Shane (1953)

A fellow movie aficionado friend of mine recently watched Shane. He  loved it, except for one of the main characters, a young boy named Joey (Brandon De Wilde). “That kid drove me CRAZY!”, said my succinct friend.

Speaking of kids, recently Jenny and I were in the Express Lane at the local grocery store, Sedano’s. Using the word “express” to describe the speed of any of the local cashiers is a contradiction of the highest magnitude. They move at three speeds: slower, sloth-like, and comatose.

But I digress.

Behind us in line was what appeared to be a grandfather with his grandson. The grandson was around 2 years old or less, sitting in a stroller. He seemed very happy, sitting there chewing on a raw piece of packaged beef. You read correctly. You know how meat wrapped in cellophane has the blood/intestinal juices just swimming around in the package? Imagine a kid using that as a teething ring.

I realize now that I could never be a war photojournalist. Here I was faced to face with a scene that demanded be photographed for proof of the horrors of the world about us, but I froze. Although, I’m pretty sure even the most hardened war correspondent would have run away screaming like a little girl when faced with the scene before my eyes.

I look at the grandfather and manage a smile. He smiles back. He must be so proud to have the youngest President of the local chapter of the Vampire’s ‘R’ Us Society as his grandson. I wish I knew enough Spanish to say “Qué bueno que usted deja a su nieto masticar la carne cruda con sangre!” (How nice that you let your grandson chew on raw bloody meat!), but my Spanish is still limited to “Donde esta el Taco Bell?”

Back to Shane. Fortunately, the film is not called Joey. Joey’s point of view gives us an interesting subtext, at times it’s an annoying subtext, but at least he doesn’t chew on raw meat. Shane tells the often told story of a group of settler’s at odds with a rancher trying to force them off the land he feels is rightly his. Alan Ladd portrays Shane, a gunfighter trying to become an ex-gunfighter who befriends the settlers while passing through town.

A simple story, with unconventional touches thanks to director George Stevens. Stevens allows the camera to stay on the actors when most would think the scene is over, allowing them to continue the story with their face. According to the DVD commentary, Alan Ladd was once asked how he liked working with George Stevens. His response; “I like it, he’s a great director. He gives me time. I may not be the greatest actor in the world, but I’m great on my pauses.”

All the performers act with an easy naturalness. Particularly noteworthy is Van Heflin as the settler’s leader, Joe Starrett (Joey’s father), and Emile Meyer as the cattle baron Ryker. Meyer’s passionate explanation to Heflin of the point of view of the rancher’s versus the settler’s makes you wonder who really is right in this situation. Of course, Meyer hiring the evil snake-like gun-for-hire Jack Palance as a final solution makes him the official “bad guy.”

The film builds to it’s expected confrontation, but before that is a truly amazing sequence. Joe prepares to face Ryker and Jack Palance. Shane knows he must go instead, and fights Joe to save his life. The energy given off by these two friends’ fight sends the horses and cattle into a fence-jumping wild frenzy, while Stevens films the sequence through the panicked animals gyrations. Incredible.

Early in the movie, this exchange occurs between Shane & Joey:

Shane: You were watchin’ me down it for quite a spell, weren’t you?

Joey: Yes I was.

Shane: You know, I… I like a man who watches things go on around. It means             he’ll make his mark someday.

George Steven’s is a director that makes us take the time to watch the things that go on around, and we realize that the subtlest look on a person’s face, the slightest pause, are stories unto themselves. He definitely made his mark with Shane.


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