Shane (1953) Review

Director: George Stevens

Genre(s): Drama, Western

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

At first glance (especially to modern eyes), Shane may look like just another western. However, it is perhaps the quintessential example of the “lone gunman” subgenre. The story revolves around an ex-gunslinger, Shane (Alan Ladd), who decides to side with a group of peaceful homesteaders in their range war with a ruthless band of cattlemen. When it comes to the western genre, it is perhaps only outdone by the films of The Magnificent Seven series and Seven Angry Men (1955) in the how-heroic-can-the-main-character(s)-be? department.

Shane, more or less, sets out to be the final word on the lone western gunfighter of popular culture. It has a lot to say on heroism, justified and unjustified violence, selflessness, and American gun culture, a lot of it shown as how it’s viewed through the eyes of children. These themes are ably supported by the movie’s cinematography and performances, especially Jack Palance’s as Jack Wilson, a sociopathic gunman hired by the cattlemen to deal with the stubborn homesteaders.

It certainly isn’t an action movie, but the way violence is portrayed here deserves a mention. It’s far from graphic, but guns sound like cannons, people recoil with the help of stunt wires when shot, and combatants end up battered and bruised after fist fights. Okay, maybe the semi-realism of the action doesn’t mesh completely with the somewhat idealized portrayal of pioneer life (with its frolicking deer and home-cooked pies), but this is only a very minor flaw.

In 2008, Shane was named by the American Film Institute as the third greatest American western motion picture of all time (after The Searchers [1956] and High Noon [1952]) as part of their AFI’s 10 Top 10 celebration. It’s pretty easy to see why it’s held in such a high regard. While I don’t love it as much as the critics do, it’s still a flick that is impossible not to respect. It’s an entertaining examination of what true heroism is and when extralegal violence is necessary according to the American psyche.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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