At first glance, George Stevens’ Shane, while beautifully shot, might appear to be similar to countless other Westerns. A lone gunman looking to start a new life rides into town and ends up reluctantly using his guns in defense of the good townspeople against the hired thugs of the local cattle baron. In reality, the story has a lot more going on just below the surface.
Based on the Jack Schaefer novel, the story begins in a sparse Wyoming Valley, where the Starrett family—Joe (Van Heflin), his wife Marian (Jean Arthur), and son Joey (Brandon de Wilde)—having staked their claim, are members of a small group of homesteaders determined to eke out a living on land dominated by big cattle interests. Ruthless cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is doing everything possible to force the homesteaders off the land. Shane (Alan Ladd) rides into this increasingly volatile environment.
From the moment Shane rides onto the Starrett homestead there’s something mysterious about him. It’s fairly obvious that he’s a gunfighter with a past, but those details are never revealed and we’re given no inkling about where he’s come from. Immediately, young Joey is drawn to Shane and his gun. In Joey’s eyes, through whose eyes we see most of the film, Shane is the perfect hero and any wrong is quickly forgiven. Nonetheless, initially Shane seems a bit uneasy. You can’t help but think he might have a few dark secrets in his past.
Shane agrees to be Joe Starrett’s hired hand. He quickly becomes attached to the family; hero worshipped by Joey and sharing an obvious chemistry with Marian. Both Joe and Joey notice their obvious attraction for each other, but trust that neither will take it beyond friendship. Shane rides into town exchanging his buckskins for some store-bought clothes and a bottle of soda pop. Tough guy Calloway (Ben Johnson) throws a drink on Shane’s new shirt. Shane leaves quietly. A few days later, Shane goes back to the bar to return the soda bottle. He buys two whiskeys, throws one on Calloway’s shirt, another on his face and then proceeds to beat him to a pulp, in one of the best fistfights ever captured on film.
It’s only after Shane and Joe show they’re willing to stand up to his men that Ryker decides to bring in a hired gun to handle the situation. A young Jack Palance plays the hired gun, dressed all in black. He makes the perfect western bad guy, He only has a few lines, but he stands menacingly every time he appears on screen. When Ryker says, “I’ll kill him [Starrett] if I have to.” Palance gets one of the best lines in the movie when he says, “You mean, I’ll kill him, if you have to.”
Predictably, the story leads to a final gunfight. Shane knows he must pick up his guns again and do what he can’t let Joe do. Shane knows that once the killing is done, the killer will have to leave town and Joe needs to stay with his family. Knowing this, Shane does what he has to do. Despite his attempts, being a farmer was never in the cards for Shane; instead it was a brief respite from his life as a gunfighter.
Ladd underplays Shane to perfection. While Palance seemingly towered over him—Ladd was reportedly anywhere between 5’5″ and 5’7″—but Ladd gave Shane an inner confidence that seemed to allow him to tower over everyone in his path.
Framed at 1.37:1, this 1080p transfer looks wonderful. The picture is glorious (due in large part to the cinematography of Loyal Griggs, who won an Oscar for his work here), the image is consistently impressive; colors look natural and the image is sharp throughout. Some of the outdoor scenes look simply stunning.
The mono DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is good as well, though not quite as impressive as the video. There are a couple of occasions when the orchestral score crowds out the dialogue a bit, but that’s a fairly minor quibble. Gunshots and other effects come through rather well amd dialogue is decipherable throughout the presentation.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
The following special features are included. They were ported over from Paramount’s 2000 DVD of Shane. :
- Commentary with George Stevens, Jr. and Associate Producer Ivan Moffat: Stevens served as an uncredited production assistant to his father on Shane, and Moffat worked closely with Stevens, Sr. on the film and later wrote the screenplay for Giant. Their memories are amazing, considering the amount of time that has passed, and Stevens has the benefit of his father’s notes and correspondence, which he reads from at appropriate times.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:59)