Tales of complicated heroes are unique to no time and no geography – but those that populate the mythical recreation of the Old West; of mysterious, capable, often deadly men whose wandering finds them in a township or farm embroiled in conflict, is the stuff of legend. American cinema is replete with such tales and Alan Ladd’s Shane earned a rightful place among the very best with its simple story teeming with great characters portrayed by fine actors and assembled, with great skill, by director George Stevens. Released for the first time on High Definition in its original, composed aspect ratio, Shane fans have cause to rejoice.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/MPEG-2
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD, French 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 118 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayStandard
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 08/13/2013
The Production Rating: 5/5
“There's no living with a killing. There's no goin' back from one. Right or wrong, it's a brand... a brand sticks. There's no goin' back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her... tell her everything's alright. And there aren't any more guns in the valley”
The Starretts are recent homesteaders in the great state of Wyoming. The Civil War has not long ended and the passage of the homesteaders act (1862), which provided for anyone over 21, or the head of a household, a sizeable stock of land to build and maintain a home and farm the land for 5 years after which they would own the land outright. In the lush valley under the shadow of the distant Grand Tetons, the Starretts have made such a claim. Rancher and cattleman Ryker, whose land was cut by the homesteader claim – blocking access to water for his herds – works to discourage the Starretts, and other homesteaders, from staying. Intimidation and sabotage of land and fences are the tools of Ryker’s trade.
Shane is a weary gunfighter, wandering between towns, riding from the majestic range of mountains and stopping at the Starrett’s log cabin home for a rest and water for him and his horse. His six-shooter clear around his hips, Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) is cautious. His boy, Joey (Brandon DeWilde), is fascinated by the stranger who carries himself confidently and whose sidearm promises wild stories of the stranger’s past. Joe’s wife, Marian (Jean Arthur) – a gentle and soft-spoken lady – catches sight of the stranger and Shane too catches sight of her. When Ryker and his men ride to intimidate Joe, Shane stands by the man he has just met and after giving the Ryker boys nothing to show for their attempts at bullying, Shane is hired on to help Joe. He becomes a family friend, a source of great interest to young Joey, and a point of great contention for the Ryker ranch and their plots to run off the homesteaders.
Shane is great cinema. A superbly shot and acted treatment of mysterious good versus tried-and-true evil. Employing long familiar tropes of the cinema of the Old West, Shane’s distinction in the annals of great films is anchored by the construct of an intriguing character relationship paradigm (between Shane and both the young Joey and the lovely Marian), a brutality and faith in the impact of the violence, and the lasting effect of the closing shot. Woven among these impressive elements are leavened by a gifted filmmaker’s eye and shots of Wyoming that are both hopeful and isolating.
Part of Shane’s power comes from how it carefully establishes the tense build up to the inevitable shoot-out. For example, when Shane encounters the Ryker boys, when he steps out of the general store in his new store bought outfit and into the bar to order himself a soda pop (to the chuckle of the bar patrons), he holds his tongue with a stern stare and keeps holstered his killer instincts as he is taunted by Calloway (Ben Johnson), one of Ryker’s men. Shane is so easily run out of the bar, mocked and ridiculed to such a degree that the homesteaders, whom had taken in him as a friend, feel they have a coward on their side, and the ‘bad guys’ greatly underestimate who they might be up against. Perhaps Shane has seen too much bloodshed and fighting to so easily be drawn in again. Perhaps his reactions so fast and brutal that he fears unleashing the killer within and rendering void the fresh start he has begun making. The reason is ripe for debate, but it helps set up the character and the tension of the piece. Later in the film, after Ryker has sent for the hired gun in the form of Jack Palance, playing with icy villainy the character of Jack Wilson, we see exactly how the film must come to a close, and the showdown between them is both what you hope to see but not what you expect.
Not all heroes of American cinema’s treatment of the Old West were strangers or men with no name. Some were simple farm hands (The Outlaw Josey Wales), some were lawmen (High Noon), but those who found themselves with their backs against the wall for a people they barely knew (or their own families) evoke such a sense of savior and heroism that the effects on storytelling in cinema cannot be understated. It is impossible to imagine stories as diverse as Escape from New York or Leon: The Professional without tracing a curved line that eventually leads back to the great Westerns. The role of the reluctant or unexpected hero finds its roots run thickly through the great west.
Shane is inimitable cinema, forging a place in the greats of all cinema with winding portrayals of staple characters in compelling circumstances with a lasting closing moment. Certainly the pieces of the story are mostly familiar by 1951, the ruthless business man, the low-class henchmen, the innocent townsfolk and farmers, and the mysterious rider who arrives in town at the right – or wrong – moment, but the treatment of these familiar pieces feels fresh, and Alan Ladd’s understated performance of Shane inviting.
It is ultimately Shane’s story that we become enamored with just as much as the fate of the homesteaders. It’s his world we fall into, his journey we try to understand. He’s a tightened coil of a man, aware of his skills at killing but resistant to lay them upon the seemingly deserving. We come to understand the burden of his talents as we watch his emotional struggle in his feelings for Marian – a relationship that he cannot pursue or consummate. He’s an honest man, moral as his profession allows, who struggles with the admiration and fascination thrust upon him by young Joey. And he’s a hardworking, forthright man who seeks to provide to Joe Starrett ample reason for his trust and employment.
Shane is among the most earnest of Westerns, finding its emotional authenticity through the brutality of the gunslingers and the projections of hero place upon the rider by the young Joey, with experienced direction and terrific performances.
The story behind Shane’s aspect ratio is interesting to say the least. Filmed in three-strip Technicolor 1951, a time when the standard aspect ratio for cinema was the academy’s 1.37:1, director George Steven’s composed his shots for that academy standard. However, after a lengthy shoot and considerably longer time in the editing room, Shane was ready for its premiere. In the intervening years between shoot and premiere, studios, seeking to differentiate the cinema experience from the growing popularity of television, were set to release their films in 1.66:1. Shane would be Paramount’s first wider-screen release (and the first of all the studios). Since the film was shot for the 1.37:1 ratio, the image was cropped at the projector (using a new cut of the aperture plate), with the director’s blessing. And the 1.37:1 ratio is how the film has been seen on television and home releases since. For this High Definition premiere, Warner Bros., having licensed the film from Paramount, had originally intended to release the film at the 1.66:1 ratio, but ceding to fan requests, delayed the release to go back and perform the changes necessary to release the film as it was originally shot and intended.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The results are a triumph with beautiful detail, lovely color saturation, and a pleasing and natural layer of grain showing off the care taken in preparing this film for release. Many will have only seen this film on television or previous home releases, with somewhat muted blacks, a noticeable softness, and a heavy sandy brown hue tone to much of the picture. This presentation rights that. The blacks are deep, the balance of colors, though naturally tend toward the brown, are sound with a richness to the greens of the grazing grounds and the blue of the sky above the mountains rich at times. Just before the films bar-set climax, as Shane traverses the wilderness under the moon, the cool blue of night and the dense shadows are powerful. My display tends toward darker images and so I adjusted to compensate for this night scene (just to make sure I didn’t miss anything the HD image would reveal), as Joey sneaks to follow Shane into town, and it is an example of how good this release is. Excellent quality.
Shane is released with a DTS Master Audio 2.0 track (providing the original audio experience as first heard in theaters, before the release with a stereo audio mix), and the results are very good. Victor Young’s accompanying score is a little too imposing at times, but that isn’t to say the score is not a fine one. It admirably captures the wide-open and hopeful west and slices in tense strings when the time calls for it to betray the dark underside that comes from the brutes who would seek to impose themselves on the innocent homesteaders, and it is well represented here. Dialogue is revealing and without problems and there is surprising power to the track as the film unfolds.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Commentary with George Stevens, Jr. and Associate Producer Ivan Moffat: A solid audio commentary track sure to please fans and film enthusiasts with a rich history and presentment of the director’s intentions and notes provided by his son here.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Theatrical Trailer (2.00): Surprisingly revealing (and spoiling) trailer!
Cinema that captures the untamed, or near-untamed, lands of the great frontier lands are a joy to watch. John Ford is often lauded for capturing those landscapes with an artist’s eye but many others have framed their films of the Old West with a passionate skill, and among those George Stevens and his Shane must be counted. But Steven’s accomplishment is not merely his establishment of that time and place, working with cinematographer Loyal Griggs, but in his meaningful perspective on the familiar story of a lone gunslinger. Stevens captures with patience and masterful orchestration the awkward and personal fisticuffs between Shane and an offending brute, where we see what Shane is truly capable of, and it is something quite different. Obscuring bodies, uneasy posturing followed by an all-in melee as Shane stands up to overwhelming numbers (all without musical underscore until the tide of victory turns). And it is just brilliant.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
A fine film worthy of placement in everyone’s library, Shane still resonates today. Watching the admiration of young Joey and how that affects the weary Shane gives George Steven’s film an unexpected dimension and, when the now famous closing moments arrive as Joey cries out for Shane to “come back’, you understand that you’ve just watched remarkable cinema.
Reviewed By: Neil Middlemiss
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