Shane (1953) Revisited
I already knew that Shane (1953) was a great and classic, but had forgotten why really, a reminder was needed to stir up the emotions and memories that are captured in this gunfighter film. From the beginning we see a lone rider Shane (Alan Ladd) make his way through the field of bushes, in no rush to get anywhere, he’s very much his own man, independent of the laws of the land. Reach the homesteading Starrett family who we soon learn are under threat from Ryker (Emile Meyer) and his men who want to run off this and other homesteaders. All innocent people wanting to make their mark on the country. A real conflict of interests is at the heart of this feud. One group wanting to push out another. It’s a tried and tested formula as we see the stronger force try to drive out the weaker.
Much like in The Westerner (1940), but not hiding behind a supposed law created by Judge Roy Bean. Here it’s about the strength of the man to stand up to another. However strong they feel they are still cowards in the face of Ryker and his men who don’t even draw their guns. Theres a strong code between both sides that is tangible, violence without pulling the trigger, relying more on the inner strength of the man to stand up. Something that we know, just looking at Shane even as he sits on the sidelines will have to step in and save the day. The small (annoying) boy Joey (Brandon De Wilde) who is in awe of the stranger who has become his role model, knows there is something inside him that is waiting to come out.
As much as Shane wants to change his ways, taking on a job with the Starrett’s is not enough to change his very nature. Finally giving in to teach Joey how to handle a gun, in such away that he may one day use it as a tool not a weapon. Shane very much is standing in the shadows of these homesteaders, all decent hardworking men who want to stand up and be respected, not walked all over. Personified by Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) who is the strongest of the group and the weakest, all talk and very little walk, hampered by his wife Marian (Jean Arthur) who wants him to stay safe, not going out to potentially lose his life. She is the very reason he has to; to be seen as a man in front of her and his son whose eyes are open in unto the world around him.
Enter the hired gunfighter Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) who in his few scenes he has steals them all, the “low down Yankee liar” is all bad, the personification of a gunfighter who takes pleasure in pulling the gun from its holster to take another life, to prove his is stronger, better and will live to see another day. That’s until he enters this small Alabama town that could easily be anywhere in America personifying the West for a generation, the open country, the American dream that is still being fought over. A moment in history that could have been repeated anywhere in the United States, a fable you could say of good overcoming evil.
Shane is a classic in every sense of the word, the hero, the villain, the lush green landscape with all its rich dirt and mountains that surround these people in the middle of nowhere. Two of the leads are take from very different genres, Alan Ladd a regular of film noir, and Jean Arthur whose career was all but over, most remembered for her Capra films, both could easily have been out of their depth, which works in their favour, the energy of the modern dark streets and an innocence and need to feel safe in the world.
At the core of this is a need to remain true to yourself, the gunfighter with all their on-screen glory can never settle down with the homesteaders, as strong as that need maybe, it’s a dangerous life to live as we find out for two of them. This is a prime example of the classic western, stranger enters, shakes things up and leaves alone again, never to return leaving the town for the better or worse. Leaving the audience in awe of the dangerous spectacles we have seen in the film. It’s over in a flash, just what we have been waiting for all along satisfying not just the audience by Joey who has been waiting longer than anyone to see his newest role-model come to life after building him up in his mind.
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