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Now Showing in The Man Cave #2: Shane

shaneShane (1953)

“What’s your favorite film?” That’s a question I am often asked, and with good reason. Having a personal movie collection of almost 1000 DVDs, HD DVDs and Blu-Rays, as well as watching close to 300 movies a year, I fit the description of a movie fanatic. I don’t often watch regular TV, but spend most of my TV time watching movies.

Over many years, when asked what my favorite film is, I've answered the same way: "I don’t have a favorite." Sure, I am fond of many films. But choosing just one favorite film seems impossible. Eventually, however, I've been able to narrow the choices down and make my single selection.

As is obvious from the title of this review, that one film I am referring to is Shane. Many of us are probably familiar with this George Stevens classic, as the film is included in most lists of the greatest movies ever made. It’s not hard to see why.

The movie Shane is based upon a book (of the same name), which was authored by Jack Schaefer back in 1949. I have read the book, and there are slight differences between it and the movie. For purposes of this review, I will discuss the movie only.

While the film was shot in 1951, George Stevens did not finish editing it until 1953. This created a problem for Paramount Pictures. Stevens, a master of his craft, filmed the movie in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio. However, by 1953, when the film was released, widescreen films were on the verge of taking over the industry. Paramount did not want to miss out and, therefore, wanted to make sure Shane was shown in a widescreen format. To accomplish this, the top and bottom of each frame were masked (cut-off), allowing for the film to be framed in the widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Despite this, the film amazingly still won the Academy award for best Cinematography. With the more contemporary Blu-Ray release, it is easy to see why. As for the Blu-Ray edition itself, I am pleased to report that the purists prevailed, and that the film is displayed in the original 4:3 aspect ratio.

Shane is a simple story in many ways, with clearly defined good guys and bad guys. But George Stevens worked his magic, and was able to create an exceptional film.

The title character, Shane (played by Alan Ladd), is a loner with a hidden past. He’s on the run - not from the law or an enemy, but from himself. Shane is searching for a new start, and a way to turn from his gunfighter ways.

Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) is a hard working and strong-minded man. He loves his wife Marian (Jean Arthur) and son Joey (Brandon De Wilde), and dreams of helping to turn the valley in which they live into a successful settlement with many families, schools and churches. By happenstance, Shane stumbles upon the Starrett family and takes a position as a farmhand, although he becomes more like a member of the family and a role model for Joey.

The Starretts and the other homesteaders, or 'squatters' (depending on who you ask), all have one goal - raising and growing families. To men like Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), the Starretts and all the other squatters are cutting into his profits by taking the land he regularly uses for his cattle. Ryker will do anything he can to get them to leave, but generally stays within the confines of the law.

The pressure mounts between the 'bad guys' and 'good guys', and Ryker finally brings in a hired gun named Jack Wilson (played by Jack Palance). One of the most dramatic murders of any film is on exhibit in Shane, as Wilson guns down a local settler (Elisha Cook). The killing itself is tragic, but the funeral to follow is just as moving.

With emotions running high and most of the settlers ready to call it quits, Joe Starrett decides that it’s do or die, and that he, as their unappointed leader, must resolve the matter, even if it means killing Ryker. But Shane knows all too well how a confrontation between Starrett and Wilson will end, and is determined to stand in Starrett’s place. When Starrett, refuses, Shane is forced into a brawl that ends with Shane knocking Starrett out with his gun. Joey, observing the event and not understanding what Shane is trying to accomplish, accuses Shane of cheating.

Shane rides into town, with Joey following. Joey arrives just in time to witness the final battle as Shane, ever quick on the draw, shoots and kills Wilson, then turns and kills Ryker and his brother, both of whom had drawn their guns on Shane.

As Shane mounts his horse, Joey approaches, apologizing and asking if he can ride home on the back of Shane’s horse. Unfortunately, that is not meant to be.

Shane: "I gotta be going on."
Joey: "Why, Shane?"
Shane: "A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can't break the mold. I tried it and it didn't work for me."
Joey: "We want you, Shane."
Shane: "Joey, there's no living with... with a killing. There's no going back from one. Right or wrong, it's a brand. A brand sticks. There's no going back. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her... tell her everything's all right. And there aren't any more guns in the valley."

As Shane rides off, the emotional cries of a young boy calling for his hero echo across the valley. One cannot help but feel the sadness, yet also recognize the new chance and opportunity for the families in the valley.

"There never was a man like SHANE. There never was a motion picture like SHANE." At least that’s how the film was promoted. This reviewer wholeheartedly agrees. I rate this film 5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended.

Rob Geyer (Rob G) resides with his family (and hangs out in his Man Cave) in Syracuse, NY.

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