Shane (1953) starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon De Wilde, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson, Edgar Buchanan, Elisha Cook Jr., Ellen Corby directed by George Stevens Movie Review

Shane (1953)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Alan Ladd in Shane (1953)

Brandon's De Wilde about Shane

stern action. But then "Shane" is actually a lot more and is a movie full of deeper context such as the feelings which form between the mysterious stranger and the rancher's wife, plus the idolization of the rancher's son. As such watching "Shane" is a movie which to fully appreciate you need to look at the layers below the well used storyline of a mysterious stranger.

Having come across the farm of the Starrett family, gunslinger Shane (Alan Ladd - The Badlanders) finds himself staying and helping out when he discovers that local land owner Ryker has been trying to run them and their fellow settlers off of their land. Whilst enjoying helping Joe Starrett (Van Heflin - Tomahawk) with his land he also finds himself having feelings for Joe's wife Marian (Jean Arthur - The Devil and Miss Jones) as well as being idolized by young Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde - Hud) who is in awe of him. But when Ryker steps up his campaign to get rid of the settlers by hiring gunslinger Jack Wilson (Jack Palance - Panic in the Streets), Shane must make a stand to stop Ryker and his plans.

Brandon De Wilde, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin and Alan Ladd in Shane (1953)

Watching "Shane" at the simplest level, as a piece of western entertainment you have to say that whilst entertaining it's not that original. The whole thing of a gunslinger coming to town and trying to go straight but eventually called into action to help some settlers is not that original. It does mean on one level "Shane" is predictable because you know come the end of the movie, after trying to go straight Shane will make a stand. But the familiarity is not a bad thing and the various action scenes work well to make it very entertaining especially the final gun battle which has a nice level of tension about it.

But to be honest "Shane" is a movie which gets better when you look at the deeper layers of context. It's very obvious that the minute Shane lays his eyes on Joe Starrett's wife that he is taken with her and equally we realise that Marian is also taken with him fighting her feelings, holding on to Joe as some form of security. It makes you wonder whether Shane decided to stick around to see if anything came of it rather than just because he knew that Joe and the other settlers were having problems with the local land owner.

And then there is the idolization of young Joey who is in awe of Shane, it adds another layer on intrigue because you wonder whether Shane decides to take a stand so that he can be a hero to this young boy. You also wonder whether he takes a stand because he realises that nothing can come of his feelings for Marian and so would be better of risking his life than sticking around. All of this and some more makes "Shane" a far greater movie because it causes you to wonder what Shane's motives are, whether he takes a stand because he is the most capable or because of more personal reasons.

Now you have to say that Alan Ladd looks a bit too handsome as a gunslinger who rides the mountains in buck skin clothing. But he brings something more to Shane and that is the ambiguity over his motives and it is a wonderful performance from Ladd to deliver this sense of mystery whilst also turning it on when it comes to the action scenes. And in reality with Ladd being handsome it makes the story more convincing, giving a reason for Marian to fall for him, a part which is equally as well played by Jean Arthur especially when she battles her emotions asking her husband to hold her. Plus of course there is Brandon De Wilde as young Joey who for a child is actually quite remarkable delivering every aspect of the young boy who idolizes Shane to the point of almost hanging on his coat tails.

This trio of Ladd, Arthur and De Wilde are what make "Shane" so much more than just your run of the mill western but they are aided by the rest of the cast. Van Heflin delivers every aspect of the proud farmer who solidly refuses to back down and you have to say that Jack Palance is menacing as hired gun Jack Wilson.

What this all boils down to is that "Shane" is a movie which when watched purely to be entertained it works but feels a little predictable and obvious as it works through the well used tale of a mysterious gunslinger coming to town. But "Shane" is one of those movies where you need to read between the lines as to why Shane not only stays but then takes a stand after trying to go straight. And it is when you read between the lines and look at the deeper context it becomes more than just another western and indeed something a bit special.