Shane (1953): George Stevens Classic Western Starring Alan Ladd

George Stevens’s classic Western Shane stars Alan Ladd in one of his most memorable and iconic screen performances. Ladd plays a former gunfighter, who comes to the defense of homesteaders, and in the process becomes the idolized hero of a young boy, beautifully played by Brandon de Wilde.

Like other Westerns, “Shane” deals with the genre’s perennial issues order and disorder, legit and illegit violence.

It also¬†embodies its basic social types: the “man of action” (Alan Ladd), the “anti-violent pacifist” (Van Hefflin), “the hired-gun and incarnation of evil” (Jack Palance), the “naive wife-mother” (Jean Arthur), who initially resents the stranger for teaching her son how to handle a gun, until she realizes its necessity.

The movie features two parallel stories: the social conflict between hard-working farmers and just as stubborn ranchers, and the mythic confrontation between right and wrong, justice and evil.

Perhaps no other actor at the time but Ladd could have given his hero-character the quality of blank, somehow ethereal detachment. Made to look like an angel in a medieval painting, Ladd may well be a modern Christ figure.

Splendid in every way, “Shane” is one of the most poetic American films about childhood and growing up. The film features breathtaking cinematography, which won an Oscar Award.

“Shane” is one of those rare films that achieved both critical acclaim and box-office popularity. Released right after the psychological and introspective High Noon, some critics saw it as a refreshing return to classic American issues of “man against man” and “man against nature” in the construction of the West–in reality and myth. Indeed, the film’s final sequence suggests that the whole tale may very well have been a boy’s dream.

Oscar Nominations: 6

Picture, produced by George Stevens Director: George Stevens Screenplay: A. B. Guthrie Supporting Actor: Brandon De Wilde Supporting Actor: Jack Palance Cinematography (color): Loyal Griggs

Oscar Awards: 1

Cinematography

Oscar Context

In 1953, “Shane” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with two historical dramas, “Julius Caesar” and “The Robe,” a romantic comedy “Roman Holiday,” and a WWII drama, “From Here to Eternity,” which swept most of the important Oscars, including Best Director for Fred Zinnemann.

“Roman Holiday” received three awards, including one for Motion Picture Story, Ian McLellan Hunter, who served as a front for blacklisted Dalton Trumbo; Trumbo got his award in 1992.

Alan Ladd failed to get an acting nod for one of his best performances. William Holden received the Best Actor for Billy Wilder’s “Stalag 17,” and Frank Sinatra won the Supporting Actor Oscar for “From Here to Eternity.”

Running Time: 118 minutes