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Film / Shane

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"Shane! Come back!"

Shane is a classic 1953 Western film directed by George Stevens, adapted from the novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer.

Determined Homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), his wife Marian (Jean Arthur), and their young son Joey (Brandon deWilde) are running a small farm in an isolated Wyoming valley. A local cattle rancher, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), wants to force them — and the valley's other Nesters — out of their homes; he offers money, but is more than happy to do it with guns and a few hired goons. In the midst of this ongoing conflict, a wanderer in buckskin clothing named Shane (Alan Ladd) meets Starrett, and after a quickly-resolved misunderstanding, Starrett hires Shane to work for him and help protect his family. Shane soon becomes an idol to Joey, who wants to learn how to shoot and hopes Shane can do the teaching. This pushes Shane, Starrett, and Marian into a heated debate about the appropriateness of guns and violence.

Shane ultimately protects the Starretts using violence, knowing that this means he will never be able to settle down to a peaceful life; he is cursed by his previous choices in life to always be a gunslinger, always drifting. After the film's climactic gunfight, Shane tells Joey to run home and tell his mother that she has her wish — that there are "no more guns in the valley". Of course, for this to be true, Shane himself has to leave.

The film's ending is the subject of a famous and long-standing debate: after riding off into the sunset, did Shane live or die?

Nominated for six Academy Awards, winning for Best Color Cinematography. The last big-screen appearance for Jean Arthur, whose Hollywood career dated back to The Roaring '20s. Jack Palance, in one of his most notorious roles, played the murderous gunman Jack Wilson. Essentially remade and combined with High Plains Drifter as the 1985 Clint Eastwood film Pale Rider, with Eastwood basically playing Alan Ladd's role.

Shane includes the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Name Change: Several characters from the novel had their names changed. Robert "Bob" Macpherson Starrett became Joey Starrett, Luke Fletcher became Rufus Ryker and Stark Wilson became Jack Wilson.
  • Adaptation Expansion: It was a two-hour movie made from a novel that barely tops 100 pages. Most of the book's scenes are extended in some way for the movie, and several brand new scenes were created.
  • The Alcoholic: "Stonewall" Torrey is implied to be one on occasion, since he orders a jug every time he goes into Grafton's.
  • Bang, Bang, BANG: There are some damned loud guns in this movie. Notably, the very first time a gun is fired (as Shane teaches Joey how to shoot), it's much louder than any other gunfire—the sound was recorded by firing a pistol into a garbage pail. This was done to startle the viewers and hint at approaching violence in what is otherwise a fairly quiet, domestic scene.
  • Bar Brawl: Shane starts one with Calloway to repay the way Calloway insulted him the first time he came into town. He beats Calloway, then challenges the rest of Ryker's gang. Starret has to wade in with a club, and they defeat all of them.
  • Berserk Button: Played with, in the case of calling Wilson "a low-down Yankee liar". He smiles in amusement at the insult...and then demands that his insulter "prove it".
  • Big Bad: Rufus Ryker will stop at nothing to drive the farmers off their land so he can use it for his cattle.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ranch is saved, but Shane is left to Walk the Earth—if he isn't bleeding to death.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • One of the few good westerns to use the Black Hat White Hat Trope straight.
    • Strictly speaking, Shane's hat is gray, appropriate to his moral ambiguity.
  • Constantly Curious: Joey is forever asking questions of Shane.
  • Creator Cameo: During the bar fight between Shane and Calloway, the off-screen voice that says "knock him back to the pig-pen" is that of George Stevens.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: When Joey cocks his rifle, Shane instinctively drops into a crouch and grabs for his revolver, revealing that he's a gunfighter rather than the mild-mannered traveler he was trying to look like.
  • Dark Reprise: Fred plays "Dixieland" to tease Torrey, and everyone sings "Abide with Me" at the party. They do the same, but in a much more sombre tempo, at Torrey’s funeral.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: Shane and Calloway become friends after their bar fight.
  • Determined Homesteader: Joe Starrett refuses to move off of his land in spite of any threats. He also tries getting the other farmers to band together and stand up to Ryker.
  • The Dragon: Jack Wilson is brought in by Ryker to enforce his will on the homesteaders. Wilson kills Torrey, and Shane ultimately has to get through Wilson to beat Ryker.
  • Due to the Dead: When the other farmers flee after Torrey's murder, Starett persuades them into staying just long enough to give Torrey a proper funeral.
  • Empathic Environment: The confrontation between Starrett and Shane is one of the best examples of this trope.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Chris Calloway may be a bully who tries to pick a fight with Shane several times, but when he realizes Ryker plans to kill Starrett after Torrey's death, he turns on his boss.
  • Fake Shemp: Alan Ladd did not ride the horse in the last scene where Shane rides away. A famous rodeo man who was also of short stature worked as the double.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Ryker waits for the Staretts on their farm when they come back from the Fourth of July celebration and attempts to persuade them that he has the better rights to the land. He then says that they ought to work for him instead. But he brings along several goons as well, and he goes right back to hostility when the Starretts refuse.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Inverted in terms of casting. Elisha Cook Jr. normally played this type of character, but in this film, he plays a good guy—Frank "Stonewall" Torrey, a Southern Determined Homesteader and friend of the Starrets. In every other respect, he lives "up" to this trope to a T: Torrey is a consistent failure and he resents the fact that neither friends nor enemies take him seriously, but he is determined to stand up for himself and the Lost Cause. All of this sets him up as an all-too-easy victim to one of the most effective and unsympathetic villains in Western film history.
  • Ironic Echo
    • "You're a low down, lying Yankee." Frank "Stonewall" Torrey
    • "Prove it." Jack Wilson
    • "Bye, little Joe." Shane, if he was mortally wounded
  • Knight Errant: Shane is a wandering gunfighter who automatically steps to the defense of Starrett when Ryker tries to intimidate him, in spite of Starrett's initial (but understandable) unfriendliness.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The other farmers are all set to leave in the wake of Torrey's death, even after Starrett's speech. When they see that Ryker's men have set fire to Lewis's farm, they get their spines back.
  • No Place for Me There: Shane defeats the villains threatening the farmers by using deadly violence, and in his parting speech to Joey he tells the boy he must leave, and that there are 'no more guns in the valley', recognizing his own violent nature prevents him from settling in the very place of peace he saved.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Shane rides away after defeating the villains, as the little boy who admires him cries, "Shane! Come back!"
  • Older Than They Look: Jean Arthur was over fifty years old in this film, ten years older than the actor who played Ryker. She doesn't look it at all.
  • Re-Cut: A small but vital one: depending on what version you watch, you may actually hear Joey's voice calling out "Bye, Shane!" in the last shot of Shane riding off. Narratively, the difference has a contrast of Joey accepting that Shane has to go, compared to a refusal of the idea (where his last words are "Come back!").
  • Retired Gunfighter: The film implies that Shane used to be a dangerous gunfighter. Now he seems content to work as a farmhand for Starrett...until Ryker forces him to fight again.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The music cues for the climactic ride that Shane takes to the showdown are from an earlier Paramount film Rope of Sand.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Historians still debate whether Shane dies while riding away on his horse, slumped over.
  • Rousing Speech: Starrett tries to give one (though subdued, giving the setting) to the other families at Torrey's funeral, entreating them to stay and stand up to Ryker. Shane backs him up, but it's not until they see Ryker burning Lewis's farm that they finally listen.
  • Scenery Porn: The film was shot in glorious Technicolor in Wyoming's Jackson Hole valley.
  • Self-Defense Ruse: Wilson goads Torrey into going for a gun, then kills him. He then addresses the on-lookers:
    You all saw him, he had a gun.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Shane is pretty jumpy in the beginning, upon hearing Joey cocking a rifle, and later when a cow clangs into something.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Wilson has eight minutes of screen time and less than fifty words of dialogue—but Jack Palance made the most of it. On a more meta level, Wilson is considered one of the definitive Western bad guys ever, and it is one of Palance's most remembered roles, despite him having acted for more than fifty years in over seventy movies.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Wilson never raises his voice once. His challenge to "prove it" is hardly above a whisper, and he has a rather unsettling smile on his face the whole time.
  • Talent Double: Shane's fancy gun twirling in the climactic showdown was actually performed by Rodd Redwing. When Shane demonstrates his prowess for Joey earlier in the movie, and it is clearly Alan Ladd on camera, Ladd is using a different, easier-to-use revolver for the scene (it took him over a hundred takes to get it right).
  • Tempting Fate: Torrey does this when he tries to stand up to Wilson. He gets a bullet planted in his chest as a result.
  • Twilight of the Old West: Implied by this exchange:
    Shane: Yeah, you've lived too long. Your kind of days are over.
    Ryker: My days? What about yours, gunfighter?
    Shane: The difference is, I know it.
  • Uncertain Doom: One of the most famous examples in cinematic history. Whether Shane survived the wounds he sustained in the climactic battle is debated to this very day.
  • Worthy Opponent: Shane gains Chris Calloway's respect after beating him in a brawl. This is implied to be one of the factors behind Calloway's Heel–Face Turn, as he makes it a point to go to Shane in secret to let him know.