Directed by George Stevens
Starring: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin
Shane is, and rightfully so, considered a classic Western film. It has every aspect of a classic Western that you can ask for. There is a group of vulnerable people up against a gang of bossy and tough, gun-slinging baddies. In comes the handsome stranger with a soft exterior of one running away from a possible troubled past, but with the quickest draw one has ever seen. There is violence, booze, families in danger, and the hero who’s name is Shane.
What makes Shane stand out so much are the details and the unique perspective from an otherwise traditional, classic Western. It’s a film that is almost told through the eyes of Joey, the son of the farm couple Joe and Marian. He’s at the heart of the film of adults dealing with adult situations. But the innocence of Joey steals the film as he is star-struck by Shane.
There are a few moral dilemmas that run throughout this film that gives the depth to its characters. For one, the relationship that grows between Marian and Shane. You see the attraction between the two, but there’s never a move made during the span of the film. Even towards the end when Joe wants to ride to Ryker to confront the issue and most likely get killed, Shane could’ve easily allowed him to do so. Then he would have stepped into the role as the family’s provider and protecter, but I think Shane had a high respect for Joe and couldn’t allow that to happen.
There is also a very intriguing display by Shane, a character that we known almost nothing about, but the film keeps dropping hints about his past. We know he has killed before. He doesn’t like to carry around his gun, possibly trying to get rid of that part of the past, or maybe he’s trying to prove to Marian he can be a domestic man. And when he’s confronted and ridiculed at the saloon, he allows them to. It’s not very hero-like, although he does get into a scuffle during their next meeting. But what is the meaning for his change in stature? He has all the edge and talent to take on anyone, yet he waits to the very last minute to make a move.
Joey, the couple’s son, throws another layer of complexity into the picture. Joey watches Shane in awe right from the beginning when he strolls in. Shane serves like a second father figure to Joey, and he begins to teach him to shoot until Marian expresses her dismay for guns. But Joey follows Shane around like a movie star’s biggest fan. Joey wonders if Shane or his father would win in a fight. There are a lot of ground that Shane takes away from Joe, and Joe knows it. He never addresses it because he trusts his wife and he knows his son loves him, but you can sense he knows that his family is smitten by Shane.
The conclusion of this film is iconic, with Shane facing the fact that he has to face Ryker and Wilson. And if he lives, he knows he’ll have to leave. Shane’s goodbye to Marian is touching. She might be the woman he’s been searching for in all of his travels, but things just couldn’t be and he was strong enough to walk away. And then after the deed is done, Shane says his goodbye to Joey. Joey’s cry for Shane is the perfect way to end the movie as we see Shane riding off into the sunset.