Review for Shane (Limited edition two-disc set)
‘Shane’ always struck me as a different kind of Western. There was something elegantly simple about its story and Alan Ladd was certainly not your typical gunslinger. There was something soft, almost feminine, about his approach.
Then there’s the landscape. Vast, open, arid and yet the whole film rests on just two key locations (more or less) almost like a stage-play. Indeed, it would be an entertaining exercise to see just how effective a stage drama it might make.
Then there are the guns. It’s a Western so there are plenty of them but there is also a certain amount of philosophising about them too. Indeed, the film seems perfectly apposite given the arguments that rage over gun control in the US today.
Then there’s immigration. The good, the bad and the down-right ugly sides of the issue, all here as if the debate were on this side of the millennial divide.
Whether ‘Shane’ set out to be such a thought-provoking torch-bearer for so many issues is up for debate. It’s arguably just a damn good drama that just happens to be set in the frontier West.
Whatever the view, it certainly is an entertaining film and this Blu-Ray edition (with several versions of the film in varying aspect ratios) must surely be the best version to get. I can tell you, it looks mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed.
Arguably Shane was also the film that defined the ‘mysterious, quiet stranger’ who arrives to save the day – perhaps a little like Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’.
Alan Ladd plays Shane who arrives at a small homestead to be greeted with some suspicion by a homesteader. Stopping for water, he has to convince Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) that he is not there to coerce them to move in. Joe’s son, Joey (Brandon deWilde), is taken with Shane from the outset and is delighted when his Dad concedes and his mum, Marian (Jean Arthur) is happy to add another plate to the dinner table.
But, whilst Shane is washing, a group of men arrive to try and convince Joe and his family to move on. They work for an old time cattle-man, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) who, having fought Indians and battled to take the land, doesn’t want settlers to move in and take it as their own. Despite having a point, his tactics are cruel; to use his thugs to coerce the settlers away. Shane witnesses the altercation and unsettles the group who clearly recognise him as a gun-man.
It’s not until later that Shane decides to join Joe in a fight to retain his homestead, even if it means taking on a non- member of Ryker’s gang – the black-gloved killer, Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) who proves himself to be as heartless as they come.
It’s a highly satisfying, if straight-forward, story which I won’t spoil here, except to say that after a quiet start, it builds to an action-packed finale with plenty of action (not all shoot outs with some ferocious fist-fights too) in-between.
The film looks amazing here with cinematographer Loyal Griggs’ exquisite camera-work doing the incredible landscapes justice. Each of the three versions contained here (in varying aspect ratios) look great with excellent restoration work making the HD prints look flawless. I viewed the intended 1.37:1 presentation in full on disc one and had a peek at the 1.66:1 original theatrical presentation, and at an alternate 1.66:1 framing optimised for this ratio, supervised by George Stevens, Jr. which I will definitely watch in full at some point.
You also have uncompressed mono and stereo options which worked well, and a subtitle option for the hard-of-hearing.
Being a Masters of Cinema release, you come to expect some bonus features. There’s a nice audio-commentary by George Stevens, Jr. with associate producer Ivan Moffat which is very relaxed but which contains many interesting production facts. There’s also a video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard who talks about why he felt that ‘Shane’ was Steven’s finest hour, as well at how it fits into the Western canon.
An especially nice bonus feature is the inclusion of a complete Lux Radio Theater adaptation of Shane with many members of the original cast, including Alan Ladd. I suppose, at the time, it was the only way to share versions of popular cinema favourites and it made a fascinating listen. After all, Shane is a very visual film so it loses a lot but is remarkably entertaining nonetheless, though maybe for some of the wrong reasons.
The disc also ships with a trailer and a 36 page booklet featuring writing on the film by critic Penelope Huston, an unpublished interview with Stevens, a treatment for an un-filmed prologue to the film, an essay on the different ratios, and archival imagery.
Definitely one to pick up.