- User Rating: Excellent
Pros:Acting, Direction, Script, Photography, Score
The Bottom Line: Shane is one of the handful of westerns that deserve to be recognized as masterpieces. This is a movie you should add to your collection.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
"A Man Has To Be What He Is. You Can't Break The Mold." Shane
Good versus evil, the taming of the West, and the (in)ability of a man to change are the predominate themes explored in Director George Stevens' classic western Shane.
The buckskin-clad stranger (Alan Ladd) arrives horseback from parts unknown and stops for a drink of water at the lonely homestead of Wyoming sodbusters, the Starrett family.
Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) seems friendly enough until at the sound of his little boy cocking his rifle, Shane whirls and draws in a split second. This snake-like reflex reveals all Starrett (and the viewer) needs to know about Shane's "history." The alarmed Starrett, takes the boy's rifle and points it at Shane, telling him to vamoose.
Just at that moment bad guy Ryker (Emile Meyer) and his gang of toughs ride up telling the farmers they better clear out because his land is to be used for grazing cattle. Assuming a classic gunfighter pose, Shane drives the thugs off, despite the crass treatment he has just received from Starrett.
Softened by this unexpected assistance, Starrett invites Shane to supper, then by degrees to spend the night, finally to be his hired hand. A real rapport is built up between the well-spoken Shane and each member of the Starrett clan, particularly wide-eyed five year-old Joey (Brandon De Wilde).
Shane rides into town exchanging his buckskins for some store-bought clothes and a bottle of sody-pop. The toughs seen earlier quickly take advantage of the situation and apparently "cow" Shane. Tough guy Calloway (Ben Johnson) throws a drink on Shane's new shirt. Shane leaves quietly. When he returns some days later to return the sody bottle, he buys two whiskeys, throws one on Johnson's shirt and the other in his face and proceeds to beat the living h@ll out of him in one of the greatest fistfights ever to be captured on film. When Shane refuses to work for Ryker, he orders his gang to beat him up. Shane fights them off until they begin to overpower him. Suddenly Starrett comes to the rescue with an axe handle and the two clean up the rest of the gang. Director Stevens enhanced the sound on Shane so the blows sound like a bat connecting with a baseball. Awesome stuff!
Now that Shane (and Starrett) has stood up to the toughs, the other half-dozen homesteader families are deciding to stick around but Ryker imports hired killer Wilson (Jack Palance) from Cheyenne to stack the deck in his favor once again. Wilson murders homesteader Torrey (Elisha Cooke, Jr.) in one of the most chilling screen killings I can remember.
The killing of Torrey takes the resolve out of the homesteaders who again decide to clear out, with the exception of the stubborn Starrett who decides to go into town and have it out once and for all. Another terrific fistfight ensues with Shane finally pistol-whipping Starrett to best him. Shane resumes his buckskins and straps on his Colt Peacemaker, riding to town for the reckoning with Ryker's gang. The little boy Joey, who has witnessed all the fights Shane has been in, runs across country to town, arriving just in time to witness the gunfight between Shane and Palance from beneath the swinging doors of the saloon.
The battle over, Shane must move on, having saved the quiet life he could never have himself for others.
Director George Stevens filmed Shane often using the viewpoint of the boy, Joey. This made Shane appear larger-than-life and helps explain the mythic, ideal quality of the character. At other times, he used an adult's viewpoint and this allows the mature viewer to see more complexity than a child would recognize. There is an undercurrent of attraction between Shane and Mrs. Starrett (Jean Arthur) that both characters repress for the good of the family. Stevens planned each scene meticulously, staging each shot for maximum impact. There are heroic moments and there are poignant moments, the action moves at a stately pace but never plods. Photography by Loyal Griggs is breathtakingly beautiful in all its Technicolor glory. The photography won an Academy Award, the only one for Shane. The vistas of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the Grand Teton mountains can only be described as stunning. The score, by Victor Young, is heroic and fits the movie's theme to a T.
Actor Alan Ladd made his finest performance as the title character. From the moment he appears on the screen till the closing credits Shane shows a quiet dignity and heroism worthy of a knight of the Round Table. Ladd wears his buckskins like a suit of armor. Particularly poignant is the fact that Shane knows he is obsolete, yet rather than wallowing in self pity, he willingly sacrifices himself to help the demoralized sodbusters. Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Brandon De Wilde, Edgar Buchanan, Ben Johnson, Elisha Cooke, and the other supporting cast members also perform admirably.
The whole family will enjoy Shane, one of a handful of westerns that can truly be classified as "masterpieces." It is a movie that will endure as long as there is celluloid. Other five-star westerns are Ride the High Country, The Searchers, The Wild Bunch, and Unforgiven.
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening