Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
The idea of the mysterious lead character has existed in a number of Westerns throughout time. Ive not seen a whole lot of Westerns in my time, although Ive seen a fair number of John Ford films, as well as a few scattered titles here and there, and Ive noticed that one of the common features of a few Western dramas involves a protagonist that could be described as a loner, with his own code, that we, the viewers, may or may not understand. Think of John Wayne in The Searchers, or Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo (if you want to count a samurai drama, which is, I think, pretty much the same thing) -- these guys go their own way, and we dont always know why they do the things they do.
Another mysterious character is Shane, played by Alan Ladd in the movie of the same name, directed by George Stevens. Heres a guy who just walks into town, makes the business of the homesteaders and ranchers his business, does his thing, and leaves again. And why exactly.......?????
The movie begins when Shane rides on his horse to a lonely house in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. The Starret family, husband, wife, and small child, live here, and the man doesnt quite know what to make of this guy, especially when, a few minutes later, a bunch of tough-guy ranchers, led by the greedy landowner, rides in behind him. Joe Starret mistakenly believes that Shane is working for the landowner, whos been trying to kick all the homesteaders (or squatters as he calls them) so he can have all the land to himself -- but Shane, a man seemingly without any roots, decides to root himself in the concerns of the homesteaders, when he tells the landowner simply that Im a friend of Joes.
Joe realizes his mistake, and convinces Shane to stick around for a while -- Joe might need some help around the farm, and besides, Shane doesnt seem to have anywhere else to go at the moment. Shanes useful around the farm, certainly, but theres something about his mysterious nature that intrigues both the child and the wife (played by Jean Arthur). The child is instinctively fascinated by Shane, especially when the kid discovers that Shane carries a couple of six-shooters in his belt, and the wifes subtle behavior suggests that she is both in awe of and in a small fear of this man and his quiet, gentlemanly but secretive nature.
Being a Western, it is little surprise that Shane, the mysterious man on horseback, has a hidden, violent past, and that his meddling will result in fights and gunplay. Nevertheless, there is something really weird about this Western, proving once again that, if one tries to look at old movies with fresh, non-nostaglic eyes, one will discover some pretty interesting things.
Theres a few tricky scenes here. One very strange sequence involves Shane buying a new wardrobe -- hes replacing his cowboy clothes with more plain clothes for working with Joe. Plain for Shane involves a freshly-pressed blue silk shirt with a collar, making him stand out like a sore thumb (or something else?) among a bunch of rugged cowboys. He walks into the bar, populated with lackeys for the landowner who despise and humiliate the homesteaders to begin with, and who have a field day with this fella, especially when he orders soda pop! (Its actually for the kid, but never mind) Interestingly, one guy, played by Ben Johnson, afterwards, splashes whiskey on Shanes new shirt, telling him that maybe now hell smell like a man. So does that mean Ben Johnson thinks that Shane isnt a real man -- that perhaps hes one step away from being a girly-man of the old West? Shane does nothing, even when Johnson and the other guys threaten him with violence if he ever returns to the bar. A few days later, he returns -- the same routine happens again -- but this time, Shane fights back, and for the next five minutes becomes a grueling brawl, where Shane holds his own against all these men (although Joe Starret joins in to help out a little later).
Shane is now considered a real threat after this brawl, and the greedy landowner, now truly worried about his power, hires a vicious outlaw (Jack Palance) to protect him. That part is not a surprise, but the crazy part is why Shane acts the way he does in the first place. Ive read other reviews of this film, so maybe Im cheating, but its clear that Shane is doing all this stuff deliberately. He walks right into the bar, with his new shirt, and his request for soda pop in front of rough, smelly cowboys, who think hes just a girly-man. Shane strings them along for as long as need be, until he beats the crap out of most of them. Overall, he has no reason to get involved in any of this, but he does anyway. Why? He could have just ridden away during that first scene, and then there would be no movie, but he gets involved anyway. Is it sort of like Mifune in Yojimbo, who toys with peoples lives so as to achieve results that satisfy his moral code? Perhaps, although Shane is a much nicer, less cynical guy -- a seemingly good-guy kind of cowboy.
But, where is Shane going? And where has he been? And why is he going anywhere to begin with?
I dont know much about Alan Ladd, but apparently hes an odd choice for a Western hero. Hes certainly not a John Wayne or a Clint Eastwood. This oddness makes it a little more interesting, although, for me, the most interesting casting in a Western that Ive seen is Jimmy Stewart in Anthony Manns The Naked Spur, in which he played a bounty hunter. In both cases, these actors were playing characters that dont seem like the sorts of guys who would do the things that they do -- and, of course, they are doing these things because of some unspoken, or spoken, past hurts.
While I have seen better classic Westerns (especially the John Ford-directed ones, of course), Shane is a very interesting film, that will keep you entertained with action and adventure, even as you try to unravel a few slightly more deeper mysteries.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV