“Shane. Shane! Come back! Bye, Shane.”
It’s a classic line, but it’s from a film that I had never seen until now, thanks to the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book recommending it following my screening of High Noon.
Alan Ladd is the titular character, a weary gunfighter, looking to restart his life, and leave the violence behind. He tries to settle down on a homestead, but a flare up of trouble between ranchers and settlers may draw him back into a world he was trying to forget.
Jean Arthur joins Shane in the cast as Marian Starrett (with whom Shane shares a dose of romantic attraction to, and which is returned), Van Heflin plays her husband Joe, and young Brandon De Wilde plays their son, Joey. Meanwhile, Jack Palance plays Wilson, and Elisha Cook Jr. is Stonewall Torrey.
I’ll be honest, I don’t care for his costume (except his hat), but from the get-go, I really enjoyed Ladd’s performance. From the moment he arrives on the Starrett homestead, to the film’s final frame, Ladd owns this movie. He has a quiet sense of menace when he confronts some ranchers in the saloon, and a playful sense of fun in his dealings with Joey, who begins to idolize Shane.
Shane is reticent to get involved in any of the violence, intent on leaving his past behind him, but as he settles into a working hand on Starrett’s land, trouble seems to find him as Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), the head of the local ranchers, stir things up in an effort to get the settlers off ‘their’ land.
The saloon brawl is a standout set piece, not as glossy as a Saturday matinee fistfight, this one is rough and bloody, and both Shane and Joe get bloodied and bruised for their efforts. It’s well choreographed, and everyone gets there licks in.
Marian warns Joey not to get too attached to Shane, as she knows he’s the type that will move on when the time is right, but that doesn’t stop the entire Starrett family from falling for him in one way or another, as do the rest of the settlers.
When Ryker brings in Wilson as a hired gun, things really escalate, and we’re left to wonder if Shane will ever be able to leave violence behind or if it will follow him through his life because of who he is, or is he the spark that just sets it off wherever he goes? And yet he also serves as a unifying force for the settlers… interesting.
The final confrontation is everything you would expect from a western, as Shane commits violence so that Joe won’t have to.
Shane and the Starretts make a great family, and you can see that Shane takes a real joy and pleasure working on their homestead, and that it’s painful for him to leave it, even after all that happens in the film.
It’s a gorgeous looking film, and it’s no surprise that it took home the Oscar for Best Cinematography. I loved seeing it, and glad I can finally say I have seen it. Classic.