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#69 - Shane

Yes, folks, it's another western (and not the last). This 1953 entry stars Alan Ladd as the titular character, a mysterious gunslinger who gets embroiled in a conflict between a homesteading family (played by Van Helfin and Jean Arthur) and a ruthless cattle baron. George Stevens directs.

Okay, okay, okay. I'm starting to come around on the westerns. I have disliked all of the westerns we've seen for this project, but I dislike this one less. I think the gap between viewing and reviewing this film (I saw it last May) actually helped because it seems better looking back. I gave it 2 stars on Netflix back then, but I changed that to a 3 while writing this review. How's that for growth?

Shane has many of the hallmarks of a good western: the simple story that never plays out as simple as it sounds, the universal moral conflicts of good vs. evil played out by people who aren't quite either, and the vast, breathtaking and imposing landscapes that frame it all. I have seen these now several times and am beginning to understand the subtleties of how they are used to good effect.

One thing that I think Shane has in abundance over other westerns are the characters. We've seen plenty of morally ambiguous characters, but everyone in this movie felt real instead of just needlessly complex. Shane himself is a hero, yes, but one who knows the same heroic qualities than enable him to save the day are the same qualities that mean he must not stay, leading to the heartbreaking and iconic final scene as the young boy who has idolized Shane implores him to come back as he rides away.

The relationships that develop between Shane and his adopted family members are natural, and the consequences that ensue due to the story make intuitive sense. I enjoyed the interplay between Shane and the family, between the family and the other homesteaders, between Shane and the ranchers. It seemed well constructed. We don't have to like the way the film turns out, but it is satisfying nonetheless.

The characters also appealed to me in a fashion that has been honed by many years of reading comic books and fantasy novels and playing computer games. I always enjoy seeing characters who are obviously powerhouses in their particular realm of existence match up against one another. If you rated every character in the movie on a gunslinging scale from 1 to 10, it's obvious that Shane gets a 10. Jack Wilson (played by a young and fantastic Jack Palance) gets a 9, which is plenty good enough to have him be a nigh-unstoppable force of evil in the movie. But Shane will get the best of him, and does. This is despite, or perhaps even because of, Shane's awareness of the Spider-Man Credo ("With great power comes great responsibility").

This curiously mechanical viewpoint on conflict is something I see and enjoy in a lot of media, so the fact that I get this feeling from this film isn't really unusual, but I figured it bore mentioning anyway.

So yeah. It's still a western, which means it is automatically hokey, backwards and artificial to me. The themes could have been easily explored in some other genre that I would have enjoyed watching more. But as far as westerns go, it was okay.

(See this post if you're confused why I'm reviewing movies.)


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Comments (1)

Jessica Holada:

I don't know if these are on your list, but there are two westerns I can heartily recommend that are far from hokey: 1) The recent (albeit long), uttery amazing Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. 2) The 70s gem Bad Company with a young Jeff Bridges. Both these films are about opportunists, with the former exploring the already established myth (by the 1870s-80s) of the wild west outlaw through the eyes of a normal (or not so normal) Joe. I can also recommend My Darling Clementine with Henry Fonda. It's a darn good oldie with superb acting and cinematography. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Shane, and for reminding me of the Spider-Man credo - a character motivation that always makes for good storytelling.


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