In order to celebrate Ladd’s birthday, let’s look back at this very famous film.
“Shane” (1953) 4 / 5 stars - With big sweeping Wyoming skies, open spaces and the jagged Teton Mountains standing in the distance, “Shane” paints a beautiful physical setting for a standard western.
In fact, looking back at this movie, it only screams the western genre.
For example, the movie’s primary premise features a gang of ruthless cattle ranchers - led by Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) - intimidating small-time family homesteaders.
With a long three-day ride to the nearest lawman, the legal process cannot protect homesteaders like the Starretts: Joe (Van Heflin), Marian (Jean Arthur) and their pre-teen son, Joey (Brandon De Wilde).
While the Starretts live off the land and try to grab their piece of the American Dream, Ryker’s claim to the same parcel of land sets up a quintessential good vs. evil conflict.
Luckily, for the Starretts a stranger with a buckskin jacket named Shane (Alan Ladd) passes through and with genuine goodwill, befriends the victimized family.
Ladd gives a pitch-perfect performance as a veteran gunslinger who has seen one too many gunfights and now looks for a quieter existence.
With blonde locks and a soft-spoken demeanor, Ladd makes it difficult to fathom his character is deadly accurate with a pistol.
Little Joey idolizes Shane as a friend, but also for a lightning quick (and highly accurate) draw with his sidearm.
The scenes with Shane and Joey work well to help ground this "nomad on a horse" and give our hero a sense of purpose, however, at the same time, their relationship feels quite hokey.
“Shane” owns all the right pieces for a classic western but feels dated today under a cliche-filled script from the 1950s.
Many of the back-and-forth conversations between several characters - throughout the movie - feel very overdramatized and overplayed.
I found it easy to imagine the movie’s players feeling right at home in a corny educational high school film about home safety or cooking with gas.
On the other hand, it is difficult to ignore the pure influence of "Shane" - the friendly, but capable stranger helping the underdogs against ruthless antagonists - on hundreds of westerns on television and movies.
Speaking of antagonists, movie legend Jack Palance makes a memorable appearance as Jack Wilson.
With a black hat, black gloves, a quiet smooth demeanor, and a sinister smile, Wilson presents a formidable challenge for the homesteaders and Shane.
The Academy nominated Palance for Best Supporting Actor, and 11-year-old Brandon De Wilde surprisingly received the same Oscar nomination, as well, but they are only a pair ingredients in a larger concoction of cinematic history.
Looking back, "Shane" might feel too familiar with other westerns, but chronologically speaking, these other westerns should feel familiar with "Shane."
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