MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #45. Shane (1953)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.


“A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.”

When I wrote about The Unforgiven, I called it the last great Western.  And everything that makes me think that about that movie is its realism.  It’s dirty, it’s dangerous, and there’s no such thing as a hero.  Now while that might be what’s so great about that particular movie, there’s still something more than appealing about classic Westerns.  Movies from the technicolor days, when good guys were pure, bad guys were evil and there was an artificial hokiness to everything.  Somewhere in between the gritty realism and the colourful artificialness, is Shane.

Riding from nowhere in particular, to somewhere even more vague, Shane (Alan Ladd) comes across the farm of Joe Starrett (Van Helfin), his wife Marian (Jean Arthur) and young son Joey (Brandon deWilde).  When Shane witnesses local cattle baron Ryker (Emile Meyer) try to strong arm Joe and his family off their struggling farm, he steps in and uses his intimidating look and the six shooter on his belt to help scare Ryker away.  Joe invites Shane in for dinner as a thank you, and soon, Shane is living with the Starrett family, helping tend their farm, and inspiring more than a little hero worship from Joey.

It turns out that the Starretts are just one family that Ryker is trying to drive away.  And as the homesteaders rally together to resist Ryker’s intimidations, Ryker calls in some muscle, in the form of black hat wearing gunslinger, Wilson (Jack Palance).  Where the conflicts were once scuffles and fisticuffs in the general store, things get a lot more serious, and it’s only a matter of time before real blood is spilled.

On the surface, Shane looks like a classic Western, where guns never run out of bullets, the cowboys dress a little like kids in Halloween costumes and the line between good and evil is a little too conveniently defined.  But it doesn’t take long before that surface sheen is warn away to show something more in line with the Westerns that would follow.

Shane might be the hero of the movie, but it’s obvious that he has a dark past.  And even his heroics here probably aren’t even close to making up for the bad things he’s done.  And like The Unforgiven, Shane is a Western where every shot fired counts.  No gratuitous gun fights where a hail of bullets is exchanged.  No good guy shooting a gun out of a bad guy’s hand so we don’t have contend with the fact that our hero may be a killer.  The few times guns come out of holsters in Shane, they come out for real reason, and they have real consequences.

I have nothing to base this on apart my own uneducated opinion, but I really think Shane might be a stepping stone between classic westerns, and their neo descendants that would come out of Italy in the 60s.  The classics are great, but Shane started a revolution that needed to happen if the Western was going to remain a viable genre.  And I’m really glad it did.

Directed By – George Stevens
Written By – A.B. Guthrie Jr.

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to From Here to Eternity)
Best Director (Stevens nominated, lost to Fred Zinnemann for From Here to Eternity)
Best Supported Actor (Palance nominated, lost Frank Sinatra for Form Here to Eternity)
Best Supporting Actor (deWilde nominated, lost Frank Sinatra for Form Here to Eternity)
Best Story and Screenplay (nominated, lost to From Here to Eternity)

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