“Shane” (1952)

Directed by George Stevens
Paramount
US, 117 minutes
Starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin

Great films are the ones that seem to defy genre. Shane is one of those. It is a film that strikes straight at the heart, featuring a story based on Jack Schaefer’s novel. The story is a classic Western fable. A group of farmers are going to be forced off their land by a wealthy cattle-rancher who wants more land. Shane (Alan Ladd), a lone gunslinger wandering through the area, unknowingly gets involved in the situation when he wanders onto the farm of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Shane‘s story is filled with some incredible depth, questioning some of the things an audience takes for granted in a Western. For example, Rufus Ryker’s (Emile Meyer) reason for wanting the land “back” is much more detailed than one could ever expect. Meyer’s acting, as he explains that he had fought for this country and that the land belongs to him more than it ever could to Joe, is impressive. Acting all throughout the film is incredible, right down to Brandon DeWilde as Joey. DeWilde has to be good – after all, the film is from his perspective. The power that George Stevens gets out of just close-ups of him is amazing, particularly during the intense bar fight.

I felt a sense of watching film history unfold before my eyes with every punch thrown during that bar fight. It is interesting to watch the Western develop from Stagecoach to My Darling Clementine to Shane and finally to The Wild Bunch as their directors get more innovative with what it means to show violence on the screen. With Ford’s films, guns are just fired and it’s over – as if bullets are just another tool to live by. Stevens, with that great fight, seems to point toward Peckinpah. It’s a fight that seems to last forever, but it is just one piece of the puzzle that answers why Shane is so timeless.

What also overwhelmed me a bit was Stevens’ use of fantastic color and vistas. It almost belittles all the events going on in the film, as if Stevens hoped to make a film of just vistas, but the story got in the way. There is also that amazing gun fight at the the end between Ladd and Jack Palance that is one for the ages.

Shane is brilliant beyond any reason and a film even the most novice Western fan could enjoy. Then again, it is a film any film fan should enjoy. If you don’t shed a tear as Joey yells “SHANE! COME BACK SHANE!” at the end,  you probably do not enjoy films as much as you should.

***

Paramount has released the film once on DVD, in 2000. I’m sure if their Centennial Collection continued beyond #10, they would have gotten to Shane. As it stands now, though, the 2000 disc, with only a droll, production-oriented commentary by Stevens’ son and  one of the producers on the film, is all that we have. I’ll say this, though – it would make for a great Blu-Ray.

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