One Sentence about … Shane

ShaneShane (George Stevens, 1953) contains some magnificently off-kilter action scenes, fast-cut punch-up montages such as the sequence where Alan Ladd and Van Helflin brawl in a farmyard of panicking animals, and the mountains of Wyoming look incredible, but day by day, it gets harder for me to watch the long, slow build-up towards heroic, retributive and cathartic gun violence.

4 thoughts on “One Sentence about … Shane

  1. !!…..SPOILERS……!!
    ………………but what a long, slow build-up towards heroic, retributive and cathartic gun violence……it is!
    I love this film. This build-up is what makes the film. Why Shane cares enough to go out and (from what it appears to me) get himself shot and to leave these people and the life that he has come to love.
    George Stevens does not waste this build-up…..he fills it with a sense of foreboding (Wilson/Tory), a great bar room brawl (although that is definitely not Alan Ladd in some of that fight), some wonderful advice (a gun is a tool etc.), a wonderful sense of camaraderie (the burning of the farm) and the love of a way of life that a man of Shane’s past can never have no matter how hard he tries. Some great acting……..Ladd and Heflin never better and Palance………what a film debut (prove it)!
    All GREAT Westerns have a slow build-up to that special ending…….The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Palance and Lee Marvin-the best Western villains ever), High Noon, The 3.10 to Yuma (Heflin again) and Pale Rider! These are all waits, worth waiting for!

    • Hi, St Ronald. Thanks for the opportunity to expand upon my one sentence! I sometimes like to set myself these little exercises in concision to force me to post something regularly, but of course it’s never enough to summarise a film, just one single thought about it. I had never seen Shane until this week. I do enjoy Westerns from time to time, and this has a really mythic quality to it, especially in the shape a reluctant hero with a blank backstory. All my favourite Westerns express ambivalence about violent action (Unforgiven, Liberty Valance, etc.), with the possible exception of Once Upon a Time in the West, where the final showdown is epic and delicious. But they all trick me into yearning for the hero to break out his gunslinger moves and exact some vengeance. That may well be part of their plan, to confront my own anti-violence, anti-gun principles with challenging dead-ends for pacifists, but I’ve been finding it unsettling, due to the depressingly continuous parade of US gun murders in the news: I should add that I watched Shane on Thursday, as reports were coming in of the on-air murders of two journalists in Virginia. I’m sick of guns, and uneasy about the contribution of cowboy mythologies to the validation of frontier justice and justified killing. I can’t blame Shane and friends, but I can feel unsettled by its message, even if the film too is careful about what it teaches the young boy around whom the plot pivots.

      What impressed me in Shane was the strangeness and scruffiness of the fist-fighting. The cutaways to farm animals, blocking the fight through doors and behind window frames – yes, it hides the faces of stuntmen, but it also makes the fights messy and desperate, disruptive of the world around them.

      • Dan, I’m from Australia and we too have our share of gun violence, although, it’s not as prevalent as the U.S. Obviously the gun laws over there need a major overhaul and it would take many years to bring the possession of guns to an acceptable level, whatever that may be. These archaic gun laws probably started in the “Wild West” and continued through “Prohibition” and have never been revamped. Correct me if I am wrong, but it is indeed a major problem and George Stevens, the Director of Shane knew that guns were a problem back then.
        Mr. Stevens actually went to World War II as a Photographer/Filmmaker of Documentaries detailing many aspects of the War. He saw the results of gunshot wounds/deaths first hand. When he made Shane, he recalled older Western films and how the hero would get shot in the arm and bounce back up (“Forget it darlin’, it’s just a scratch”) and then wipe out all the bad guys whilst rolling around in the dirt.
        He remembered how he witnessed soldiers getting their arms, legs and heads blown off. He wanted people to be scared by guns. Thus, the gunshots in Shane (and trust me, there is only a half a dozen or so) do damage and the receivers of these gunshots do NOT get up again, except of course Shane, who rides off slightly slumped on his horse (to die, I believe).
        Tory is cold-bloodedly shot by Jack Palance and is blown across the street…….a powerful scene for it’s time. The sounds of the guns are phenomenally LOUD and this was done purposely to frighten the audience away from guns. These sound effects were done by firing guns into a large steel drum……..creating the BOOM sound of the gun firing.
        I think Mr. Stevens made his point about gun violence!

      • That’s good information. I hope you’re right, Ronald. The film is certainly not jingoistic, and the ultimate message is that the days of the gunfighter are over. They have to accept it. It may also be the first film to use wires to jerk actors backwards when they get shot.

        I’m not accusing Shane of this, but one of my pet hates in cinema is movies that glory in choreographed, near-erotic violence and then tag on an anti-violence message at the end (see, for example, almost everything made by Luc Besson). Either be brazen and honest, or have the courage to make your message sound sincere. The sacrificial hero in Shane is a kind of glorification, but as he says, “a gun is as good or bad as the man using it”. I don’t quite agree, since guns on their own are a pretty obnoxious presence in our culture, but I can’t really quibble with it as a sentiment within in the context of the movie.

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