Shane is the story of a very young boy named Joey (I am not sure how young, but he is “too young for bullets” in his gun, so let’s just say he is five years old) who develops an unhealthy obsession with a much older cowboy who wanders into his family’s land one day. He convinces the titular Shane to remain with his family through a pattern of whining and manipulation that continues until the very last moment of the film.
Shane, who has no history, and is not in a hurry to get anywhere, dons a traditional white hat, to signal that he is a “good guy.” The family that ensnares Shane include a happily married husband and wife, Joe and Marian Starrett. They are settlers who have carved out a piece of heaven for themselves on a piece of land with fences to hold their cattle in. This brings the Starrett’s, and every other settler family, in conflict with a man called Ryker, who wants to continue free grazing his cattle, and hold his de facto ownership of the whole state. There is a very brief, one-off line about how the land, until recently, belonged to the Indians. But it’s said more in passing, and not meant to indicate any issue with this situation.
Whatever state they have stolen from the Native Americans, it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Besides the psycho-sexual drama that plays out between the Starrett’s and Shane “Is that your first, or last name?” there is an amazing amount of cinematography that captures landscapes that I am certain no longer exist in America. Literal purple mountains of majesty. It is a beautiful film to look at. This film signaled a change to how Paramount Pictures shot movies, or projected movies. It has to do with ratio apect, or new camera lenses. I am not savvy enough to understand the technical pieces. But it’s clear that watching this movie in any format other than widescreen would lose 50% of what makes it so gorgeous.
So, we have a young boy, obsessed with a middle aged cowboy who gets adopted into his family. There is a married couple who seems pretty damned happy that an oft-shirtless Alan Ladd (if they remade this, Shane would be completely cut, six pack abs, enormous biceps, oiled up at all times) has decided to move in with them. It’s bizarre. He’s not your regular farm hand. The parents never reign in their kids over-the-top love for Shane. It’s just accepted. Shane is here, and our kid digs him. Let’s have some pie. Also, if they remade this, there would definitely be an affair between Shane and Marian, and the body count would be much higher.
There is a lot of backstory about the group of settler’s who have taken on the land (which lead to a fabulous discussion on our way to work today about the 1862 Homestead Act, and communities built quickly after the Civil War with both Southerner’s and Northerner’s working together) that are being driven out, one by one, by the evil Ryker and his gang. When it becomes clear that the Starrett’s are not going to budge, and they have a new man on their team who is not afraid to kill to make a point, Ryker brings in the big guns.
Jack Palance arrives wearing, literally, a black hat. No question that he is going to get killed by Shane before the movie ends. The only question is, who else is going to die? To prevent the innocent Starrett from getting blood on his hands, Shane conks him on the head and knocks him out, so he can’t be accused of being chicken, and he can’t be accused of murder. In town, Shane kills the the hired gun, Jack Palance. He kills Ryker. He kills Ryker’s brother. Basically, it’s a bloodbath. Shane is hit, but probably not fatally.
The president of the Shane Fan Club sees the whole thing go down, and you think young Joey may have his image of his hero tainted, seeing as he just witnessed him killing three men. Nope. He loves him even more. He can’t quit him, it seems.
Shane stops by the Starrett residence to say goodbye, and we are forced to listen to the most obnoxious, braying, annoying, scene ever put on film* from Joey, screaming “Shane! Come back, Shane!” at the back of the cowboy as he rides away. This kid does not shut up. He can’t just zip it. Maybe he didn’t quite understand how awkward it might be for his father to have a more virile man hanging about the homestead, what with his mother giving side-eyes to him as he washed up. Maybe he didn’t understand the cowboy motto: Ride in to town. Kill some bad folks. Ride away in silence.
This movie, for all it’s glorious cinematography, will always be remembered by me as the movie where I discovered the worst child character of all time. Let the man go, kid. Shane is not coming back. He would rather die alone on the prairie than have to listen to your shouting for another minute. I forgot to mention this, Shane was definitely shot in the big blow-out, but it’s never revealed how serious his wound is. I assume he was writhing in pain, but wanted more than anything to get out of Joey’s voice range.
“Shane! Shane! Come back, Shane!” That about sums it up.
*If memory serves, Chloe Webb has an equally annoying scene yelling “Sid! Sid!” in Sid and Nancy. I don’t know who made me want to jab spikes in my ears more. It might be a tie.
Shane This is a link to a 2008 article that reports that the Western Writers of America voted Shane as the “Greatest Western Movie of All Time.” This tells me that I clearly know nothing about Western cinema, and that I may be the only person who is made incredibly uncomfortable every time Joey looks at Shane.