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SHANE (1953)

This cinematic classic, filmed by director George Stevens amid the stunning vistas of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, tells the story of reformed gunslinger Shane (Alan Ladd), who's trying to put his violent past behind him. But his will is tested when greedy cattle barons try to force the community of homesteaders he's joined off their land. Jack Palance is chilling as Shane's villainous nemesis Jack Wilson, and the film's ambiguous ending has sparked conversation among film buffs.

The sterling cast includes: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Brandon de Wilde, Ben Johnson, Edgar Buchanan, Emile Meyer, and Elisha Cook Jr.

#69 on the AFI Top 100.

SHANE was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Director, George "Giant" Stevens, delivers his typical excellence: great characters, vivid landscapes, unforgettable scenes. Stevens received a nomination for best directing.

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Promotional Line: "The greatest story of the old West!"

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In a great valley in Wyoming, watched over by the great Tetons, a small group of homestead farmers and a wealthy cattleman, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) with a large spread of land all farm and ranch the land. Unfortunately, the nearest law officer is a three days ride away, which means the homesteaders have little recourse against Rufus Ryker and his entourage who feel free to bully and harass them. The homesteaders' situation worsens when the wealthy cattleman gets a large government contract to supply beef to the reservation. Determined to own the whole valley to graze his cattle, he turns up the heat on the homesteaders, determined to scare / run them off their land.

One day, a drifter and trying-to-be retired gunfighter by the name of Shane travels down the mountains and comes into the valley, and stops at Joe Starretts' small farm for a drink of water. While talking to Starrett, Shane witnesses the smarmy Ryker and his boys ride through the garden and threaten Starrett with a warning to leave. Shane decides to stay and help Joe with the farm chores, trying not to get involved in the homesteaders' fight, at Starretts' request, trying to stay away from his gun as the solution to solve their problems. Joe and Shane become good friends. Shane's quiet, fortitude and goodness, makes him well-liked by the people, especially by Joe's young son, Joey, who instinctively knows that Shane is good with a gun, as he is good at being his father's friend.

Their friendship is solidified when Shane get into a fist fight with Ryker's cowboy hand, Chris Calloway (Ben Johnson) in the bar, a man who had thrown a drink on Shane the last time Shane had gone to town for Joe to pick up the supplies, forbidding Shane from coming into the saloon. This time, Shane buys two drinks. When challenged again by Calloway, he throws both drinks down the cowboy's shirt. The punches start flying. When the bad guys all gang up on Shane, Joe enters the fight. Joe and Shane are declared the winners in this traditional saloon brawl, all seen from under a table by young Joey (Brandon De Wilde), while he chews on a candy cane. This sequence of scenes was a favorite example of the classic western bar room brawl.

Despite the killing of pigs, the destruction of crops, the homesteaders stick together under the leadership of Joe Starrett. Frustrated, Rufus Ryker decides to hire a psychopathic gunslinger, Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) from Cheyenne, in order to tip the balance to his side. Hoping to scare the homesteaders off, Ryker lets Jack Wilson kill a homesteader, Frank 'Stonewall' Torrey, who dies from one shot, falling back into the mud.

This doesn't do the trick because of the combined efforts of Joe and Shane, who convince the people that if they stick together, they can hold on. Starrett vows to do something. So, when Ryker sends his boys to Starrett's farm to say that Ryker has a proposition for him, Starrett is willing to take a chance on being killed, and go to see if something could be worked out in a meeting, despite his wife's pleading for him not to go. However,one of Ryker's cowhands Chris Calloway, who has a change of heart after watching the dastardly Jack Wilson perform his services, comes to Shane, warning him that this meeting is a trap to kill Starrett. Shane knows that taking care of these menacing bullies with evil intentions was a job on his level, and not in Joe Starrett's league. After a fisty-cuff fight between Starrett and Shane in the dark corral outside, Shane wins the duty. From this moment, after leaving the farm, he changes in character, from a kind, strong, sensitive, quiet man, to a hardened, tough-as-nails gunslinger, ready to kill if attacked by the old west, lawless men, who think that might, skill and ruthlessness still means power.

"Shane" was described as the "quintessential western myth", which earned 6 academy award nominations. This 1953 western classic is very well-paced, well put together, beautifully filmed and beautifully acted by a talented cast, all under the skilled, meticulous direction of the great perfectionist, George Stevens, who had tight control over the production values as well.

Much of the quick-moving screenplay, written by was filmed on location in Wyoming, giving the audience a spectacular view of the gorgeous scenery, and a feeling of reality that the back lot sets don't give. The very talented Loyal Greggs won a much deserved Oscar for the cinematography. His camera angles were original and creative, and his shots and lighting gave the scenes a "mysterious, moody and atmospheric," quality, which helps to develop the full impact of the script and occurrences in the film.

Alan Ladd, was ideally cast and more than convincing as a man trying to leave his days of gunplay in the past, yearning for the straight and narrow life that is far away from what he had become. He takes a stab at being a member of a civilized society that works the land with a dream of being successful through family life and hard work, being involved in community fellowship; a kind of life that is far from the life style Shane is trying to leave behind. Shane and Ladd were made for each other, and the union created one of the biggest hits of Ladd's, AND his most likable screen character ever. Ladd does a remarkable job in changing personalities, going from a strong, quiet man enjoying being useful to others and being the company of regular folks, to a hardened, battle-ready gunslinger, on his guard to kill attackers. As he rides toward the town saloon from the farm, his face shows his inner changes. By the time he is in the saloon, he has changed back to the personality needed to be successful as a gunslinger.

The rugged-looking Van Heflin gave a great performance as homestead farmer, Joe Starrett , who becomes friends with Shane, after hiring him. He is convincing as a man who is bravely determined to find a way to stay on his valley farm, to raise his family and be successful through hard work, despite the bullies trying to run him off his homestead farm.

The acclaimed screen comedian, ,Jean Authur is convincing in the serious role of Marian, the loyal, soft spoken wife of Joe Starrett.

The talented child star, Brandon De Wilde really shines as the boy, Joey who guesses the truth about Shane's abilities as a man and skill with a gun, before anyone else, and loves him almost as much as his dad. He earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his performance. As this young man had a lot of talent, he worked steadily through his childhood and teen years, on and off stage, in films, and on T.V. He was the youngest child to win the Donaldson award for his fantastic performance in the Broadway play, "A Member of the Wedding." It's too bad that his successful career came to an abrupt end when he was killed in a car crash when he was only thirty.

The main villains are dastardly and have no redeeming values. They were as cowardly as they were evil, greedy, and self-centered, willing to do anything to get what they want; taking control all of the valley land.

Emile Meyer, a character actor who had a long successful career playing nasty villains, excels as the wealthy cattleman Rufus Ryker, who hires a killer to take care of Starrett and anyone else in his way, when the usual tactics don't work, i.e.. - killing animals in the dark of night, verbal warnings and abuse, etc.

Jack Palance is wonderfully diabolical as the creepy, psychopathic gunslinger, Jack Wilson, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. A favorite sequence of scenes where Palance shines, starts as he spots two homestead farmers walking by on their way to the store. Pointing to Frank 'Stonewall' Torrey," he suggests to Ryker: "Why don't we just gun down this one? It won't take long to stampede the rest!" During the funeral of 'Stonewall,' which can be seen at a distance from the saloon, Jack Palance chills the audience with a low, evil laugh!"

A favorite scene is Ladd's showdown with Palance. The forces of good and evil are so well defined, that the encounter has a quality of myth and legend about it. The scenes are dramatically lighted, well filmed at angles that show what is happening during the curt conversations between Shane, Ryker and Wilson. The gunfight that ensues is short, quick, and deadly, nicely edited for maximum effect.

Another favorite scene is at the end. As Shane walks out of the saloon, the absolute terrified child actor, Brandon de Wilde, pulls at the heart strings as the young boy who hero- worships Shane. Shane tells the boy why he has to leave, and has some good parting advice for the lad. Shane then rides his horse toward the mountains. When the little tyke cries, "Shane... When you coming back Shane?," His voice echoes across the valley, and it's a heartbreaking moment.

 

If you liked SHANE you may enjoy UNFORGIVEN, WILL PENNY, GIANT, SILVERADO, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and/or CITY SLICKERS.

 

Pithy, sage quotes (Shane): "A man has to be what he is. There's no living with a killing. There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks.'.."

"A gun is a tool, Marion, no better or no worse than any other tool, an ax, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it."