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Ring a Ding Ding

Shane (1953)

     After much prodding from Ryan’s father and at least a year sitting idle on the DVR, Shane finally earned the attention of my “play” button. I have never been a fan of westerns, to the chagrin of some, and I am probably primarily turned away by the dirty, hot settings and the general action theme those films tend to offer. I think anytime I watch one, I find myself wondering why people would choose to live in those remote, lawless towns when civilization lies elsewhere in the country –but that is just my perspective. I have been warming up to the genre lately primarily through exposure to some of the better-acclaimed features, such as Once Upon a Time in the West, which I adored.

     Although it will not be labeled as my favorite western, Shane was definitely worth watching. It follows the troubles of a family and a stranger as they push against a gang of land owners trying to stake claim on properties farmed by homesteaders. Alan Ladd is the mysterious Shane who arrives at the film’s start on the property of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Joe’s son Joey (Brandon de Wilde) is immediately intrigued by the man wandering through their land, and the film includes the ups and downs of that idealization. Joe and his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur) want the man to stay on at the ranch to provide a needed extra hand and Shane agrees.

     Trouble starts when Shane goes into the very small town to pick up supplies for Joe and he runs into the Ryker gang, which is trying to run the Starretts and many other families off the land. Opting to take the high road, Shane allows one man to insult and threaten him before walking away. The next encounter is less congenial. When the group of homesteaders and their families hit town, Shane ends up in a fist fight against a whole slew of men that he ultimately wins when Joe joins the brawl. Rufe Ryker (Emile Meyer) calls in a gunslinger from out of town who seems to have a history with Shane. To this point, no bullets have flown among the feuding groups, but the threat is imminent, and one overly brave homesteader is shot down by this new villain, Wilson (Walter Jack Palance), prompting other families to pack their belongings.
     What struck me most about Shane was the lack of gunfire for the majority of the film. The old west seems always to be portrayed as a place where duels and gunplay are an everyday activity. The altercation among Shane, Joe and the Rykers is all fists, chairs and other implements, but no guns. This fight goes on for some time and is quite brutal by 1950s standards. It highlights not only what a contender Shane is but how strong Joe is as well.
     We are entreated to very little information about Shane. We do not know from where he came, he seemed to not know where he was going, and we do not know why he is aware of Wilson, having never seen the man before. Shane shows us early on how paranoid he is, drawing his gun at the sound of Joey cocking his unloaded child’s rifle. That mystery persists, however, through film’s end.
      Shane has no lack of great performances. I have been a growing Jean Arthur fan and was pleasantly surprised by her turn in this flick. The normally stylish, squeaky-voiced flirt was subdued and lovely in the supportive wife role. She was far from glamorous but radiated beneath the dirt as we wonder what sort of feelings she might have for Shane. The young boy is also quite impressive in his first role. De Wilde would go on to play the teenage brother in Hud a few years later before dying in an auto accident at age 30.
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