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Our review of Shane, published September 8th, 2000, is also available.
"There's no living with a killing. There's no going back from one. Right or wrong, it's a brand. A brand sticks."
The western classic gets a (mostly) wonderful Blu-ray release.
Facts of the Case
Aggressive cattleman Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer, Paths of Glory) is hell-bent on driving a group of homesteaders away, especially hard-headed Joe Starrett (Van Heflin, 3:10 to Yuma), Starrett's wife Marian (Jean Arthur, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in her final screen appearance before leaving the movie business), and their son Joey (Brandon deWilde). And then Shane (Alan Ladd, The Blue Dahlia) shows up and offers to help the Starretts with their farm, changing the family's lives forever.
I first saw Shane when I was a young teen. I liked it well enough, but couldn't get over the fact that it wasn't as purely action-packed as, oh, Rio Bravo or The Horse Soldiers. So I filed it away as a film that I recognized as a good film, but one I didn't really need to watch again any time soon. (Plus, there was that screaming kid!)
Silly me. Shane is an excellent western, and an excellent film, period. Director George Stevens (A Place in the Sun) made a mature, thoughtful picture that works on so many different levels. Shane is the western genre distilled into its basic elements; Shane is also, in some ways, a profound deconstruction of the core themes of the western myth. It travels on both of these tracks magnificently, and uses its well-worn plot to address the shocking finality of violence.
Shane is a simple film, as far as plots go, but Stevens and screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr. treat the characters—homesteaders and cattle barons alike—three dimensionally. Alan Ladd gives Shane a quiet confidence, hinting at his character's prowess with a sidearm without saying a word. There's a sadness at Shane's core, though, that keeps him from being a pure archetype—this especially comes out when he interacts with Marian and Joey. Shane is good at killing, a fact that seems to disgust him even when he realizes it's part of who he is. His scenes with Joey (which irritated me when I was younger) are haunting. Shane knows how impressionable the young boy is, a fact that stings when Joey compares the almost god-like Shane to his humble father. The human interactions go a long way to making Shane the classic it is. Ladd isn't only one worth noting, of course. Arthur and Hefling are fantastic, and the movie is filled with some great small turns from John Ford vet Ben Johnson (Rio Grande), Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon) and a very young Jack Palance (City Slickers) as a sadistic gunman.
Shane gets an excellent Blu-ray release courtesy of Paramount. The 1.37:1/1080p HD transfer is flawless. I was initially concerned that this was going to be a tossed-off cash-grab from the studio, but I was dead wrong. The picture is glorious (hat tip to Loyal Griggs, who won an Oscar for his work here), the image consistently impressive; color is rich and natural-looking, and the image is sharp across the board. Some scenes that looked fine before are jaw-dropping now, especially the exterior shots of the various homesteads. The mono DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is good as well, though not as top-notch as the video. There are some spots where the orchestral score crowds out conversation, but the rest is great (and those gunshots!). There are only two extras: the original theatrical trailer for the film, and a commentary with Ivan Moffat, associate producer for the film, and Stevens's son George Stevens Jr, who served as production assistant. The commentary is excellent, though, with lots of neat lore and details about the picture.
While it's light on extras, Paramount's high-definition treatment of Shane is worth cheering.
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