Thoughts on ‘Shane’ (1953)

The 3rd of the classic westerns that I’ve watched (the other being The Searchers and Red River), I was engrossed by Shane; it’s a brilliant, a tremendous film.

Technically it is an impressive film. From the opening shot of the mountain valley and the deer sipping at the stream, it is beautifully shot and edited. As befitting the physical setting and the genre, it moves at a stately pace. Within this, it serves the human drama and dramatic violence of the western genre with sequences of bewitching intensity and power: the fights and shootouts, the felling of the trees stump, the burial on the hill. George Stevens impresses as a director of intelligence.

It’s also an thoughtful film: characters are humanized and explained. Ryker can explain his grievances with the Starrets. Shane can reflect (inwardly) on his utility and the value of his past. There’s also the redemptive aspect: at the start of the film, the Starrets and the other settlers appear doomed – to be destroyed and scattered. They are presented as pathetic: a meek, cowering presence presenting little resistance to the ruthless warlord opposing them. It is only Shane’s arrival and his knowledge and skill and ultimately his ‘destructive’ power than can rescue them from destruction via Ryker’s men and the mirroring ‘evil’ angel embodied by Wilson.

The redemptive power of the title character goes beyond the homesteaders as a group and fuels a theme within the characterisations, of personal destiny. Joe is a straightforward and somewhat uncomplicated, but a not incapable and unresourceful man. We find him floundering a little in providing the group with leadership in the face of Ryker’s assaults on their property and morale. Marian is a woman who, for all her love for her man,  perhaps had higher expectations in life than being cooped up on a farm holding. And Joey is an impressionable, extroverted boy who instantly idolises the stranger. Shane’s arrival and presence gives them a window out of their present lives, until of course, he has to depart them (though unlike in Theorem, we don’t see what happens next).

So Shane plays out as a four hander, rather than the solo drama I had imagined it to be (and a much more rewarding film than anything I could have second-guessed). Alan Ladd as the title character was an unusual presence – he resembled an aging surf idol. He plays it very though well – strong, silent; tough with introspection; a character who can straddle rather than overshadow the film and its themes.

In summary on Shane, a instant favourite and a classic.




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