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USA 1953
Directed by
George Stevens
118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Shane

To his credit, the under-appreciated Stevens liked to tackle big issues. He also had a penchant for mythopoeticising. Both characteristics are in evidence in this classic Wyoming-set western that deals with the struggles between the original Wild West settlers and the second generation of small claim homesteaders who followed in their footsteps, pretty much the same subject matter that Michael Cimino would tackle in Heaven’s Gate some 30 years later.

Alan Ladd plays Shane a one-time gunslinger who accepts work as a labourer at the farm of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and his wife, Marian ( Jean Arthur) and their young son, Joey (Brandon de Wilde). There is no peace for Shane however as evil cattle baron Tyker (Emile Meyer) is trying to rid his land of the upstart settlers and hire gun-man Wilson ( “Walter” Jack Palance) to do his dirty work.

Although dated by its homage to 1950s family values and arguably by a strangely over-insistent preoccupation with de Wilde as the hero-worshipping child whose point-of-view is (almost literally with the number of upward looking shots) pretty much that of the film there is no doubt that Shane is a superior western, with Stevens near-beatifying the iconic Lone Hero whose Christ-like self-abnegation makes it possible for ordinary society to  continue.

Loyal Griggs's landscape photography adds to the mythic quality that is achieved with surprisingly little other than sure-footed pacing as Stevens modulates the overall tension with individual scenes, such as the opening one in which Joey stalks a near-tame deer or when blowhard Stonewall Torrey (a near-ludicrously cast Elisha Cook Jr) faces off Wilson with a remarkably abrupt result. A.B. Guthrie Jr.'s screenplay, adapted from the Jack Schaefer novel,is a cut well-above the usual goodies and baddies genre opposition,

Although the film is understandably identified with Ladd, who,despite his rather lame wardrobe, does a solid job as the über-male hero, Van Heflin actually does more acting and is quite effective as an honest farmer Joe. In an unlikely casting choice Jean Arthur, in her last film, gets little to do but in his biggest role to that date Palance is excellent as the black-hatted villain.

 

 

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