In simple terms (as this is a simple and straightforward movie), this is about a loner and retired gunfighter named Shane who one day comes across the land of a simple homesteader, and stays to help defend the man against a wealthy cattle baron and his thuggish hired guns.
Even when this was released, the story was nothing new, and yet, there's a very endearing quality about it that makes it hard not to like. I am underwhelmed by it, as I didn't end up loving it like I've been told I should, but relax, I still liked it, even if it did sorta let me down.
Part of the reason may be because of the fact that the stroy is so simple and straight forward. There's nothing really complex or deep on display, although I was suprprised by the ambiguity and maturity of the ending. I wasm't expecting that, but I do really appreciate it. Now, I had the final scene spoiled for me many tiems before, but seeing it in context it was really makes it work, and where the ambiguity comes in. I figured given the time period, it would have been more neat, tidy, and on the nose, but I won't complain with how they decided to do it. Despite the simplicity of the rest of it though, the film sure feels a lot longer than two hours, and the drawn out-ness could have been used to greater effect. Either that or cut the running time down to the bare essentials.
Despite the above nit picking though, this is a pretty solid film. The casting is good, and the performances are quite good. Alan Ladd is terrific as Shane, Jack Palance is in good form as the thug Jack Wilson, and even the little kid Brandon De Wilde isn't annoying enough to derail thigngs. Plus, the cinematogrpahy is just excellent, and I can see why it got so much acclaim back in the day.
The film might be pure cliched formula, and perhaps a tad too sentimental and simple, but it is quite charming, and it has artistic merit. Even though it is overrated and underwhelming (mostly), I still recommend it, as it did help shape popular perception of the west and westerns in a significant way.
Director George Stevens proves again that he is master of fearsomely beautiful environment - and at not letting lurid technicolour overhelm his story.
Great performances all round. Kudos to a young Jack Palance as well.
Although I give this film credit for being tighter than George Stevens' following major dramas, the final product still tends to drag to its two-hour runtime, with bits and pieces of aimless filler that drag down momentum almost as much as, of all things, the soundtrack. It is awkward to criticize the film's usage of Victor Young's score, but greater awkwardness is found within the flow of a lot of scenes, due to the rare abating of atmospheric scoring which grows repetitious once you get so used to the recurring musicality that its eventual extended abandonment proves to be tonally jarring. The plays on the musical tones are made all the more awkward when musical tone is overblown, shaking subtlety by stressing certain tonal beats that are already abrasive enough in the plotting on paper. A few melodramatic beats are mighty hard to ignore in a plot so genuine in so many ways, sort of cheesing up an intriguing drama with now-dated sensibilities that weren't even unique for the time. There are some refreshing elements, but when conventions hit, they hit near-crushingly hard, sending the film down a formulaic path that, while not exactly predictable, is too familiar for you to ignore the thin areas in the narrative formula. Yes, people, when you come down to it, through all of its dragging and tonal bloating, this film's storytelling is ultimately dealing with subject matter that takes too long to kick up, rather than limp along with natural shortcomings as a conceptually minimalist western that, when further shaken up by hiccups to the interpretation of a somewhat light story, fails to transcend underwhelmingness. Of course, the final product does still come close enough to engage just fine through and through, with some solid highlights, even in scoring.
Again, Victor Young's score is formulaic and tonally overwrought, and worse than that, its overusage is exhaustingly abusive, yet it would be more aggravating if the score wasn't of quality, with a classic color that is both entertaining and aesthetically appealing. Loyal Griggs' Oscar-winning cinematography is also attractive, being also more subtle, yet nonetheless realized enough in its moderate grit to catch your eye and compliment locations that are celebrated well enough to be near-immersive in this film which doesn't indeed rely a fair deal on its settings. Style is subtle, but decent, just as substance is subtle, but decent, for although this study on rising bitter relations between a settler and his peers, is overdrawn, melodramatic and minimalist, it's still intriguing, with a certain edge that is done justice by a script by A.B. Guthrie Jr. that isn't too refreshing, but fresh in enough places to hold a dramatic sharpness. This inspiration is further reflected in an overblown directorial performance by George Stevens that, when genuinely realized, engages with tension and resonance that has stood the test of time well enough to bring in some mighty memorable highlights. The highlights are too sparse for the final product to achieve their reward value on the whole, but they still mark enough glimpses into potential to craft a reasonably compelling character study, sold further by character portrayals. The material is dated, but still solid enough to beget solid performances across the board (Well, I did want to strangle the seriously annoying Brandon deWilde on a number of occasions), with Alan Ladd, - as a weary and well-intentioned, but flawed settler - Van Heflin - as a family man who begins to fear for the safety of his loved ones - and the lovely Jean Arthur - as a loving wife who also fears for her home and peers - all sharing layered chemistry that sells a sense of progression in this tense drama about as much as anything. Really, most all the strengths in this drama are a little overrated, but they're plentiful, maybe not enough to overcome the shortcomings, yet still enough for the final product to at least border as rewarding.
When it's all said and done, an excessive length and, oddly enough, usage of scoring, in addition to some histrionics, plenty of conventions and a great deal of natural shortcomings render the final product kind of underwhelming, but with solid scoring, cinematography and locations, some edgy storytelling, and plenty of strong performances, George Stevens' "Shane" stands as an at least borderline rewardingly compelling, if improvable western drama.
2.75/5 - Decent
Acting/characters: Anyone who has seen this movie knows that Alan Ladd steals the show playing the titular character. However that is not to take away from the rest of the cast at all. I mean, Ladd has to be the best in the show because he's the titular character. It's a testament to his performance that he manages to be the best character but he hardly ever says a word. No more than 2 or 3 sentences every so often. I can't imagine how they found the actor to play the kid. He was pretty good even if he was stunningly annoying at times. But int he end, it all came down to Shane. Even if he didn't say much and even if the movie didn't focus on him all the time, he still carried the whole thing and did a good job of it. 10/10
Plot: It's not something that is uncommon for a Western. Gunfights, fistfights, poor homesteaders, evil gunslingers, lone hero etc. My film class delved into how the Western is totally an American genre. No one does westerns like America. Yes you have films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but it's really an all-American genre. That and debatabley the Slasher film but that's off topic. It's a formula that has served the Western well. Shane uses that to great effect here. But the homesteaders here aren't completely defenseless (some are, and some are just stupid). However, despite the fact that this movie is called 'Shane' it isn't about him very much. He's just kinda there. But it really does work. 10/10
Screenplay: SHANE, SHANE COME BACK!! Yeah, you've all heard that line. If not you have now. It really does work. Like I said before, the screenplay doesn't give Shane very many lines. But the screenwriter made sure the lines he did have were really good. There were other really good lines too.
"A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that."
"There's no living with a killing. There's no goin' back from one. Right or wrong, it's a brand... a brand sticks. There's no goin' back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her... tell her everything's alright. And there aren't any more guns in the valley."
excellent stuff. 10/10
Likableness: Shane is an excellent film and I would highly suggest it to anyone, Western fan or not. If nothing else than for Ladd's performance. If good performances doesn't float your boat, then the gunfights and the fistfights in this movie should do it for you (even though there aren't a lot). it is a very well done film. You should all see it if you have not. 10/10
Final Score: 40/40 100% (N)
Tomatometer score: 97%
Tomatometer score if I was added: 97%
TRIVIA TIME: 1. At the time of filming, Jack Palance was not comfortable with horses. The one good mount he achieved during the numerous takes was used in the film.
2. In the funeral scene, the dog consistently refused to look into the grave. Finally, director George Stevens had the dog's trainer lie down in the bottom of the grave, and the dog played his part ably. The coffin (loaded with rocks for appropriate effect) was then lowered into the grave, but when the harmonica player began to play "Taps" spontaneously, the crew was so moved by the scene that they began shoveling dirt into the grave before remembering the dog's trainer was still there.
3. Jean Arthur was over 50 years old when she played Marian Starrett (and this was her last film) - she was, in fact, ten years older than Emile Meyer, who plays grizzled old cattle baron Rufus Ryker.
4. According to the commentary on the DVD, during the scene where Shane and Joe are fighting in the corral, the tied horses were supposed to panic. To instill hysteria in the horses, the director had two men dressed in a bear costumes to scare them.
5. Jean Arthur, a committed animal lover, took it upon herself to personally inspect the conditions that the film's roster of livestock were being kept in. If they wasn't up to her satisfaction, she would ensure that the matter was rectified.
6. When writer A.B. Guthrie Jr. came on board the project, he didn't know what a screenplay looked like.
7. The scene where Alan Ladd practices shooting in front of Brandon De Wilde took 119 takes to complete.
8. During the bar fight between Shane and Calloway, the off-screen voice that says "knock him back the pig-pen" is that of George Stevens.
So on with my review of "Shane":
Though it's stupid as it may sound, part of the reason why I do not like to watch this film before was the almost zero appeal of its poster(it does look very cheap, with Alan Ladd as if purposely looking sideways for the camera)considering the heights that "Shane" had reached ever since). But then I found out, after watching it, that it's one of the more contemplative of "old" westerns, that which dwells not just in common sentiments of former gunfighters being passed by time, but also in the crisis of decisions, the choice to act, and its consequences. Shane is a character unlike any other mythical gunslingers that has graced the silver screens; here is a man not hardened by past violence, but shaken, guilt-ridden, and traumatized by it(it's also the primary theme of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven"). Alan Ladd is heroic, straight, and enigmatic enough for the eponymous role, though in my opinion, he's often overshadowed by Van Heflin's performance as Joe Starrett. Given that more serious westerns has been rising in the mainstream at the time(such as "The Ox-Bow Incident" and its unforgiving commentary on mob lynching), "Shane" is definitely a western film that has carried its theme precisely to where it intends to, and sets the tone for further "moral explorations" in the western world, paving way for the films of the genre more concerned with "what the man with the gun thinks and feels" than "what the gun would do to a man who does not". The common cliche "...and the hero rides into the sunset" is always ever present in a horse opera, with some musical score proclaiming his victory. But "Shane" gave the "sunset" a whole new meaning, and the celebratory score interchanged by a child's lone call. For a hero. For an idol. For a friend.