Thursday, December 5, 2013

CMBA Film Passion 101 Blogathon: Shane (1953)


Award winning filmmaker and American Film Institute founder George Stevens Jr. was a teenager working for his father as a reader when he brought him Jack Schaefer's novel Shane as a film prospect.  It was journalist Schaefer's first novel and it's a dandy.  A western tale with the well-worn premise of cattleman vs. homesteaders, but filled with epic emotion.  Western novelist A.R. Guthrie Jr. adapted the novel for the screen, his first screenplay.  Director George Stevens took his company to Wyoming for location filming.  Original casting included Montgomery Clift as Shane and William Holden as Joe Starrett, but when they turned down the roles or were unavailable Stevens selected Alan Ladd, Van Heflin and, in what would be her final film role, Jean Arthur.  George Stevens had previously directed Miss Arthur in The More the Merrier and The Talk of the Town. 

Shane was placed on the National Film Registry in 1993.  In 1954 it received six Academy Award nominations with its sole win for Loyal Griggs colour cinematography.  In all other categories, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Brandon de Wilde and Jack Palance), Shane lost to the Oscar juggernaut that was From Here to Eternity

In Schaefer's novel, Bob Starrett recalls the time in his youth when the mysterious and dangerous stranger Shane came to their valley, changing everything forever and becoming a part of his family.  A story of memory we see all the incidents through Bob's innocent eyes and his adult understanding.  In the film Bob becomes young Joey Starrett played by 10-year-old Brandon de Wilde, already a veteran performer from Broadway's Member of the Wedding.

Joe and Marian Starrett (Heflin, Arthur) are creating a life for their family in the valley.  Joe is a natural leader and the other farmers in the area rely on him when dealing old-time rancher Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer).  Ryker is not a man eager to change with the times.  He wants to run his cattle on open range and the homesteaders are in his way.  Joe Starrett, and others like him, see Ryker's time as passed with his inefficient use of the land and feudal attitude.  Starrett has the courage to stand up to Ryker, but will it be enough.

Alan Ladd as Shane

One day Shane rides into the valley.  He's a loner from somewhere heading to nowhere.  With the Starretts Shane finds acceptance and a peace that has been missing in his life.  Shane's quiet confidence confuses some in the valley who underestimate his power.  In the novel much is made of Shane's slight stature and especially of his powerful voice.  In that regard, Alan Ladd should have been the first choice and it is a gift from the movie gods that he took on the role.  Ladd had close to 100 movie roles, with 10 years of bits and uncredited walk-ons prior to his break out role of the killer, Raven in This Gun for Hire.  He had plenty of time to hone the craft of screen acting.  Like Shane, Ladd is deceptive.  You think you know him up there on the screen, but you know only what he lets you know and that voice is an amazing instrument.  Listen to his radio program Box 13 or just close your eyes and listen the next time you watch an Alan Ladd movie.

Brandon de Wilde, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Alan Ladd

Shane's presence shakes up not only the valley and burgeoning settlement, it causes complications in the Starrett household with an unspoken attraction develops between Shane and Marian Starrett.  Life is complicated for Joey as he struggles to find a way to love and respect both his father and the stranger.  Also unspoken is the life of a gunfighter that Shane has left behind, but cannot run away from when Ryker brings a gunman, Wilson (Jack Palance) to the valley.

I saw Shane "at the movies" in the mid-60s when I must have been around 10 or 11.  I now assume it was in theatrical re-release, but that didn't occur to me at the time.  It was a movie and that was enough.  If the movie was on television in black and white with strange cars and fashions that was fine.  If the movie was at the theatre on Saturday afternoon that was fine as well.  Movies had no release date and no expiration date in my mind.

It started with the music, with Victor Young's score.  I remember physically sitting up straighter in my seat.  The music had such a power and a melancholy and the screen was filled with such beautiful scenery that it pulled me into the story.  Years later when I read Shane I realized that I lived the movie the way the character of the young boy lived those weeks - observing, sensing, understanding.  I felt Shane's loneliness, Joe's ambitions, Marian's conflict, Joey's hero worship.  I felt Ryker's frustration, Wilson's swagger and Torrey's bravado.  I had laughed and cried at movies before, but never had the emotions felt so crystallized.

Strangely, the experience of Shane wasn't purely an emotional response.  One part of my brain was buzzing with the revelation that movies didn't just happen.  Movies had a how and a why to them.  I reasoned that those "hows and whys" must be the choice of the director.  Directors names always seemed to have a place of honour in the credits.  Aha!  That must be why my dad always made us read credits.  It was as if a switch was flipped and it made the whole movie experience more alive than ever.  I understood why the music moved me, why Shane was often framed away from the other characters, and why Joe was fenced off from Shane and Marian during the dance at the party.  What else?  What had I missed?  When would I see it?  It was all too thrilling. 

I remember the approving murmur of the patrons after the film and being surprised that the outside world looked the same as when we'd entered the theatre.  Did everybody else already know about these "hows and whys"?  How sad if they didn't know, but how exciting when they found out.  Every movie was better after Shane, but it still stands alone as the movie that made me truly love movies.

The Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) blogathon Film Passion 101 runs from December 2 - 6 and provides wonderful insights into movies and the people who love them.    


31 comments:

  1. You know, my Grandfather loved this movie, and for some reason I didn't like it - that was fifteen years ago, I need to give Shane another chance.

    Thanks for your memories of this film.

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  2. David, I hope the second viewing will win you over. "Shane" continues to impress and move me.

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  3. SHANE is an excellent western. Certainly, one of the most beautiful. Loved Jack Palance's character in this film. I think that is because I found Ladd's Shane a bit too good to be true. I very much like the fact your Dad taught you to look at the credits. Shows respect for the artists.

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  4. John, if you found Shane too good to be true perhaps it is because Joey sees him that way.

    My dad was a huge film fan. It's funny the things that stand out. Whenever he saw James Wong Howe's name in the credits he'd make sure we were aware. I don't think I fully appreciated the work of a cinematographer until this century, but I sure as heck knew their names.

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  5. I'm pretty sure I've seen this more than once, but until now, I never realized Jean Arthur was in it. But then again, I never knew who she was all those other times I watched it. Now I wanna watch it again.

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  6. I have those moments too, Rich. Folks often point out that Miss Arthur was 50 when she made the movie. She's a pretty darn youthful looking 50. At the same age she was playing Peter Pan on Broadway!

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  7. I first saw "Shane" in a theater with my family, too. My brother and I were very young, but it made a huge impression on both of us (we ran around yelling "Shane, come back, Shane!" for weeks after when we played outside). Shane was our hero. I've seen the movie a few times since, but I still remember the rich, inky Technicolor night sky as it looked on the theater screen that first time.

    Really enjoyed learning of your classic film "awakening." And, personally, I'm glad it came with a classic as powerful and beautiful as "Shane."

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  8. It is nice that "Shane" is that one movie I can point to. Often we buffs are asked what our favourite movie is and, although I have many, it is easy and true to just say "Shane", and hope all my other favourites understand.

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  9. Thanks so much for the great review and sharing your "movies don't just happen" revelation. It's so true! The film that did that for me was Kurosawa's Stray Dog.

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  10. That was a great post - and knowing your writing, I can see little CW getting the big picture while loving the film. It informs everything you write. perfect.

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  11. You've made me want to re-watch "Shane" immediately.

    I liked your description of a switch going on in your head which made the movie more vivid. What a terrific memory!

    Thanks for sharing this passionate first-movie memory. :)

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  12. Fritzi, "Stray Dog" is amazing. I can see it having that impact.

    Marsha, I really appreciate those kind words.

    Ruth, that makes me very happy. I hope you can squeeze "Shane" into your busy life very soon.

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  13. I love that your Dad made you read movie credits! I also saw SHANE on a re-release in the 1960s. It was always a movie I liked. Then, about fifteen years, I was suddenly in the mood to watch it, viewednit again, and realized what an exceptional movie it is. (The funeral is one of the best scenes, brilliantly photographed.) I may have mentioned this before, but several years ago, my nephew asked if I thought Shane in the end. I said no, of course. But then, I watched the ending again and am no longer sure.

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  14. Great post, Caftan Woman! I adore SHANE and envy you seeing it in the theater back then. I do have the beautiful new Blu-Ray and will content myself with that.

    I particularly liked what you had to say about not caring about color, or black and white, or whether a movie was old and "dated" or not. I grew up thinking the same thing as I watched movies old and new on the local TV stations. I think this is something that's missing from today's era of "only the new is worth watching." Growing up back in the 70s, everything all sort of blended together as just "movies". It was a blessing, really.

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  15. This says it all..."being surprised that the outside world looked the same as when we'd entered the theatre."

    Lovely piece on a monumental film, one of my favorites.

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  16. Rick, until the internet I didn't realize Shane's fate was ever in question. For me, he lives. He is doomed, like the mythic Flying Dutchman, to travel without true rest or peace. That is his story.

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  17. Jeff, I'm glad we're part of that group who learned to appreciate all the movies around us. There may be more options today, but the young fans need more guidance. Where to start is a problem we didn't have to deal with.

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  18. Thank you, JTL. Your piece on "Shane" (Another Old Movie Blog) from 2011 is a beauty. http://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.ca/2011/01/shane-1953.html

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  19. I've never seen Shane, but now that you've mentioned the music, I might give it a try. There is always something grand about a big budget Western movie score.

    Thanks for sharing.

    - Java

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  20. Java, I have no doubt Victor Young's score will work its magic. He was an amazing composer and arranger of soaring scores and standard jazz classics. Despite twelve Oscar nominations, his only win was a posthumous one for "Around the World in 80 Days".

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  21. What can you say about a movie that is the endless sort of self-referencing in the Shreve household? (I've lost count of how many times "Shane! Come back, Shane!" has been uttered in this domicile.)

    I'm not as sold on Shane as some, though I do like the movie; of course, I'll watch anything with Jean Arthur and I love the moment in the film when Ladd and Heflin are taking on the bad guys in the saloon and they stop and grin at each other in mid-fight. Wonderful write-up, Our Lady of Great Caftan!

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  22. Thanks for the compliment, Ivan. And thanks for getting me to have fun watching "King Kong" the other day.

    Love that bit in the fight. "No, by golly, we're paying for it. Me and Shane."

    You give me pause to consider which movie gets quoted the most around these parts and I think it might be "The Quiet Man". Somebody in the family is always seeing "a mirage brought on by terrible thirst".

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  23. It is amazing that a timeless movie like "Shane" would seem like a new release. They knew how to draw us in! Obviously, it drew you into the fold permanently.

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  24. Gilby, it was just an ordinary weekend at the movies that turned into so much more. Every time the credits start to run the potential is always there.

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  25. CW,
    Shane holds such a special place in everyone's heart that loves classic cinema and I'm thrilled for you that you were able to see it in the theater. What a treat that would have been but I hope someone warned you to bring kleenex.

    Your love of the film certainly shines through here and I'm so happy that you had this opportunity to share it with us. A real treat.

    I only have one question back at you though. Why didn't you write about Charlie Chan? ha ha

    See ya soon!
    Page

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  26. Great review Caftan Woman, and wonderful depiction of how this movie affected you as a youth. I'm sorry that I never got to see it as a kid, but even seeing it as an adult, its powerful scenery and music and its strong story and acting have made it one of my favorites. Thanks for writing about this film as your
    CMBA Film Passion 101 Blogathon entry.

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  27. Page, I appreciate your lovely comments on "Shane".

    PS: Hardy-har-har. I shouldn't be surprised if Inspector Chan pops up on these pages again one of these days. You can't keep a good B mystery character down.

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  28. Christian, thank you so much for stopping by to share the love for the movie.

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  29. Caftan Woman, I sheepishly (no rancher gag intended) admit that I'm usually more drawn suspense and comedy more than Westerns, other than SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF and few others. Heck, all I really knew about SHANE was the memorable "Come back, Shane!" scene! But with that great cast (dang, I never would have thought Jean Arthur was 50 then, either, bless her), and the warm feelings so many of you have, I'm willing to give it a chance next time it shows up on TCM. And I, too, applaud your dad for teaching you to read the movie's credits; your family raised you right -- but you knew that! :-) I applaud your great post for the CMBA Film Passion 101 post, my friend!

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  30. I know I've seen this movie more than once myself. I actually remember certain scenes and you know how faulty my memory usually is.

    The end always made me despair that's why I think I never really sit through until then if I come across the movie.

    Thanks for a terrific review of the movie that made you love movies. Your dad sounds like a good person to check out movies with.

    Jack Palance - the bad guy to end all bad guys.

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  31. I know how you feel, Yvette. There are certain movies that I know will get to me and that I must side-step, if not outright avoid.

    My dad bonded with his four daughters over classic movies, and I do the same thing with my kids. It's especially comforting to have that connection to my 21 year old special needs son (autism/developmental delay). He lives in a group home and the people who live/work with him get a kick out of the movie stuff he uses to relate to the rest of the world.

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