Shane (SE)/A,C+
Paramount/1950/117/FS 1.33

     The closing line echoing in the backdrop of the big Western landscape, "Shane, come back." as the beautiful and sentimental theme by composer Victor Young reminds the audience of everything that has come to pass is a haunting and memorable film finale. Happily, Shane is back, and this time it's on DVD. 
      So many classic Western conventions are explored in Shane, but the execution by director George Stevens makes this a quintessential American film. You think Sergio Leone's man with no name films starring Clint Eastwood  were the first to explore the theme of the stranger coming to town and making a difference? Shane came first. Shane came before Yojimbo inspired Leone too.  It's the homesteaders against the ranchers, it's a way of life coming to an end as a gunfighter realizes that the way of the gun must eventually change, but mostly Shane is about goodness and right. 
     Shane comes to the Starrett ranch and begins working as a hand for Joe Starrett. He admires the solid goodness of Marion Starrett and Joe Starrett's sense of family. He befriends Little Joe, who idolizes the confident stranger. The homesteaders, led by Starrett, are slowly being pushed off their land by cattleman Rufus Ryker. When things heat up, Ryker brings in a cold-blooded gunman, Wilson. Joe Starrett wants to stand up to Ryker and Wilson on his own, but it is Shane who adjusts his gun belt and rides into town to confront his fate.
     Stevens handles the majestic setting with natural grace. He sets the scene with a master's touch. From the opening moments as Shane rides from the horizon, framed through the antlers of a deer, onto the Starrett homestead, to the final fade out as Shane rides back into those mountains, the director uses the camera to comment on his characters. Even the fights evolve with economic grace. Stevens keep a leash on the fisticuffs, but boy, they are exciting. The final shoot-out is as sudden as rattle snake striking from a dusty desert hole.  

Shane arrives, beautifully framed through antlers. ©Paramount

     Spare dialogue and classic confrontations are at the heart of  screenplay from western novelist A.B. Guthrie. (Guthrie's classic The Big Sky, directed by Howard Hawks is still missing from DVD.) Stevens gets the most from the material, embellishing the film with details that bring great authenticity to the film.  
     The casting, which the audio commentary has interesting facts to reveal, is outstanding. Alan Ladd gives Shane a simple eloquence, reciting his dialogue in a straightforward manner. Ladd works beautifully with young Brandon De Wilde, who gives Little Joe a special quality. Stevens recognizes the magic of the young actor's eyes as the cameras lingers in close-up, catching the wonder expressed by Little Joe as he witnesses the events that unfold in Shane. Jean Arthur is a fantastic choice for Marion Starrett. Still beautiful, she radiates strength, embodying the spirit of the pioneer woman. Van Heflin imbues Joe Starrett with uncompromising simplicity and sense of justice. Finally, there's Jack Palance, making his screen career with  memorable  precision as the gunfighter Wilson. 
     The fine commentary provided by the director's son, George Stevens, Jr. and Associate Producer Ivan Moffat adds a lot to the Shane package. Did you know Montgomery Clift was the first choice of director Stevens or that William Holden was set to play the Starrett role. Alan Ladd was delighted by the Stevens direction, noting that he gave him time to pause. Ladd thought his "pauses" were the best part of his acting.
     This looks like the same transfer that was used for the laser disc of several years ago. Many scenes are not as sharp as the best DVDs. The color is fairly stable and remains vital. Color registration is good. Day for night work looks quite good. The DVD does a good job of capturing the day for night photography which looks bathed in the glow of moonlight. The sound is clean, dialogue easy to understand and the score produced in lush chords.






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