Shane is a 1953 American Western film from Paramount Pictures, noted for its landscape cinematography, editing, performances, and contributions to the genre. The picture was produced and directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by A. B. Guthrie Jr., based on the 1949 novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer. Its Oscar-winning cinematography was by Loyal Griggs. Shane stars Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur and Van Heflin. It was the last feature (and only color) film of Arthur's career. The film features Brandon deWilde, Jack Palance, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook Jr., and Ben Johnson.
Shane was listed No. 45 in the 2007 edition of AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list, and No. 3 on AFI's 10 Top 10 in the 'Western' category.
Shane, a laconic but skilled gunfighter with a mysterious past, is a drifter who rides into an isolated valley in the sparsely settled Wyoming Territory, sometime after the Civil War. He is hired as a farmhand by local rancher Joe Starrett who lives as a homesteader with his wife, Marian, and their young son, Joey. Starrett tells Shane that a war of intimidation is being waged on the valley's settlers. Though they have claimed their land legally under the Homestead Acts, a ruthless cattle baron, Rufus Ryker, has hired various rogues and henchmen to harass them and force them out of the valley.
Shane goes to town alone to buy supplies at Grafton's, a general store with an adjacent saloon. Shane enters the saloon where Ryker's men are drinking and orders a soda pop for Joey. Chris Calloway, one of Ryker's men, ridicules and taunts Shane by dumping his drink on Shane, but Shane ignores him and leaves. On Shane's next trip to town with the Starretts and other homesteaders, he defeats Calloway, and then he and Starrett win a bar room brawl against most of Ryker's other men. Ryker promises the next fight will be with guns. Ryker hires Jack Wilson, an unscrupulous and notoriously skilled gunfighter. Joey admires Shane, much to his mother's chagrin, after Shane demonstrates his shooting skills.
Frank "Stonewall" Torrey, a hot-tempered ex-Confederate homesteader, is taunted by Wilson, who then shoots Torrey dead outside the saloon. At Torrey's funeral, the settlers discuss abandoning their struggle and leaving the valley; but after witnessing a fire set by Ryker's men, they find new resolve to continue the fight.
Ryker invites Starrett to a meeting at the saloon to negotiate a settlement with the purpose of killing him. Calloway, no longer loyal to Ryker, warns Shane of the double-cross. Shane and Starrett argue over who will go into town to face Wilson. The two fight, with Shane knocking Starrett unconscious. Shane rides to town with Joey following on foot to watch the fight. Shane kills Wilson, Ryker, and Ryker's brother but gets injured. Outside, Shane sees Joey, who notices Shane is bleeding. In an iconic closing scene, Shane bids farewell and rides off into the valley, ignoring Joey's desperate cries of "Shane, come back!"
Behind the scenes of the filming of Shane
Shane was expensive for a Western movie at the time with a cost of $3.1 million. It was the first film to be projected in "flat" widescreen, a format that Paramount invented in order to offer audiences a wider panorama than television could provide.
Although never explicitly stated, the basic plot elements of Shane were derived from the 1892 Johnson County War in Wyoming, the archetypal cattlemen–homesteaders conflict, which also served as the background for The Virginian and Heaven's Gate. The physical setting is the high plains near Jackson, Wyoming, and many shots feature the Grand Teton massif looming in the near distance. The fictional town and Starrett homestead were constructed for the film near Kelly, in the Jackson Hole valley, and demolished after filming was completed. One vintage structure that appeared briefly in the film, the Ernie Wright Cabin (now popularly referred to by locals as the "Shane Cabin") still stands, but is steadily deteriorating due to its classification as "ruins" by the National Park Service.
Ladd disliked and was uncomfortable with guns; Shane's shooting demonstration for Joey required 116 takes. A careful review of Shane's gun skill demonstration to Joey shows Alan Ladd firing with his eyes closed. Later, in the saloon battle, Ladd's pistol is pointed well away from the man he shoots, especially the final scene where he kills Ryker's brother. Palance was nervous around horses, and had great difficulty with mounting and dismounting. After very many attempts, he finally executed a flawless dismount, which Stevens then used for all of the Wilson character's dismounts and—run in reverse—his mounts as well. Palance looked so awkward on horseback that Stevens was forced to replace Wilson's introductory ride into town astride his galloping horse with Palance riding at walking pace. Stevens later noted that the change actually made Wilson's entrance more dramatic and menacing.
The final scene, in which the wounded Shane explains to a distraught Joey why he has to leave ("There's no living with a killing"), was a moving moment for the entire cast and crew, except Brandon deWilde. "Every time Ladd spoke his lines of farewell, deWilde crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue, making Ladd laugh. Finally, Ladd called to the boy's father, 'Make the kid stop or I'll beat him over the head.' DeWilde behaved."
Director George Stevens originally wanted Montgomery Clift and William Holden for the Shane and Starrett roles; when both proved unavailable, Stevens asked Paramount executive Y. Frank Freeman for a list of available actors with current contracts; within three minutes he chose Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, and Jean Arthur. Shane was Arthur's first cinematic role in five years, and her last, at the age of 50—though she later appeared in theater, and a short-lived television series. She accepted the part at the request of Stevens, who had directed her in The Talk of the Town (1942) and The More the Merrier (1943) for which she received her only Oscar nomination.
When asked if he enjoyed the movie, the author of Shane, Jack Schaefer, replied, “Yeah, I did, all except for that runt", referring to the five-foot-six Ladd. In 1989 Schaefer told the Oberlin alumni magazine that his Shane character was supposed to be a “dark, deadly person" who he had hoped would be played by George Raft.
Although the film was shot using the standard 1.37:1 Academy ratio, Paramount picked Shane to debut their new wide-screen system because it was composed largely of long and medium shots that would not be compromised by cropping the image. Using a newly cut aperture plate in the movie projector, as well as a wider-angle lens, the film was exhibited in first-run venues at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. For its premier, the studio replaced the 34-by-25-foot screen in Radio City Music Hall with one measuring 50 feet wide by 30 feet high. Paramount produced all of its subsequent films at that ratio until 1954, when they switched to 1.85:1. Shane was originally released in April 1953 with a conventional optical soundtrack; but as its popularity grew, a new three-track, stereophonic soundtrack was recorded and played on an interlocking 35mm magnetic reel in the projection booth.
Stevens wanted to demonstrate to audiences "the horrors of violence". To emphasize the terrible power of gunshots, he created a cannon-like sound effect by firing a large-calibre weapon into a garbage can. In addition, he had the two principal shooting victims—Palance and Elisha Cook Jr.—rigged with hidden wires that jerked them violently backward when shot. These innovations, according to film historian Jay Hyams, marked the beginning of graphic violence in Western movies. He quotes Sam Peckinpah: "When Jack Palance shot Elisha Cook Jr. in Shane, things started to change."
"That's just what I need – to get advice from a guy who never saw Shane."
—Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzarelli, Happy Days
Shane premiered in New York City at Radio City Music Hall on April 23, 1953, and grossed $114,000 in its four weeks there. In all, the film earned $8 million in North America over its initial run.
Bosley Crowther called the film a "rich and dramatic mobile painting of the American frontier scene". He continued:
Shane contains something more than the beauty and the grandeur of the mountains and plains, drenched by the brilliant Western sunshine and the violent, torrential, black-browed rains. It contains a tremendous comprehension of the bitterness and passion of the feuds that existed between the new homesteaders and the cattlemen on the open range. It contains a disturbing revelation of the savagery that prevailed in the hearts of the old gun-fighters, who were simply legal killers under the frontier code. And it also contains a very wonderful understanding of the spirit of a little boy amid all the tensions and excitements and adventures of a frontier home.
Crowther called "the concept and the presence" of Joey, the little boy played by Brandon deWilde, "key to permit[ting] a refreshing viewpoint on material that's not exactly new. For it's this youngster's frank enthusiasms and naive reactions that are made the solvent of all the crashing drama in A. B. Guthrie Jr.'s script."
Woody Allen has called Shane "George Stevens' masterpiece", on his 2001 list of great American films, along with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, White Heat, Double Indemnity, The Informer and The Hill. Shane, he wrote, "... is a great movie and can hold its own with any film, whether it's a Western or not."
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Shane has a 97% critical approval rating, based on 33 reviews.
Influence on later works
The 1980 Japanese film A Distant Cry from Spring (遙かなる山の呼び声) features a similar plot.
The 1985 film Pale Rider is partly inspired by Shane, with Clint Eastwood playing a mysterious stranger who comes to the aid of gold prospectors terrorized by a mining tycoon.
In his 1997 album Arizona Bay, Bill Hicks parodies Jack Palance's role in Shane with track 8, "Bullies of the World", likening an unspecified "we", the arms producing countries, to Jack Wilson taunting the farmer to "pick up the gun".
In the 1998 film The Negotiator, the two leading characters have a discussion about Western genre films, Shane in particular. Arguing about the ending, Chris Sabian says Shane died, and Danny Roman says "he's slumped 'cause he's shot. Slumped don't mean dead."
The 2017 film Logan drew substantial thematic inspiration from Shane, and formally acknowledged the influence with a series of specific dialog references and scene clips. Shane's farewell words to Joey are recited, verbatim, in the closing scene.
Awards and honors
- Academy Award
- Academy Award nominations
- American Film Institute recognition
In 1993, Shane was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".
Copyright status in Japan
In 2006 Shane was the subject of litigation in Japan involving its copyright status in that country. Two Japanese companies began selling budget-priced copies of Shane in 2003, based on a Japanese copyright law that, at the time, protected cinematographic works for 50 years from the year of their release. After the Japanese legislature amended the law in 2004 to extend the duration of motion picture copyrights from 50 to 70 years, Paramount and its Japanese distributor filed suit against the two companies. A Japanese court ruled that the amendment was not retroactive, and therefore any film released during or prior to 1953 remained in the public domain in Japan.
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