I'm an Eastwood Western movie fan.
The boy's admiration for the hero, best illustrated in his desperate cries for Shane to come back, as the hero rides out of the movie into the night, touched the hearts of a whole generation of young boys growing up in the 50s and 60s becoming one of the movie industry's most iconic scenes ever. Whether the boy's cries are interpreted as cries for a departing security screen or as cries from a broken heart; coming of age boys learned that as you admired your father, it was also perfectly permissible to simultaneously idolize an alter hero role model as portrayed by the mysterious savior riding out of the mist to sacrificially face up to evil that threatens the order of which you are a part.
The breathtaking majestic mountain scenery of the blue-gray Grand Tetons in Wyoming as backdrop was a valuable addition to the Shane story adding an ingredient of natural awe to the unfolding subplots of the storyline. The theme song of the film "The Call of the Faraway Hills" parallels the backdrop of the entire story. The hero image is cleverly played up in the production as the camera tracks our hero's long horseback trot at dusk into town for the climatic showdown, with the soundtrack accentuating the image of the lone hero riding back into the life that he had failed to shed. The power of this movie is its ability to glorify the gunfighter as it wraps him in pathos.
The western film is one which traditionally moves at a slow pace. Unlike a lot of western films, Shane manages to give itself a strong atmosphere during a lot of the scenes which feature minimal excitement and focus more on the simple character drama of the story. It does that by having a screenplay that constantly gets to the point and a musical score which gives the film a sense of spirit as it develops. It makes things feel as if they move along quicker and therefore makes the experience a stronger one that is more atmospheric than the average western film. It still moves along at a fairly slow pace, but there is rarely ever a feeling of blankness in the atmosphere. While the pacing of the film moves along slowly and goes into a fairly significant decrease within the second half of the film, the atmosphere of the film and the spirit remains constantly present a sense of life to the story which assists it in allowing the emotions of the tale to develop. Shane is one of those western films which is a lot less about the fight and more about the politics and the way that society generally is, and it manages to use a passionate atmosphere to illuminate the drama in the tale. Shane strongly benefits from having George Stevens as director because he makes Shane a genuinely strong drama while incorporating the western elements in from its script without problem. As well as that, George Steven makes the film genuinely good from a technical perspective by capturing a lot of nice scenery with Academy Award winning cinematography. Everything is packed with strong production design and convincing costumes as well. Everything looks good and is edited timely, and it is enhanced by the strength of a powerful musical score which renders it a strong visual and technical experience. Although Shane is a dated film, it balances quality storytelling with being a grand spectacle and stays consistently well scripted. The shootout scenes are also very entertaining because they are choreographed well and capitalise on a lot of strong technical elements including powerful sound effects which leave a striking effect.
It isn't too hard to see why Shane is considered a classic. As a western film, it touches deeply on its concepts within the script and cleverly examines the western setting and the paradox about how if one wants peace, they must prepare for war. It has some complex underlying themes to it even if they are always not 100% clear to viewers or to people who are indifferent to the western genre, for fans of western cinema Shane is a strong example of the genre in its heyday, and it pays a lot of credibility to George Stevens as a film director.
But one of the most touching elements of Shane ends up being its characters and the strong efforts that the cast pour into the film.
One of the primary reasons that Shane is so good is because of who its protagonist is. Instead of being such a dominant tough guy quick to show off how tough he is, he is a more lax and laid back hero. He has the skills, but he uses his brains before his brawn. One of the concepts in the story is that the west has such a harsh setting that it always drags the reluctant back into battle because crime is so prevalent, and Shane is a great example of the archetype in this situation. He refuses to get back into gunfights and will go to every extent in an attempt to avoid violence. Shane is a good man dragged into a war that he wants nothing to do with, and so he represents a very likable and heroic protagonist for the story, and with Alan Ladd in the role, it ends up getting the profile easily. Alan Ladd is spot on in Shane because of how he maintains the right amount of heroism in the part while also really touching upon his humane qualities which makes him more than just an archetype. As a cowboy, he maintains the appropriate level of stoicism while also being able to grip his weapon with confidence and putting up a hell of a fight during a bar brawl scene. But more importantly he constantly remains compelling and maintains plenty of strong line delivery and physical involvement in the story. He is perfectly heroic in the part and so his performance is unforgettable, rendering him one of the more memorable cowboys in film history.
Jean Arthur tuns in a very strong performance in Shane because she is sympathetic and constantly maintains the right level of emotional intensity to carry the material. She shares a tense chemistry with both Alan Ladd and Brandon deWilde. She projects the intense emotional strain of being a woman stuck in a society full of violence which she objects to at every extent which means that the audience is really able to feel something for her, and the implied romance hiddden beneath her chemistry with Alan Ladd makes the story more touching a complicated. Jean Arthur is terrific in Shane.
Brandon deWilde is fairly good in Shane. While at times he can get somewhat annoying mainly because of his overexcited nature as a child, he really strongly conveys the idea of being a troubled child in the west. He puts himself into a fairly complex and mature role, but he handles it well with his natural juvenile charm and instinctive handling of the rough edged material. He interacts with Alan Ladd very well, and so it is easy to make audiences feel the extent of his charm. Brandon deWilde is a good casting decision in Shane.
Jack Palance doesn't precisely get as much screen time as I had hoped, but he makes a hell of an impact during his small role because he fearlessly steps into his part with the ideal level of aggression and insane dedication to the part. He serves as a western figure easily and creates some memorable scenes, so his role in the film is pivotal.
So while Shane is a somewhat dated and slow western film, it is still an absolute classic with a lot of complex themes and a skillful leading performance from Alan Ladd.
I've been looking forward to watching Shane all my life. It is one of those movies which are now part of cinematic mythology and folklore. It is referred to in songs (Roger Waters' 1980s track "Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking" springs immediately to mind).
Thus, now that I finally managed to see it, it is disappointing to discover that it is far from brilliant. Don't get me wrong - it's a fairly good movie - but its is not a masterpiece. Slow moving, overly goody two-shoesy hero and plot, too clear-cut good vs evil theme, a weakish performance in the lead role and another performance that is one of the worst in cinema history. (Yep, I'm referring to the kid with the bad haircut. Incredibly annoying.)
This said, setting and cinematography are fantastic, action scenes are good, and the plot is pretty good, despite the slow development.
Not the classic I was hoping for, but it'll do.
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