Blind Spot Review: “Shane” (1953)

Shaneposter

On the surface “Shane” may appear to be routine Western genre fare. A mysterious stranger with a lightning fast draw helps a family harassed by a gang of unsavory types. But beneath its seemingly simple exterior is a movie that prods us to look beyond the familiar.

“Shane” was directed and produced by George Stevens and adapted from a 1943 Jack Schaefer novel. While not Stevens’ first choice, Alan Ladd was cast as the title character Shane. Story goes that after Stevens couldn’t secure his actors of choice he asked a Paramount executive for a list of those under contract. Ladd was a quick choice.

Shane1

Our first glimpse of Shane sees him riding to the backdrop of the gorgeous Tetons. It’s a beautiful introduction to Loyal Griggs’ Oscar-winning cinematography. Shane comes upon a small homestead ran by a rancher Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), his wife Marian (Jean Arthur in her final feature film role) and their peppy young son Joey (Brandon deWilde). The family takes to Shane and asks him to stay as a ranch-hand. Shane sees the invite as a chance to put aside his past ways and start fresh.

Shane makes every effort to forget his mysterious old life. He hangs up his holster and sixshooter. He buys some new regular man’s clothes. He quickly begins to find and enjoy his place among the community of homesteaders. But as Shane himself says later in the film “A man has to be what he is.”

While the film never delves too deep into Shane’s past, a key (and frankly obvious) element of it eventually comes much more into focus. The Starretts along with a handful of other local settlers are being squeezed by greedy cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) who wants their claims for himself. As his henchmen’s terrorizing heats up and a hired gun shows up (played by a menacing Jack Palance), Shane is forced to unearth the past he is trying hard to bury.

Shane2

There are several other interesting plot angles Stevens plays around with. There is a subtle romantic tension between Shane and Marian. You have the starry-eyed young Joey whose idealized view of Shane is sometimes at odds with his perception of his father. Even Ryker’s motivations are rooted in a place that reveals surprisingly more character depth than you would expect.

Its $3 million budget made “Shane” one of the most expensive movies ever made at the time and you can see the money on the screen. The Wyoming Territory setting is exquisitely captured and the sheer visual craft behind some sequences is undeniable. One particular scene between Palance and Elisha Cook, Jr. is one of the genre’s best mainly due to Stevens’ camera. But “Shane” works in large part due to the attention given to the characters. It’s certainly a film of its time, but good characters and well told stories about them never get old.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

16 thoughts on “Blind Spot Review: “Shane” (1953)

  1. Love your last line there Keith. That’s what really makes me ashamed to have seen so few westerns. I have really come to embrace their simplicity, even the familiarity. But then there are so many nuances that set them apart. I can’t say this one would necessarily be high on my list of things to see next but I will say John Wayne is a massive blind spot I have, and I think I’ll be starting to get into those soon. He was my late grandfather’s favorite actor.

    • Wayne was so many people’s favorite. My dad loves him. For me he was pretty hit-or-miss. He has a handful of movies that I really like though.

  2. I first saw this film a few years ago and loved it yet it is a film that my father loved and he told me over how short Alan Ladd was as I had to watch a few scenes again and realized he was wearing boots that made him look taller. That trick worked and it actually helped me enjoy that film even more.

  3. I have had this one in my collection for years but have never watched it. All I knew about it was the quote that Bill Hicks used in his joke about US foreign policy, which he managed to make work even tho I hadn’t seen it. He was a genius tho so that isn’t surprising hehe.
    But now I am very intrigued. I’ll have to add it to that never-ending queue that I’m sure we all have!

      • haha! Boy do I have a ton of unfinished drafts, but I haven’t published anything for a month so I need to finish ’em off, which will probably mean needing to rewatch the movie if possible hehe

      • I finally got back into the swing of things! I finally put up a new review, its It Chapter 2. I’d honestly love to hear your feedback. And I have written five reviews now for TIFF, I just need to wait until I’m allowed to post em. I also have nearly finished a review about a new Aussie war flick.

      • I got up a review of that latest It movie, would like to hear your honest thoughts as its my first review in ages. I need to somehow check your site more often, there is so much good stuff I miss it cos you post so often!

        BTW I rewatched Transit, I’m planning to re-read your review and perhaps ask you a question or two about it on chitter.

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