Genre: Western, Drama
Director: George Stevens
Screenwriter: A.B. Guthrie Jr.
based on the novel by Jack Schaefer
Music: Victor Young
Cinematography: Loyal Griggs
Brandon De Wilde
Elisha Cook Jr.
SHANE, adapted from Jack Schaefer’s popular novel, is George Steven’s eulogy of a bygone civilization, the West as we know it. Its rub is pivoted around the hard-pressed homesteaders against the grasping prior trailblazers, who cannot brook the land they have been fighting for with sweat and blood, to be shared with peace-loving late comers. It all comes down to a gunslinger, our titular hero Shane (Ladd) to solve the problem, once and for all.
Unlike other trigger-happy cowpokes, Shane is perversely reluctant to shoot, apparently afflicted by some unexplained past trauma, he comes off as rather shell-shocked and doesn’t even brings his six-shooter with him when he goes to town, much to the bewilderment of a 10-year-old boy Joey Starrett (De Wilde), who puts Shane on a pedestal ever since his advent to the Starretts’ turf.
Hired by Joey’s father Joe (Heflin) to work in their land, Shane literally becomes another member of the nuclear family, heightened by a tangible mutual feeling between him and Joe’s wife Marian (Arthur), neither of them acts improperly, but there is chemistry simmering underneath their restrained formalities, which even Joe descries but he is also prudent enough to keep the green-eyed monster at bay.
The conflict escalates when their nemesis, the Ryker brothers, going out of their ways to scare and harass homesteaders off the land for their cattle business, hires a notorious gunfighter Jack Wilson (Palance), who viciously baits and dispatches anyone who is hot-headed enough to draw the gun, Frank Torrey (Cook Jr.) falls to his victim, however, during his funeral, the homesteaders are held together by Joe and decide to stand on their grounds, which prompts the Ryker brothers to set a trap to liquidate Joe, after a dusty brotherly brawl amid skittish horses and Marian’s screaming, it is Shane who takes Joe’s place to attend the treacherous invitation, with Joey secretively tailing behind to witness the final showdown, executed with a quick-fire fashion that invites pause and rewind. When the dust settles, a wounded (mortally or not, Stevens leaves us to guess) Shane chooses to leave as he confesses there is no place for a man who has blood on his hands, with Joey’s wail “Come back, Shane” resounds in the crescendo,
A stoical Alan Ladd is forever enshrined in Shane’s laconic, reserved persona and he is the unlikely hero excels in rough-and-tumble with a short stature, but the truth is, Van Heflin offers a more well-rounded performance as the ultimately congenial and sympathetic Joe, as for Jean Arthur, in her first color movie and celluloid swan song, hampered by an unflattering wig and over-airbrushed effort of the make-up team, she, at the very least, hangs tough through the familial dissension as a dyed-in-the-wool nay-sayer of the gun violence, that particularly rings a bell in today’s climate.
Receiving 6 Oscar nominations in toto (including BEST PICTURE, SCREENPLAY and DIRECTOR), one for the amazing tween actor Brandon De Wilde (who would sadly perish in a car accident at an age of 30), who benefits from the fact that the meat of the story takes place from his idolized standpoint, persuasively visualizes a wide-eyed boy’s vicarious thrills and spills without becoming overtly cutesy or annoying, too many bratty kids in real life already, no one needs to see them throw a hissy fit on the big screen. Also Jack Palance cops a back-to-back Oscar nomination after his breakthrough in David Miller’s SUDDEN FEAR (1952), brimful of vice and danger, his villainous turn is a real spine-tingler.
Equipped with a divinely colorful Technicolor to render a beauteous natural landscape, SHANE judiciously deviates from the mainstream Western with its prescience of its westering future, yet proposes an auspicious prospect on the horizon of the pending modern age, while those who are passé get a melancholic solace that at any rate, some good deeds are done, a few good seeds are sowed and some bad apples are annihilated. Lastly, one advise, dialing down the volume can save yourself from the assault of Victor Young’s blaring, overblown aural accompaniment, which aids our appreciation of George Stevens’ deathless classic of a defiant hero named SHANE.