Starring: Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur
Director: George Stevens
This revered western tells a simple tale with monumental conviction. Despite the fact that they’re encumbered with one of the most children in movie history, humble homesteaders Van Heflin and Jean Arthur are befriended by a mysterious gunslinger, just in time to help them in their struggle with a rancher who is determined to drive them off their land by fair means or foul.
The irritating sprog aside, the result is a virtually flawless exercise in mythopoeia. Although the portrayal of the central baddie, Rufus Ryker, is actually surprisingly nuanced (passionately self-righteous, he sees himself as an innocent victim, only stooping to violence because his hand is forced), the film as a whole is elevated into a literally archetypal battle of good versus evil. The blond-haired Shane is like an angel in buckskins, and the scene where he and Heflin have a fist fight seems to echo the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in the Bible. Meanwhile, as played by Jack Palance, Ryker’s hired gun, Wilson, is like a dark, crumpled serpent which has crawled straight up from the depths of hell. The majority of the film was shot on location in the Teton Mountains, Wyoming, in bronzed, burnished halo-vision Technicolor cinematography. Throughout, there’s a feeling that something deep and permanent is being expressed, and that’s why the carefully crafted set-pieces have such a power to haunt the memory. 9/10
A few touches of grain here and there, but generally a lovely transfer. The horse and rider moving across the landscape behind the opening titles looks pin-sharp, and the titles themselves glow with an almost 3D quality. A little later on, the grain on the famous tree-stump is beautifully clear and detailed. The prevailing cream and gilt colour palette is as lustrous as you could wish. Perhaps even more impressively, the darker scenes are also very crisp. The thundery, overcast sequence in which Wilson claims his first victim has a particularly life-like feeling of depth. 9/10
22-min piece with academic Neil Sinyard talking informatively about George Stevens’ eclectic career, with its distinctive his pre- and post-war periods. ~ Audio com with the film’s associate producer and the director’s son, particularly nice because the latter reads out some of Stevens’ own very interesting script notes. We also learn that Alan Ladd was wearing a hairpiece. ~ As well as the 4:3 print of the film, we also get two versions in 1:66:1 aspect ration (i.e., with very thin vertical borders). These seem just a little softer than the 4:3 version, but the wider picture certainly suits the epic sweep of the landscape. The “revised framing” version corrects some of the problems with cropping caused by the blowing up the print. 10/10