There is often something special about westerns, and Shane is no different. Directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, and other great character actors, Shane is simple yet charming. It has many of the qualities of a great movie, because of what it shows of mankind. Furthermore, it simply makes you feel good.
In the film Shane (Ladd) is a wandering ex-gunslinger, who decides to live with a frontier family as a hired hand. His presence makes everyone happy because he is quiet, humble, and fundamentally so good. However, there is trouble from a man named Riker and his gang. Heflin’s character is adamant he must face the foe and defend his home. Shane will not allow it knowing this is a job for him. The two friends fight it out with Shane winning and riding into town. In the end, he wins the shootout but more importantly he is reconciled with the family’s boy Joey. The time has come for him to move on and Shane rides off into the distance, a humble hero.
The first thing that always strikes me about this film is the brilliant scenery around Jackson Hole, Wyoming with the Tetons looming majestically behind a solitary cabin. In some sense, this is not just a western, but the archetypal story of a family taming the land.
The very next thing of importance is the eponymous and unassuming drifter Shane. He always seems so kind and good, but early on there are glimpses of another, perhaps darker past. And yet from the point of view of Joey, he is an idolized, almost mythological figure. What is so striking about Shane is that he is obviously handy with a gun and an excellent fighter, but he never flaunts it. Perhaps it is because he wishes to rely on it as his last possible resort, or maybe it is because he is just a humble man.
As an audience, much like Joey, we want him to fight back, and we are happy when he finally does. During the course of the film, Grafton’s mercantile and saloon is often the place of conflict, and here multiple times Shane ultimately uses violence. It is his fallback, but he uses it effectively even against his own friends if he sees fit. Then Shane drifts on and the cycle undoubtedly continues again.
Yes, he certainly could be called a hero, with no last name to speak of, but he is a man, who will always be on the move. This may not be because he wants to, but because he really has no other option. Shane foresaw what we did not want to see, and now he cannot come back even if he wants to, so he rides on. This is the middle of George Steven’s so-called “American Trilogy” and probably the hallmark of his illustrious career.