The other night I watched the 1953 movie, “Shane.” “Shane” is a western set in—well, the same time that all the 1950s westerns are set in. The main character is a gunslinger named (hold your breath for it) Shane.
The general plot centers around Shane’s attempts to leave his former life behind and start over again with a family of homesteaders. After watching the movie, my overall opinions of the movie are mixed. Some of the filming is slow and plodding. The location of the film is the Jackson Hole valley, and filming on site adds quite a lot of natural beauty to the film as well as adding a fitting backdrop to the movie’s more serious tone. One of the shots that has stayed in my mind is the town’s saloon and general store dwarfed by a giant mountain range.
While it is a western, it is much more of a slow brooding drama. Further, it is a surprisingly silent film because silence is Shane’s main characteristic. All the colors used are dull tones, mostly greens, blues, and browns. The movie seems to build steadily on this rather serious mood. Most of the movie is from Joey’s perspective; what he sees in the adults, and what he admires in Shane. Some of the best editing in the film was the way the director cuts back and forth between Shane, and the little boy Joey, to stress the boy’s sense of awe. The movie continues to build slowly through typical western elements, until its climax.
Unfortunately, I am going to have to spoil the movie’s ending, so if you ever plan on watching it, which I can’t imagine many people do, don’t read any further. In its ending scene, all the emotion and drama that had been slowly boiling under the surface comes to a crescendo. After a typical western shootout scene, Shane gives Joey a few words of encouragement, before riding off into the night. Joey looks after Shane and shouts his name, and the movie ends right there. This moment made me wonder if Shane’s character represents Joey’s boyhood ideals of being a man, and how perhaps those ideals are impossible or unrealistic, or maybe even result in someone being harmed since Shane has just killed three people in a shootout. All throughout the movie, Joey is mesmerized by violence. In the opening scene, he is pretending to shoot a deer, and throughout the movie, he is often playing very loudly with his toy pistol. He begs Shane to teach him to shoot and watches the fistfight and the shootout in the saloon, with a raptured child’s gaze.
I would not say Shane is a great masterpiece, but I would argue it is a good movie. More importantly, it is an example of how to make a good movie in a traditionally not respected genre. The western genre at that time was known for making cheap films for audience enjoyment. Pick up and watch most 50’s westerns, and you will find a goofy movie, with some mildly interesting action. We have many of these types of movies in modern cinema, and yet “Shane” seems to be proof that it is not the genre that should blame, but the artists themselves. One genre is not superior to another. Each is filled with movies that are garbage. Yet, there are the occasional films that make a name for themselves. They become more than just another western movie or another horror movie. This is what cinema is about, and it is these occasional films that make up cinema.