Shane

There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand… a brand sticks. There’s no going back…

It’s a little difficult to know what to say when it comes to a movie like Shane (1953); so much has been written about it over the years and its influence is wide-ranging. I think the western is a genre that lends itself particularly to studies of humanity, it’s less reliant on tricks and all the best examples have something of worth to say about how we treat and react to each other. Shane is a very human picture, a simple story with great depth and sensitivity. I guess it’s fair to categorize it as an archetypical 50s western. The theme of redemption runs right through it, forming its core; it celebrates community, family, love and, maybe most of all, the importance of and one’s need to feel a sense of belonging.

The plot is a fairly straightforward affair and I won’t spend a lot of time on it. The background lies in the dying days of the open range, a key stage in the transition of the frontier from a wild, lawless territory towards a more stable and civilized environment. Major social changes such as this inevitably involve a degree of pain for all involved. The ranchers who tamed the country bitterly resent what appears to be a curtailment of their hard won independence, while the homesteaders must weather both the elements and the hostility of the cattlemen. Into this atmosphere of intractable conflict rides a lone figure, Shane (Alan Ladd), who halts at one of the dirt farms. The owner is Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) who, along with his wife Marian (Jean Arthur) and young son Joey (Brandon De Wilde), is in the process of carving out a home and a future. Purely by chance, local rancher Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) isn’t far behind and this immediately raises Starrett’s suspicions. Still, he has no cause for concern on that score as Shane makes it plain he has no connection with Ryker and actually backs up Starrett. It so happens these two men have crossed paths at a fortuitous time for both: Starrett is short of help to work his property, but Shane’s need is arguably greater still. His manner and apparel mark him out as a gunfighter, one of those rootless drifters of frontier lore. Here’s a man who desperately desires to bury his past and perhaps dream of a future, but that requires he find a place where he’s wanted and where he feels he belongs. For Shane, the Starrett homestead is a kind of beacon, a chance to redeem himself and seek out some meaning or purpose in his life. Yet that redemption and purpose will have to be earned the hard way – battles must be fought, temptations overcome, and specters of the past slain and laid to rest once and for all.

Shane is really all about relationships: between man and the land, the individual and society, the present and the past, and at the heart of it all is the Starrett family. This is one of the most wholesome and honest portrayals of family life I’ve seen and it’s not cutesy or fake. The Starretts represent trust, loyalty and devotion, in a credible way, in the face of hardship and adversity. As a viewer, it feels real and sincere, and it has to if that central dynamic which has the power to draw in a man like Shane is to be at all believable. What we have is one of those happy instances where the acting of Heflin, Arthur and de Wilde mesh perfectly with the writing of Jack Schaefer and the direction of George Stevens. All the interactions of the Starretts ring true, from the banal conversations about crockery round the table to the intense discussions on how best to confront the threat to their home. And hovering round the fringes is Shane, the man intimately acquainted with violence who has been beguiled by the allure of such simplicity.

Shane was a gift of a role for Alan Ladd, cementing his place in cinematic history. Ladd’s edgy discomfort was used to great effect in the films noir that first brought him to prominence, but the reluctant western hero was an even better fit. Ladd himself appears to have been a mass of contradictions and self-doubt, and that quality was ideal for his part here. Shane is an extremely self-aware character, aware of his skill with a gun and also fully cognizant of the deficiencies in his personal life. It’s a finely judged performance by Ladd, brimming with regret and yearning. The character of Shane is a man who knows he’s arrived at a crossroads; his past is never spoken of, only alluded to, and he realizes that an opportunity to make up for all his previous actions is within his grasp. He’s a natural outsider, detaching himself from the group given half a chance, yet always keen to be accepted into its ranks. His final decision to confront Ryker and save Starrett is simultaneously inspiring, fitting and heartbreaking. But it has to be – just like little Joey in that memorable finale, we want Shane to return and stay. Still we also understand that he must see things through if he’s to meet destiny head-on and achieve his redemption.

George Stevens was one of those filmmakers who seems to have been deeply affected by his wartime experiences, his presence during the liberation of Dachau often being cited as a profound influence on his subsequent work. Be that as it may, his handling of violence in Shane is worth noting and I feel the quote I used at the top of this piece is of significance. I’ve discussed the depiction of violence in the classic era western on this site and elsewhere before, and Shane illustrates what I think is the dominant approach very well. The film isn’t a devil-may-care shoot-em-up, where killings are seen as little more than an entertaining afterthought. No, the shootings which take place have an impact on the viewer because the characters involved on the screen treat them seriously. Jack Palance may look, sound and act like the cold assassin with no hint of conscience, but the build up to and results of his actions are powerful. On the few occasions a gun is fired in the film the gravity of the consequences is never in question – the sound of the discharge alone is an assault on the senses. When Palance blasts Elisha Cook Jr into the muddy street there’s no flippancy, polish or Hollywood glamor on view – it’s brutal, ugly and shocking in its authenticity. And it doesn’t end there in the cold anonymity of the churned up earth, for the gut-wrenching business of bringing his body back to his loved ones for burial has to be seen to. Cynicism seems to be in fashion these days and I have no doubt there are those who may regard the shot of the dog mournfully pawing Cook’s coffin as it’s lowered into the earth as mawkish sentimentality. As far as I’m concerned though, it’s a supremely touching moment and perfectly encapsulates the grief of those gathered at the graveside. If the repercussions of a killing are hammered home, the effects of less serious violence aren’t swept aside either. The fist fight between Ladd and Ben Johnson is an example of this; there’s no music to be heard to distract us from the landing of blows, and the injuries are never disguised. In Shane, every act of aggression, whether major or minor, is shown to hurt someone.

I’ve deviated a little from my usual format in writing this piece. I could have gone into more detail regarding the plot and social/historical issues it raises, I could also have offered a deeper analysis of the contributions of the cast – Jean Arthur, Ben Johnson, Edgar Buchanan et al. I’m aware too that I’ve made no mention of Loyal Griggs’ superb photography of the Wyoming locations and the dim, smoky interiors, or of Victor Young’s careful scoring. None of that is a result of neglect or lack of appreciation on my part. No, I took a conscious decision to try to focus attention on a handful of those aspects, rather than attempt to draw in all of them, which I feel contribute to making Shane one of the enduring cinematic classics and a definitive 50s western. I hope I’ve managed to do so.

 

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87 thoughts on “Shane

  1. Terrific Colin – and I agree with you, what stands out here is the sheer empathy and humanism that it projects, making the story truly universal. Watched it not to long ago with my Dad when he popped over to see me and it still stands up beautifully – probably the peak of Stevens’ career as all his later work seem to get horribly inflated and self-important. Here there is still that intimacy that is the hallmark of all his best work (I’ve always thought it had a surprising similarity to his 1942 film, The Talk of the Town.

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    • Thanks, Sergio. Yes, I think anyone, regardless of their genre preferences, takes something away from this film, and it’s that kind of wide-ranging appeal that’s part of what make it such a classic.
      You know, I’ve never seen The Talk of the Town, although I do have the DVD of the movie somewhere around here.

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      • Colin, this is a wonderful, heartfelt review of one of the finest westerns ever made. It’s often number two only to “The Searchers” on my top westerns list. You’ve touched on so many aspects of this masterpiece that I don’t want to be redundant. The photography, in my opinion, is equal to that of “The Searchers” and, in some, ways better. Two of many scenes: The Swede riding back to report the death of Reb. Lots of wide shots with advanced audio. We’re actually the farmers getting word of the tragedy from a distance. Then, there is Reb’s funeral. It may be my favorite cinema moment. Pure George Stevens. He conterpoints the adults mourning with the children playing, oblivious to the tragedy. The seamless segue of music — “Dixie” to “Taps” with one continuing shot that ends with a pan down to the town with ominous music is CLASSIC. Stevens shoots Sal Mineo’s funeral in “Giant” in similar fashion. “Shane” has always reminded me of a montage of Frederick Remington/Charlie Russell paintings. Charlton Heston once, in a chat about favorite movies, told me he always envied Alan Ladd and “Shane”. Obviously, Clint Eastwood felt the same way with his “Pale Rider” homage. Colin, I’ve heard about you….

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        • Very kind of you, Garry. You’re spot on about the visual beauty of the film and the fact it’s often reminiscent of Remington paintings. I probably should have said more about the look of the film but, as I mentioned, I did deliberately restrict myself to what were, for me anyway, a few key aspects.
          I’m glad you highlighted the sound design here. Again, I alluded to it in passing when I spoke of the jarring quality of the infrequent gunfire, but the scene with the Swede announcing the death of Torrey is, as you point out, well thought out and executed.
          Very interesting too to hear of Heston’s admiration for the movie.

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  2. You’re right, Colin…SHANE is a daunting movie to write about, as it’s so famous and oft-discussed, but you did a mighty fine job not only covering the basics of what makes this such a classic film, as well as adding plentiful insight of your own. As far as I’m concerned, this is George Stevens and Alan Ladd’s finest hour. It’s such a beautiful, elegiac film. It has a few echoes of John Ford, with all the ceremonies of frontier civilization, with communal meals, dancing, funeral services, etc., but Stevens puts his own unique stamp on these scenes. It’s not only a beautiful and at times touching film, it also has several fist-pumping sequences, from the great saloon brawl with Heflin and Ladd side by side, duking it out with the Ryker crew, to the “chopping down the stump” scene, to the brief but expertly executed final shootout.

    You don’t mention if you have the Blu-Ray release of this; I hope so, as it’s a real beaut.

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    • Jeff, it’s one of those films I’ve put off featuring time and again because, well it’s just so well-known and so high up on lots of “best of” lists. That Fordian sensibility relating to various communal rituals is there for all to see but I also feel Stevens lets his own voice speak clearly.
      I haven’t got the Blu-ray yet, but I will very soon.

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  3. This film is just too good to be true. The mighty cast……….right down to the little kids, the fabulous contrasting music, the cinematography, the simple things……..the clothing, the dogs……..yes, even the dogs deserve awards………the mud……should have won something too.
    So many words can be written about so many things from this film. “You talkin’ to me?” way before De Niro ever dreamed of saying stuff like that……..maybe this is where he got it from.
    The half smile Shane gives Chris after he warns him about the Rykers. Palance’s stroll! The little things in nearly every frame!
    Not only the best Western ever made, but pretty much the best Movie ever made!
    Every man, woman and child (over 12) should be made to sit down and watch this wonderful achievement!
    A Western with maybe half a dozen bullets fired………..but what bullets they are!

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  4. It’s either brave or foolish to even attempt to write about a classic like SHANE but Colin, you have not only written your usual fine essay but have managed to cover stuff others have overlooked/ignored. The only other fine essay on this film (I’m sure there have been many others) that I recall
    was in FILMS AND FILMING in the early Sixties.That piece is lost somewhere in my “dead dog files” Of course fifty years ago it was easy to write about SHANE and still sound pretty fresh although even then the film was regarded as a bona-fide classic. One point that I did take issue with in that earlier essay was when the writer stated that SHANE was the only time Ladd worked with a major director. At the time I thought…hey!…what about Raoul Walsh!
    Still,having said that with the type of film Walsh was making in the late Fifties/early Sixties I guess he had fallen off the radar for lots of film writers/critics….he was certainly “re-discovered” later.
    Interestingly,George Stevens initially wanted Joel McCrea for the Van Heflin role. McCrea turned him down because he did not want to detract from his friend Alan Ladd’s lead role and at that time McCrea thought he was not ready for supporting roles. Having finally seen the film McCrea stated that he could never been as good as Heflin was in the film. Personally I feel McCrea would have been splendid in the film and because it was such a smash hit it certainly would have given McCrea’s career a much needed boost at that time.

    It’s rather spooky because I was going to hi-jack Toby’s blog today with a Jack Palance themed post. One of the joys of collecting films these days is when one of your “most wanted” items suddenly gets announced for release. Robert Aldrich’s TEN SECONDS TO HELL has finally been announced by Kino Lorber for
    early next year. A troubled production to be sure but it’s a film that I have never seen and really want to. The following is from an interview from Movie…April 1963 by Ian Cameron and Mark Shivas:

    Aldrich on TEN SECONDS TO HELL:
    “They chopped it to pieces…I think everybody had a hand in the re-editing..
    I don’t think it was the picture it should have been, but it was my script.
    Some directors have the capacity to edit their own work, but I don’t think I’m one of those”

    Aldrich on his association with Jack Palance:
    “Well that picture ended it.It was a very violent ending. He didn’t like the role and he didn’t like
    the film. I guess he knew something earlier than the rest of us, because we thought it was pretty
    good at the time. He had more insight than we did. We speak..but that’s just about all.
    I regret the falling out but….it happens”

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    • Thanks, John – I thought long and hard before featuring this movie, but I’m glad I did.
      Much as I admire and enjoy McCrea, I’m pleased Heflin played the role of Starrett as I think he nailed it and did as fine a job as anyone could have.

      Interesting quotes there on Ten Seconds to Hell, a film I’ve long been hoping would get released too.

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      • I don’t think Joel McCrea could have conveyed that care-worn look that Heflin projected – and as he did in 3.10 to Yuma.
        Shane just seems to be perfect in every way. Brandon de Wilde is amazing.
        Palance commands the screen. And Stevens gets a Ladd performance that is unforgettable.
        Magic that you never tire of.

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        • Yes, McCrea would have, by necessity I feel, played it a different way and would have given us a different movie as a result. Personally, I wouldn’t want to change anything about it.

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  5. And then there’s Pale Rider, Eastwood’s homage to Shane. I prefer Shane, because it come packed with a lot of other memories of time, place, movie palaces and being lost in the stars at the Lowe’s Valencia.

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  6. I can just about remember (only just) when “SHANE” was on General release in the UK. As I recall it was seen as a really BIG movie and was reviewed on TV etc. Of course, I was not old enough to see it then but when I caught up with it for the first time it blew me away. Still does actually.
    “Cinema classic” is an overworked term but if ever a film was made that fits that bill “SHANE” is it.

    Superb piece, Colin, about one of my all-time favourite films, let alone westerns.

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    • Thanks, Jerry. I first saw the film on TV when I was at school – I was maybe 11 or 12 at the time – and I loved it. As a youngster, films with prominent roles for kids often left me a bit cold but not this one, which says something in itself. It’s the kind of movie which has much to offer whatever age one happens to be, but genuine classics often operate on that level.

      BTW, Jerry, your comment there just hit 5000 for the site.

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  7. Happy 5,000th anniversary, Colin!
    Yes, the child in this one is very well-handled – directed (and scripted) but, as you said earlier, the whole family dynamic is wonderful here. Heflin and Arthur as the parents are wholly believable, aren’t they?
    I had never heard that McCrea had been offered the Starrett role. I think he would have been terrific actually but really as it turned out, Heflin was perfect.

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    • Yeah, movie families don’t always convince, but I have no problem buying into the setup here at all. As I said, the story just won’t work unless you believe these are people whose warmth and affection are capable of making a lonely drifter like Shane reassess his place in the world. The fact it does work, and that Ladd so effortlessly gets across the quiet desperation to be wanted and needed, is a large part of what gives the film its heart.

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  8. I did see SHANE on first release so have now been with it over fifty years (made a point to watch it in 2013). At the time, I was just about Joey’s age, and I think that much as he perceived what adult life was really all about by the end of the film, I too began to have a mature understanding of what the Western had to offer in taking life and death seriously–at least in these great, classic days.

    So I liked the emphasis of your fine piece because it gets at the paradox–Shane himself is the film’s most sympathetic character, and we root for him to free himself from the past and belong somewhere (though, of course, this would be extremely challenging and complex given the barely suppressed feelings between him and Marion), but the hard truth is that there is one thing he is really best at–that is gunfighting and killing people. And he knows this himself. The climax brings this home powerfully, and even Joey, who has idolized him, really gets it I believe. So Shane saves the Starretts and the valley, but for him on a personal level, the ending is tragic. Yes, it is redemptive too–Westerns had by now become uncommonly rich and complex, and I believe the graceful handling of the whole film gives us the opportunity to hold the conflicting response we might have to this ending in a meaningful emotional balance.

    It’s still sometimes argued that it’s a false classic, but without being a great fan of Stevens outside of a few movies, I disagree. This is his best work, a great film of the genre, and one that has never ceased to move me deeply.

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    • Blake, not for the first time I guess, I find myself envying you the experience of seeing a film like this in the theater on release, and maybe at the ideal age too.
      Just to pick up on your point about the feelings that emerge between Marion and Shane. It’s there for all to see but handled so subtly and with great sensitivity – yet another example of the artistry of all those involved in the production. I also appreciated the way Heflin’s character dealt with this; he was fully aware of it from the July 4th dance anyway, but that talk he has with his wife as he plans to ride in and confront Ryker is rather wonderful. It’s as good an illustration of his love and the trust he feels as a result of a sound relationship as one could wish to see.

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      • It definitely was the ideal age. The story as perceived by Joey himself is such an important part of what the film is. I believe that’s always been understood and it’s conceived that way.

        I agree with all that you say re Shane/Marion/Joe–it’s very sensitively handled for all three characters. By the way, though I yield to no one in my admiration of Joel McCrea, I too agree that Van Heflin was the best casting for this role (and it is not unlike his 3:10 TO YUMA role). It’s partly chemistry of the actors, which Ladd/Arthur/Heflin definitely have among the three of them. There were apparently a lot of people considered. I’m glad it turned out the way it did. A self-consciously oversensitive Shane that Montgomery Clift would have given would not have been nearly as affecting as the Shane of Alan Ladd, for the most obvious example.

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        • Yes, it’s not just a matter of how each individual performer approaches his/her role but also how they react to and interact with the others. I’d have no complaints about how it all comes together in Shane.

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  9. Your usual sensitive insight, Colin. Shane is too often dismissed by the auteuristas. Thanks for giving it some positive notice.

    In line with the McCrea/Heflin casting, Stevens’s first choice was Montgomery Clift. He had even gotten him to begin working out, gaining some muscle. But Paramount nixed it, told Stevens he had to take Ladd, a Paramount contract player. Paramount was looking at Shane as no more than a typical Ladd/Paramount western, a la Branded or Whispering Smith.

    Had Clift played in Shane — and had he accepted the role of Will Kane in High Noon, which he was offered but turned down (along with Peck, Heston, Brando, Kirk Douglas, etc.) — Clift would have been in three of the classic westerns — Red River, High Noon and Shane!

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      • Quite. It’s interesting to hear about the alternatives which were considered but, at least in the cases we’re talking about here, you can tell when the right decisions were taken.

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    • Firstly, John, let me just say thanks.
      Now, on the business about Clift. I’ve heard that story before and, again, I reckon the right choice was made in the end. Clift was a fine actor, no doubt about it, but I don’t believe we would have had the same fully rounded take on the role of Shane that Ladd gave us. I think Clift would have brought more soul searching and self-doubt to the part, but at the expense of the steelier aspects Ladd managed to blend in. Personally, I feel Ladd got the balance just right.

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    • I read what John M. wrote about the casting of Ladd a little fast before. George Stevens Jr. has said that when first choice casting of those three roles fell through for various reasons, Stevens (Sr.) himself quickly chose Ladd, Arthur and Heflin, was glad to have all three and no one was imposed on him. He was a powerful producer and director then and it seems believable. It especially seems believable because the casting is so richly justified by the realized film.

      By the way, recently Colin wrote about BRANDED, which I had remembered liking very much. And I just saw it again earlier this week. It really held up too. People should seek that out if they haven’t. Among Ladd Westerns, I would still count it as perhaps best among all the others, thoughI do believe Shane is his best film and ideal role.

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  10. Wow, what a wait for your posting and what a choice! Shane is undoubtedly one of the top ten western classics of all time. What struck me when I first saw this a long, long time ago was the perfect dialogue or verbal exchanges between characters. In this respect, I found The Magnificent Seven to be comparable. Another great review from you! Best regards.

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    • Cheers, Chris. Again, the dialogue is another of the ingredients of the film which works well – to have so many parts of a production come together and gel the way they do in Shane is quite rare.

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  11. Based on the responses there’s alot of passion involved with this classic. Rightly so. Just a wonderful film. Hard to add anything to all the above. Such a simple film but it casts such a long shadow. I am so glad that Ladd got one role that still is remembered. Great cast aright along with him and the explosion of gunfire always resonates when I think of the title like when Ladd shows Joey how to shoot. A special movie that I still catch every couple of years.
    Great job.

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    • Thanks. You’re spot on – the sound of the pistol discharging when Shane is showing Joey how to use a gun is really startling and seems so out of place in the calm surroundings of the Starrett homestead.

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    • Yes………the explosion of gunfire………..George Stevens’ war experiences ensured that the horror of what bullets can actually do was firmly imprinted on the viewer’s mind. Elisha Cook Jr being blasted halfway across the street was a prime example of that. Pretty graphic too for it’s time.
      Love the look on Ladd’s face when he shows Joey how to shoot. After the gunshot………it’s like, in a split second his whole life has flashed through his mind………wonderful acting, just beautiful! And yes, Colin, it’s like the beginning of a war……which I kinda guess it is!
      “That was him…….that was Wilson alright……..he was fast……..fast on the draw!” Love THAT line too……he says it twice in the film………….once when he hears about the lean gunfighter, wears two guns and a black hat……..and when he kills him! Great stuff………when you watch this, don’t blink, you may miss something very special! Oh hell, just watch it over again!
      Ladd, Heflin, Arthur, Palance, Cook Jr, de Wilde………never better…..ever!

      Colin, you certainly have the right people commenting here………well done you and all the commenters!!

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      • The cool appraisal of the effects of violence is a major part of the film for me, particularly as it’s achieved in such a subtle way. There’s no lecturing or preaching involved, just a stripping away of the traditional movie glamor and a stark presentation of the short and long term consequences for everyone.

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  12. I’m always fascinated by the ‘Gunman as Saviour’ theme that I feel underlies SHANE and many other classic Westerns. Eastwood made this more overt in PALE RIDER where his avenging protagonist is invoked by a maiden’s prayer and rides down from the high peaks (plains?) like a figure out of Norse myththology. There’s a similar invocation is some versions of RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE which interestingly concludes with Lassiter and Jane Withersteen eluding their pursuers by ascending irrevocably into their own private paradise. Another example is found in A LAWLESS STREET where Randolph Scott’s lawman seemingly rises from the dead to restore order to the town of Medicine Bend after having apparently been killed in a gunfight.
    Returning to SHANE, I think the character’s empathy with the Starretts is more about a yearning
    for a family that he can never truly be part of (oddly reminiscent of the Cary Grant character in
    THE BISHOPS WIFE) because IMHO Shane is a secular Angel in buckskin who like Eastwood’s
    PALE RIDER must inevitably return to the High Plains until he’s needed again.

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    • Interesting thoughts there, NB. Spiritual and/or quasi-supernatural allusions do crop up in westerns from time to time. I think Eastwood has been most overt in his use of such themes. Personally, I hadn’t looked at Shane in that way and wonder if this is a reading that has been applied retrospectively (particularly in light of the film’s influence on Pale Rider), or whether it was mentioned by critics back when the movie was released.

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    • Some good stuff here, Nick. The gunman/savior thing you brought up is one of my favorite themes in all Westerns, especially those from the 50s. I find the redemptive angle fascinating — maybe because I could use a bit of it myself!

      Shane was so influential and imitated, it can be hard to look at it today and not see the clichés — which it may have created in the first place. Same goes for The Gunfighter (1950).

      What makes Shane so special to me is how simple it is, and how it suggests its themes rather than announce them. Pale Rider, by delivering its points with a hammer seems more clichéd and hokey to me than Shane.

      I agree about Shane seeing the family life he knows he’ll never have. Same goes for Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. They don’t fit and exist outside regular family or community.

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        • Believe me, I completely understand what you mean. When I made up to write something about the film I consciously decided that i wasn’t going to attempt to cover all bases; there are just too many points to address, and missing stuff out just feels unsatisfactory. I settled on a few aspects that spoke most to me – others may of course relate to different ones – and made it plain that was what I was doing.

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  13. Colin, I wonder whether you could recall in any other westerns, they incorporate or introduce a hired gunfighter. In the Magnificent Seven, they portrayed them as hired gunmen. Best regards.

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  14. I found a slight difference in the conclusion of SHANE on the two videos of it I own. In the VHS version, the last of Brandon de Wilde heard on the soundtrack is his resigned shout of “Bye, Shane!” just prior to Shane riding through the graveyard. This line doesn’t exist in the DVD version; de Wilde’s last shout being the familiar “Shane! Come back!”. Was the goodbye removed when the film was re-released because it was felt to detract from the poignancy of the ending? I’d be interested to know which one of these was used for the Blu-ray version. Thanks!

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      • Just checked the ending on the Blu-Ray, and Joey’s final “Bye, Shane!” is there.

        One more little touch that I love about the final gunfight: when Wilson stands up to confront Shane, the mangy old saloon dog decides it’s time to saunter on out of there.

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        • Indeed, even the dogs appear specially chosen for their contrasting characteristics. The saloon dog has that skulking, scavenging look about it that just fits the surroundings perfectly.

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  15. Quite a few people have referred now to “PALE RIDER” and its relation to “SHANE”. For me, the difference between them says everything about westerns from the classic period compared with later films. Not to say that “PALE RIDER” is not a worthwhile film but, for me, it does not even come close.
    I am quite a fan of Clint Eastwood the Director but oddly his directed-westerns are my least favourite of his direceted films.

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    • I’m not a fan of Pale Rider. There are a number of things about it that bothered me, the main one being that it felt like an imitation of a Clint Eastwood western. But wait, that’s really Clint Eastwood!

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    • It’s understandable that Pale Rider should be mentioned, bearing in mind the debt it owes to Shane. I more or less share your view in this instance, Jerry – Eastwood’s movie is fine for what it is, but it can’t compare to this.

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  16. Colin, thank you for a good review of a wonderful movie. This movie inspired a lot of westerns that followed. The performance of all the actors was great and VICTOR YOUNG’S music was enjoyable as usual.
    Have you watched the movie with the special features turned on. It’s interesting to find out some of the tricks they used to enhance the movie, like using bigger lens in the camera to make the mountains in the background seem closer.

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    • Thanks. I actually haven’t listened to the commentary track. I’ve owned a copy of the movie for years and never got round to plying it with the track running. Then when I decided to write something here, I wanted to avoid reading or hearing things that might end up influencing what I put down. I may give it go now though.

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  17. Funny, all the times I’ve watched SHANE, it never occurred to me that Shane might be injured as he rode away at the end. He knew he was doing the right thing,leaving the family to recover and forget him eventually. He would even become just a memory to Joey as he grew up.
    Don’t you just hope that maybe,just maybe he will find somewhere he can settle down ,where no one knows him and he can finally put away his gun.

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    • Oh definitely. That;s why I tend to think of the ending in a positive light, although I can see how others may prefer to view it as more downbeat.
      Ethan Edwards has been spoken of as a comparable outsider, and I don’t disagree with that – both characters are men who badly want to be part of something wholesome, yet ultimately realize their past and probably their nature preclude that.

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    • Colin, check out the commentary track. It is certainly worth your while. Love the bit about Palance’s classic dismount to get the water, all the time eyeballing Shane. Apparently when it was shot, Palance actually mounted the horse and they ran the film backwards to get the effect of the dismount! He didn’t like horses………true story!
      Vienna, I was always of the opinion that Shane is riding off to die! He appears to be slightly slumped in the saddle at the very end. He was shot in the back/shoulder from above! He was bleeding……’cos Joey remarks, “You’re hurt Shane!”

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      • I’ll certainly make a point of listening to the commentary. It’s funny to think of Palance not being comfortable with horse though, especially when you remember how many westerns he played in.

        On the ending: I think it’s clear enough Shane was shot in the saloon, but the only question is how bad the wound was. The final image does see him kind of slumped and favoring his side, but I feel his ultimate fate is open to interpretation. Either reading is fine by me really.

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  18. Your reviews are always a pleasure to read Colin, but this is definitely one of your best. I admit that I did not enjoy Shane when I watched it, but I was younger and preferred traditional westerns with their non-realistic violence. Your analysis of the portrayal of the characters’ shocked reactions to the killing of one of their friends makes me want to watch it again.

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    • If I managed to encourage you to watch it again, Andrew, then that’s pretty much job done.
      This is quite a realistic western, in all the important ways at any rate – the themes, feelings and ideas are all real.
      Thanks for the comment.

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  19. One thing that pleased me about this film is when Ben Johnson’s character’s changed his attitude and eventually shook hands with SHANE .Apparently the producers were going to create a romance between Ben’s character and Susan Lewis played by Janice Carroll but it never happened

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    • I don’t feel any added romantic elements would have been good for the movie – shoehorning such things in unnecessarily is almost always a bad idea.
      However, I agree that Johnson’s change of heart works well, and is led up to naturally by his growing disquiet with Ryker’s approach as soon as Palance is summoned.

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  20. I too think having an added romance element would have been distracting away from the main plot ,but this is one of the things discussed on the commentary track .
    Ron , I also liked the bit about Palance’s classic dismount to get the water.

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  21. I love Jack Palance in this film. He is so evil. The way he stalks Elisha Cook Jr outside the saloon……….the smirk on his face…………the sound of his boots…….that confident stroll compared to Cook Jr’s uneasy walk in the mud…….the way he puts his gloves on……….even the dogs in the film are terrified of him.
    “Was that him, Shane? Was that Wilson?” Joey says to Shane after he has killed him. “Yeah, that was him……..he was fast, fast on the draw!” Shane says to Joey and briefly looks away from him. Now, in that glance away, Alan Ladd in just a brief moment, seems to show the backstory history between him and Wilson. In that look there is a whole other movie going on……….a prequel at that time could have made for a very interesting film. I think they may have been friends at some stage, but then obviously became enemies…………they certainly seemed to have a mutual respect for each other’s prowess with the gun. He seemed a bit reluctant to have a gunfight with Shane. I think he knew deep down that he wasn’t fast enough.
    Great acting.

    Do yourself a BIG favour Colin…………listen to the commentary track. None of the above is in it, but it certainly is a treat.

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    • Hmm, Shane denies knowing Wilson earlier in the film, when first asked about him. He appears to know of him by reputation alone. I do know what you mean in the post-saloon scene though. I felt there was more a sense of him closing the door, so to speak, on part of his past – Wilson representing something of an amalgam of all the killers he’d known throughout his life. He was, after all, reluctant to take up his guns again and only did so when his hand was forced and the threat to Starrett became acute. Whatever his fate as he rode off into the darkness, I think the gunfight was cathartic act on his part, a symbolic severing of another link to a past he wanted to bury.
      Either way, the fact we can interpret such things in different ways is further proof of the richness of the film.

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  22. Colin, I just linked your review to my hometown newspaper forum where there’s a discussion on favorite westerns. Quite a few have Shane at the top of their list. Hopefully, you’ll get some extra hits on your excellent blog. Always love to read your reviews and I share your respect for Delmer Daves too1

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  23. What was i thinking? Of course you are right. Shane actually says to Wilson, “I’ve heard about you!” I guess that reflective look of Shane’s is him looking back on his past………i.e. no matter how hard he tries, he just cannot get away from it!
    Great post Colin, keep up the good work!

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  24. Colin, I’ve just belatedly caught up with this great review and with the ensuing discussion, after seeing ‘Shane’ a few months back. You’ve made me want to watch it again. I must say I assumed he is riding off to die at the end – no place left for the outsider.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for taking the time to read it, Judy. And if I got you in the mood to watch again, well that’s even better.

      On the ending, I guess your interpretation matches the majority view. I’m not too worried about it either way – I do like the sense of ambiguity though that allows one to read in different ways according to one’s mood at the time.

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    • Thanks. You know, this was one of the most satisfying pieces I’ve written for this place. I love the film and was delighted with the enthusiastic response to the post.

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  25. You’ve got a zillion comments here already, but I’m going to write one anyway. I heartily agree with so much of what you said here, from the themes of redemption and belonging to the nuanced portrayals from the principal actors. I want to copy and paste a dozen things in here that I liked so very much, but I’ll just say that this is one of my favorites:

    And hovering round the fringes is Shane, the man intimately acquainted with violence who has been beguiled by the allure of such simplicity.

    Yes, you have captured my feelings about this film so well! I love the book too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of people dig this movie and I was very happy to see the positive response this post drew, but the fact is it’s a film with a timeless theme and it’s all assembled and executed with such skill and artistry that it would be more surprising if it weren’t so well-received.

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