Acclaimed director George Stevens’ legendary rendition of the quintessential Western myth earned six Academy Award nominations and made Shane one of the classics of the American cinema. The story brings Alan Ladd, a drifter and retired gunfighter, to the assistance of a homestead family terrorized by a wealthy cattleman and his hired gun (Jack Palance). In fighting the last decisive battle, Shane sees the end of his own way of life. Mysterious, moody and atmospheric, the film is enhanced by the intense performances of its splendid cast.
|Cast:||Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon De Wilde, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson|
|Academy Awards:||Won for Best Cinematography. Nominated for Best Pictures; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actor-Brandon De Wilde, Jack Palance, 1954.|
|DVD:||Standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Surround, French Digital Mono; subtitles none; closed-captioned; 16 chapters; rated NR; 117 min.; $29.99; 8/15/00.|
|Supplements:||Audio Commentary by production assistant George Stevens Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat; Theatrical Trailer.|
|Purchase:||DVD | Novel - Jack Warner Schaefer|
Where would Westerns be without the weary killer who wants to change his ways? From Stagecoach to Unforgiven, the repentant sinner is an absolute staple of the genre, and far be it for Shane to argue with such success.
Although the movie offers nothing new or unusual in the form of its story, it executes the tale very well. Most cinematic success depends on how the tale's told more than the plot itself, but Westerns are more dependent on execution than most other formats. That's because most of the stories are really quite similar; there's only so much variation that can occur within the natural framework.
Shane sticks to a pretty basic plot in which greedy cattleman Ryker (Emile Meyer) tries to intimidate locals to leave their land so he can use it. Into this terrain steps retired gunfighter Shane (Alan Ladd). He quickly befriends a family composed of Joe (Van Heflin), his wife Marian (Jean Arthur), and son little Joe (Brandon De Wilde) and Shane starts to work for them. However, he quickly becomes embroiled in the local nastiness and becomes part of the action as the clashes escalate.
The plot is thin but works because the style fleshes it out nicely. The pacing can be a little slow, especially in the second half, when Shane becomes too much of a background character; I felt he took too much of a backseat to the events that surrounded him during that portion. However, the conclusion seems satisfying and worth the wait.
One thing I liked about Shane stemmed from its relative complexity. Yes, we do encounter a stereotypical bad guy: hired gunslinger Wilson (Jack Palance, who's actually billed as Walter Jack Palance in the credits), a man who clearly enjoys his work a little too much - but the rest of the participants display some nicely subtle emotions. Ryker seems pushy and nasty at times, but he also can be shown as fair and willing to compromise.
Also, although Shane is supposed to be the perfect hero, we clearly see differences in his character. He seems awfully jittery and strung out from his lifestyle, and I had to wonder what made him so edgy. He appears to be a man with some sins in his past, although they're never spelled out to us, something I considered both a positive and a negative. I liked the fact everything wasn't spoon-fed to us, but I would have liked to know more about Shane's history; as it stands, we discover very little about what made him the man we see.
Still, I consider Shane to be one of the more interesting Westerns. The genre doesn't do much for me in general, but this film offered a fairly satisfying blend of drama and action and it does so without much of the excessive melodrama typical of its brethren. Shane has endured as a classic for almost 50 years simply because it's a well-made movie that provides a strong example of what's good about Westerns.
Shane appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the movie looked pretty good overall, it displayed a few significant flaws that made it appear pretty average.
Sharpness was inconsistent though usually acceptably concise and accurate. A fair amount of softness intrudes during many scenes, however; lots of shots of Jean Arthur feature that soft focus so popular with directors of leading ladies - especially when the actresses are over 50, as Arthur was at the time - and other segments also display vague imaging. I noticed no problems with jagged edges or moiré effects. The print itself seemed generally clean, though a few problems occur. Light grain showed up on occasion, and I also witnessed some instances of scratches, speckles and dirt, but these were fairly minor. A few streaks occurred as well, and around the 51:40 mark, some brown discoloration affects the picture. Despite those flaws, the movie generally seems fresh for its age.
Colors offer one of the worst parts of the image, as they consistently seem very faded and bland. Granted, Shane isn't The Wizard Of Oz; it's not the kind of movie that should boast vivid, bright hues, and most of the film sticks with a pretty drab palette that makes sense within the dusty landscape. However, even with that consideration I still found the colors to appear awfully flat and pale; they consistently seem much more subdued and weaker than they should.
Black levels appeared generally decent, with acceptably deep tones, but shadow detail caused some problems. Some of these issues occur due to the usual villain, "day for night" photography; those scenes are consistently thick and opaque. However, it's not just those parts that look overly heavy; a number of other interiors - such as in the bar - become excessively thick. Ultimately, Shane remains very watchable, but I didn't think it was strong.
Also decent but unexceptional is the Dolby Surround soundtrack of Shane. For all intents and purposes, this is a mono mix; sound emits from the side and rear speakers, but it's so soft and gentle that it essentially doesn't exist. I never heard a single instance of audio that seemed to come from anywhere other than the center; I checked the other speakers to establish that they provided sound, and they did, but the overall effect was that they never seemed to provide any distinct information.
Quality of the audio appeared adequate. Dialogue generally was clear and relatively natural, with a few instances of edginess but no problems with intelligibility. Effects were a bit flat and thin, but they seemed acceptably realistic and they featured a mild level of bass as well. The score sounded fairly crisp and distinct, with somewhat mushy quality at times but no serious concerns. I noticed a slight layer of background noise throughout the track. Ultimately, this is a mix for a nearly 50-year-old movie, and it doesn't exceed the restrictions of its era; however, it seems more than acceptable for its age, and it has enough positives to earn it a solid "B-" rating.
Shane features one significant extra: an audio commentary from production assistant George Stevens Jr. (also the son of the director/producer) and associate producer Ivan Moffat. Although it contains a fair number of gaps - particularly during the second third of the film - I found this piece to provide a moderately compelling description of the creation of Shane. Stevens relates some interesting historical documents of his father's, and both participants provide some good anecdotes about the shoot. The gaps can make some stretches of the track frustrating, but it's worth your while to stick with it, as many of the best details don't appear until toward the end. It's not a great commentary, but it merits a listen.
In addition to the commentary, all we get is a theatrical trailer. Though the year of origin is not clear, this definitely is not the original preview; it comes from a later reissue of the film.
Shane offers a very satisfying Western. It's not my favorite example of the genre - I really loved Stagecoach - but it works well overall and provides a compelling experience. The DVD features decent picture and sound plus a pretty good audio commentary. Shane definitely merits at least a rental, and fans of Westerns will want to add it to their collections.