Monday, July 18, 2011

Shane (1953)

Enjoyable But Not One If The Greats

- George Stevens' 1953 western Shane has a reputation among many film fans as being one of the finest western films ever made. For proof of this, consult the American Film Institutes' list of the top 10 westerns where Shane holds the number three spot. When it comes to its legacy in film, Shane clearly had an influence on its genre and has a high reputation with cinephiles. As far as my personal reaction goes however, Shane could not quite reach up to the level of its own hype. I would not say that Shane is a poor film but I do not share the same sense of immeasurable delight with the film's seemingly innumerable amount of fans.

Shane undoubtedly has a lot going for it. Its lush photography and appealing story of standing up and fighting for one's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness does put the film in a positive place with me. I would have, however, enjoyed the film a whole lot more had the characters and acting been a little more interesting.

Van Heflin and Jean Arthur clearly offer the most to appreciate with their performances as the struggling Starrett family who are under siege from a clan of corporate criminals out to take their land – and Elisha Cook Jr. and Jack Palance (getting an Oscar nomination for his role) get to do some interesting things in the movie. But other than that, the entire cast gives bland, forgettable performances.

One of the most boring actors in the film is headliner Alan Ladd, starring as the stranger Shane who shows up to help the Starrett family work and protect their land. Ladd struts around on screen, gets into a lot of fights, befriends Junior Starrett, and heaves leering glances at Mrs. Starrett but never really creates much of an authentic character. In Pale Rider (1985) (a film that borrows a lot from Shane), Clint Eastwood would create a much more intriguing and dimensional unexpected hero character that should have been created in Shane. But Alan Ladd stays a blank canvas throughout the whole film as the hero Shane and it is really disappointing.

As disappointing as Ladd is however, the worst performance in the film comes from Brandon De Wilde, the child actor who plays the young Joey Starrett. Look, I know he was just a kid and all of that - but he was a really annoying kid in the movie and subsequently has a significant negative impact on the film. How he was nominated for an Oscar for his showing in this film I will never understand.

So when all is said and done, the good story, themes, and look of Shane impressed and entertained me but the characters left me wanting more. Shane is a good and recommendable film – but it is not one of the finest films of the western genre in my eyes.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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