even had somewhat scrawny-looking cattle imported from other areas, as the local herds looked too well-fed and healthy.
One of the Ryker men in the fist fight with Shane, listed in the cast as Rex Moore, would be better known to viewers as Clayton Moore--The Lone Ranger. "Shane" was filmed while Moore was in a salary dispute with Jack Wrather, producer of The Lone Ranger (1949), and John Hart had replaced him on the show Moore eventually got his raise and resumed his legendary role.
Jean Arthur was 50 years old when she played Marian Starrett - she was, in fact, ten years older than Emile Meyer, who played grizzled old cattle baron Rufus Ryker. Arthur wore heavy make up and an extremely inappropriate 1952 styled short cut, wavy blonde wig, which sadly emphasized the advancing age of the woman wearing it. Soft focus closeups only made the situation worse, drawing audience's further attention to the problem.
Van Heflin and Alan Ladd became firm friends during the making of the film. In later years, Heflin's wife said one of the very rare times she ever saw her husband cry was when he learned of Ladd's premature death.
According to the commentary on the DVD, during the scene where Shane and Joe are fighting in the corral, the tied horses were supposed to panic. To instill hysteria in the horses, director George Stevens had two men dress in bear costumes to scare them.
Although promoted as, and widely believed to be, the first pre-anamorphic widescreen color Western, this was actually shot in the traditional1.37:1 Academy ratio, but prior to its release, the studio dictated that it be cropped and projected in the trendy new wider 1.66:1 format. The music was also re-recorded in stereo.
In the face-off between Wilson (Jack Palance) and Torrey (Elisha Cook Jr.), Torrey tells Wilson that he is "a low-down, lyin' Yankee". Although director George Stevens kept directing Palance at this point to smile--an expression of amused contempt at Cook--Palance continued take after take to show too much menace and not enough of a smile mixed in. Finally Stevens took Cook aside and whispered something to him. During the next take, Cook read his line, and added "and a son of a bitch, too!" This time, Stevens got his take. When Shane faces Wilson, Shane says, "You're a low-down Yankee liar".
Alan Ladd was only 5'7", and this had to be compensated for. When he is in scenes with Van Heflin the two are about the same height, although Heflin was far taller. When Ladd is shown with Jean Arthur he is perhaps a bit taller than she. When Heflin is shown with her, Heflin is far taller than she.
Shane's fancy gun twirling in the climactic showdown was actually performed by Rodd Redwing. Earlier, when Shane demonstrates his prowess for Joey, and it is clearly Alan Ladd himself on camera, the actor had been given a different, easier-to-use revolver for the scene.
The scenes of Joey chasing after Shane when he rides off to the final battle, and the classic subsequent "come back Shane!" scene happen in the dead of night in the film (in a day for night style), but in the accompanying trailer on current home video releases, the scenes are shown happening during broad daylight.
The first gunshots in the film are when Shane shows Joey how to fire a revolver. To enhance the dramatic effect of the shooting, the sounds of the gunshots were elevated by firing a gun into a garbage pail. The echoed reverberations made the gunfire sounds much louder. George Stevens' intention was to startle the audience with the first firing of a gun.
The background music played when Shane walks into the bar for the final confrontation with Ryker and Wilson is the exact same music played in The Glass Key (1942), also starring Alan Ladd. The music and rhythmic drum beating occur during two different scenes, one early on in the film when Ladd confronts several villains and then later on in the film, again during a confrontation with them.
Jean Arthur, a committed animal lover, took it upon herself to personally inspect the conditions that the film's roster of livestock were being kept in. If they weren't up to her satisfaction, she would ensure that the matter was rectified.
Prior to this film, Jack Palance was better known as a theater actor and had no experience with horses and guns. When he arrived on set, the film was subject to delays so Palance spent all his spare time practicing getting on and off horses and improving his ability with pistols. By the time filming resumed, he had become highly proficient at both.
Having witnessed during his WW2 service the profound effects a bullet could have on a man, realism was important to George Stevens during the making of the film. This therefore is one of the first movies to use stunt wires to pull the actors or stuntmen backwards to simulate when they've been shot.
In the scene when Shane first enters the bar, he answers a question from Chris with "you speakin' to me" to which he gets a reply from Chris "I don't see nobody else standin' there" - very much an influence for dialogue used by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976).
Although the movie is generally remembered for its blue sky vistas, the weather was actually cloudy or rainy for a great deal of the shoot. However, if you look beyond the mud in the town, you can see that the ground is dry. Obviously, part of the town had been watered down.
Artist Joe De Yong (DeYong in the onscreen credits) worked with George Stevens to create authentic costumes and decor, according to news items. Modern sources note that Stevens and DeYoung, who could not speak, travelled the West together and did months of research to achieve the most realistic look possible. Stevens also studied the photographs and drawings of William Henry Jackson and the paintings of Charles Russell.
Although never explicitly stated, elements of the setting for Shane were derived from Wyoming's Johnson County War (1892), the archetypal cattlemen-homesteaders conflict, which also served as the background for The Virginian (1946) and Heaven's Gate (1980).
Shane's gun is a nickel-plated Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolver with a 7 & 1/2 inch barrel and ivory grips with carved horse's heads, in either .44 or .45 caliber. It is carried in a "Mexican" double-loop holster on a belt decorated with numerous silver open-starburst conchos.
Shane's horse is very well trained. A horse, which has been tied by its reins, can easily break the reins by pulling back on them as it often happens when a horse is frightened. Shane's horse keeps slack in its reins throughout the fight between Shane and Joe. The horse gets so excited that it jumps over the fence and destroys it, but the reins are never pulled tight.
As of 2018, the only way to see this film in its intended theatrical 1.66:1 aspect ratio is the print in the Turner Movie Classics library. Even the Blu-ray release is presented as filmed, in its original academy ratio.
In the 1920 US census Alan Ladd is listed as living with his parents Alan and Ina Ladd (spelled Ladde in census) at 837 1/2 E. 8th Street in Oklahoma City, OK. Van Heflin (Emmett Heflin) is listed as living with his parents Emmett and Fannie Heflin just a half mile away at 1308 E. 12 Street in Oklahoma City, OK.
The United Press reported on 27 August 1951 that Van Heflin had a narrow escape when a boat that he was riding down the "treacherous" Snake River in the Tetons struck a submerged tree and overturned, according to a studio spokesman. Heflin was fishing with Maurice Cowell, Hollywood social worker, Jerry Smith, Paramount publicity director, and guides Jim Rains and Gene Gordon, when the accident occurred on 26 August. All were forced to swim ashore through the "raging rapids", with Heflin suffering cuts about the face and numerous bruises. News item carried in the San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Tuesday 28 August 1951, Volume LVII, Number 310, page 5.
Several characters appearing in Jack Schaefer's original novel had their names changed for their appearance in this film adaptation of Shane. Most notably, Robert "Bob" Macpherson Starrett became Joey Starrett, Luke Fletcher became Rufus Ryker (whose relatives were only called by their first names in the novel, and may not have actually been related), and Stark Wilson became Jack Wilson.
Alan Ladd was famously short for a Hollywood star (5.6 to 5.7), whereas Ben Johnson was 6.2. For many of the barroom shots Ladd had to stand on risers in medium and close-up shots. Tell-tale signs of this are in some face-to-face shots when Ladd's and Johnson's heads are even but Ladd's belt buckle is much higher than Johnson's. Also, one of the risers can be seen briefly when the character "Pete" tells Chris that he's superstitious and gets up from the table, leaving an embankment visible along the floor next to the bar.
Besides the "You speakin' to me?" quote that Martin Scorsese famously mirrored in Taxi Driver, Scorsese also paid homage to the sinister lap-dissolve shot of Jack Palance crossing the floor towards the bar with the same camera trick featuring Travis Bickle walking along the sidewalk outside the cab company.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The final scene, in which the wounded Shane explained to the distraught Joey why he had to leave, was moving for the entire cast and crew except Brandon De Wilde. Every time Ladd spoke his lines of farewell, deWilde crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue. Finally, Alan Ladd called to the boy's father, 'Make that kid stop or I'll beat him over the head with a brick.' DeWilde behaved.