Shane (film)

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theatrical poster
Directed by George Stevens
Produced by George Stevens
Screenplay by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
Story by Jack Schaefer
Starring Alan Ladd
Jean Arthur
Van Heflin
Brandon deWilde
Jack Palance
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography Loyal Griggs
Editing by William Hornbeck
Tom McAdoo
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • April 23, 1953 (1953-04-23)
Running time 118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.1 million
Box office $20,000,000[1]

Shane is a 1953 American Western film from Paramount.[2][3] It was produced and directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by A. B. Guthrie, Jr., based on the 1949 novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer. Its Oscar-winning cinematography was by Loyal Griggs. The film stars Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur (in her last film after a thirty-year career) and Van Heflin, and features Brandon deWilde, Elisha Cook, Jr., Jack Palance and Ben Johnson.

Shane was listed #45 in the 2007 edition of AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies list and #3 on AFI's 10 Top 10 in the category Western.


Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur

A stranger, wearing buckskin and a six shooter, calling himself Shane (Alan Ladd), rides into an isolated valley in the sparsely settled state of Wyoming some time after the Homestead Act was put into place in 1862. Whatever his past, he's obviously skilled as a gunslinger, and soon finds himself drawn into a conflict between homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and ruthless cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), who wants to force Starrett and the others off the land. Shane stays for supper and the night at the invitation of Joe's wife, Marian (Jean Arthur), and starts working as a farmhand.

Shane goes into town with Starrett and the rest of the homesteaders to pick up supplies at a general store. Adjacent to the store, but separated from it by an inside door, is a bar. Shane enters the bar, where Ryker's men are, and orders soda pop. Chris Calloway (Ben Johnson), one of Ryker's men, taunts Shane and throws whiskey on him, saying "..smell like a man!" but Shane, instructed by Starrett to avoid trouble, doesn't rise to the bait. On a later occasion, Calloway bullies Shane again. This time, Shane orders two shots of whiskey. He pours one on Calloway's shirt and throws the other in his face followed by a punch that knocks Calloway back into the general store. A bar room brawl ensues as Ryker's men gang up on Shane. However, Starrett enters the bar and with his help, Shane wins the fight, but the shopkeeper orders them out. Ryker declares that the next time Shane or Joe go to town the "air will be filled with gunsmoke."

Young Joey (Brandon deWilde) is drawn to him and the gun, and wants Shane to teach him how to shoot. Shane shows him how to wear his holster and demonstrates his speed and aim on a target Joey picks out. His mother interrupts them, saying guns aren't going to be part of her boy's life. Shane explains a gun is a tool, no better no worse than any other tool, an axe, shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it.

There is an obvious attraction, and perhaps a history, between Shane and Marian. She tells Shane that they would be better off if there weren't any guns in the valley, including his. She is emphatic that guns are not going to be a part of her son's life.

As tensions mount, Ryker hires Jack Wilson (Jack Palance), an unscrupulous, psychopathic gunslinger, who laughs at the thought of murder. Wilson goads ex-Confederate Frank 'Stonewall' Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a hot-tempered Alabama homesteader, into a fight by calling Torrey, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and "all the rest of them Rebs" trash. Just before Stonewall is gunned down, he calls Wilson a "low-down, lying Yankee." Wilson responds "Prove it," before outdrawing the inexperienced homesteader.

After the funeral, many plan to leave. But a fire set by Ryker's men spurs them into pulling together to put it out, rather than driving them out.

Ryker decides to have Wilson kill Starrett in an ambush at the saloon, under the pretense of negotiating. Calloway loses his stomach for this, and warns Shane that Starrett's "up against a stacked deck."

Joe is resolved to go anyway. He knows that Shane will look after Marian and Joey if he doesn't survive. But Shane tells Joe he's no match for Wilson, although he might be a match for Ryker. They fight and Shane has to knock him unconscious. Joey yells at Shane for pistol whipping his father with the butt of his gun.

Marian begs Shane not to go and asks if he is doing it for her. He admits that he is, and for Joey, and all the decent people who want a chance to live and grow up there.

In town, Shane walks into the saloon. Shane tells Ryker that they're both relics of the Old West, but Ryker hasn't realized it yet. Shane then begins to goad Wilson. He tells Wilson he's heard Wilson is a "low-down, Yankee liar." Wilson grins, apparently remembering the last words of Stonewall Torrey, whom Wilson killed earlier. Wilson, as with Torrey, replies "Prove it." Shane rapidly fires twice killing Wilson, turns and fires a third shot killing Ryker, who has pulled a hidden gun. He's turning to leave when Ryker's brother, Morgan, fires a Winchester rifle from the balcony overhead. Joey, who ran after Shane, calls out and Shane fires back, killing the second Ryker.

Shane walks out of the saloon, where Joey is waiting for him. He says that he has to move on and tells him to take care of his family. Shane also says to tell Joey's mother that there "aren't any more guns in the valley."

Shane's blood runs onto Joey's hands when he reaches up to him. Joey's worried, but Shane tells him that's fine. Wounded, Shane sits up, with his arm hanging uselessly at his side as he rides past the grave markers on Cemetery Hill, and out of town, into the sunrise, over the mountains, all the while Joey is shouting, "Shane! Come back!"


Jack Palance was the last living cast member when he died in 2006.

Production notes[edit]

Behind the scenes of the filming of Shane.

Although the film is fiction, elements of the setting are derived from Wyoming's Johnson County War (1892).[4] The physical setting is the high plains near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and many shots feature the Grand Teton massif looming in the near distance. Other filming took place at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California.

Director George Stevens originally cast Montgomery Clift as Shane, William Holden as Joe Starrett; when they both proved unavailable, the film was nearly abandoned.[5] Stevens asked studio head Y. Frank Freeman for a list of available actors with current contracts. Within three minutes, he chose Alan Ladd, Van Heflin and Jean Arthur, though Arthur was not the first choice to play Marian; Katharine Hepburn was originally considered for the role. Even though she had not made a picture in five years, Arthur accepted the part at the request of George Stevens with whom she had worked in two earlier films, The Talk of the Town (1942) and The More the Merrier (1943) for which she received her only Oscar nomination. Shane marked her last film appearance (when the film was shot she was 50 years old, significantly older than her two male co-stars), although she later appeared in theater and a short-lived television series.

Although the film was made between July and October 1951, it was not released until 1953 due to director Stevens' extensive editing. The film cost so much to make that at one point, Paramount negotiated its sale to Howard Hughes, who later pulled out of the arrangement.[citation needed] The studio felt the film would never recoup its costs, though it ended up making a significant profit. Another story[specify] reported that Paramount was going to release the film as "just another western" until Hughes watched a rough cut of the film and offered to buy it on the spot from Paramount for his RKO Radio Pictures. Hughes' offer made Paramount reconsider the film for a major release.

Jack Palance had problems with horses and Alan Ladd with guns. The scene where Shane practices shooting in front of Joey required 116 takes.[citation needed] A scene where Jack Palance (credited as Walter Jack Palance) mounts his horse was actually a shot of him dismounting, but played in reverse. As well, the original planned introduction of Wilson galloping into town was replaced with him simply walking in on his horse, which was noted as improving the entrance by making him seem more threatening. In the bar scene where Alan Ladd shoots Jack Palance twice, Ladd blinks noticeably as his gun fires.

Technical details[edit]

Shane was the first film to be projected in a "flat" widescreen, a format that Paramount invented in order to offer audiences something that Television could not—a panoramic screen.[6] Paramount, in conjunction with the management of Radio City Music Hall, installed a screen measuring 50 feet wide by 30 feet high,[7] replacing the Hall's previous screen, which was 34 feet wide by 25 feet high.[8] Although the film's image was shot using the standard 1.37:1 Academy ratio, Paramount picked Shane to debut their new wide-screen system because it was composed largely of long and medium shots that would not be compromised by cropping the image. Using a newly cut aperture plate in the movie projector, as well as a wider-angle lens, the film was exhibited in its first-run venues at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Just before the premiere, Paramount announced that all of their films would be shot for this ratio from then on.[6] This was changed in 1954, when the studio changed their house aspect ratio to 1.85:1.

The film was originally released with a conventional optical soundtrack in April 1953, but the success of the film convinced the producers to re-mix the soundtrack in May with a new three-track, stereophonic soundtrack, which was recorded and played on a 35mm magnetic full coat reel installed by Altec, in interlock on another dubber in the projection booth.[9] This process was new to the general public, only having been debuted in New York City with This is Cinerama and nationally with Warner Bros. picture, House of Wax.

The film was also one of the first films to attempt to re-create the overwhelming sound of gunfire. Warren Beatty cited this aspect of Shane as inspiration during the filming of Bonnie and Clyde.[10]

In addition, Shane was one of the first films in which actors were attached to hidden wires that yanked them backwards when they were shot from the front. Director George Stevens also used a small cannon and fired it into a garbage can to create the loud report of the pistol for maximum effect. Stevens was in World War II and saw what a single bullet can do to a man.[11]

In the mid to late 1970s, the Welsh television station HTV Cymru/Wales broadcast a version dubbed into the Welsh language.[12]

Assistant producer was Ivan Moffat who provides commentary on the DVD release of Shane, along with George Stevens, Jr.


The film opened in New York City at Radio City Music Hall on April 23, 1953.[8] According to Motion Picture Daily, "opening day business at the Music Hall was close to capacity. The audience at the first performance applauded at the end of a fight sequence and again at the end of the picture.[13]

Bosley Crowther, after attending the premiere, called the film a "rich and dramatic mobile painting of the American frontier scene" and noted:

Shane contains something more than the beauty and the grandeur of the mountains and plains, drenched by the brilliant Western sunshine and the violent, torrential, black-browed rains. It contains a tremendous comprehension of the bitterness and passion of the feuds that existed between the new homesteaders and the cattlemen on the open range. It contains a disturbing revelation of the savagery that prevailed in the hearts of the old gun-fighters, who were simply legal killers under the frontier code. And it also contains a very wonderful understanding of the spirit of a little boy amid all the tensions and excitements and adventures of a frontier home.

Crowther called "the concept and the presence" of Joey, the little boy played by Brandon deWilde, as being key to "permit[ting] a refreshing viewpoint on material that's not exactly new. For it's this youngster's frank enthusiasms and naive reactions that are made the solvent of all the crashing drama in A. B. Guthrie Jr.'s script."[14]

Shane ended its run at Radio City Music Hall on May 20, 1953, racking up $114,000 in four weeks at Radio City.[15] It earned $8 million in North America during its initial run.[16]

Nearly 50 years later, Woody Allen called Shane "George Stevens' masterpiece" and said it is on his "list of great American films, which include, among others, ... The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, White Heat, Double Indemnity, The Informer and The Hill by Sidney Lumet.... a great movie and can hold its own with any film, whether it's a western or not."[17]

Awards and honors[edit]



  • Academy Awards:
    • Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Brandon deWilde
    • Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Jack Palance
    • Best Director, George Stevens
    • Best Picture, George Stevens
    • Best Writing, Screenplay, A.B. Guthrie Jr.; 1954


  • In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Shane was listed as the third best film in the western genre.[18][19]

American Film Institute recognition


Clint Eastwood's western Pale Rider pays tribute to Shane with a similar plot and similar ending. The film Nowhere to Run (1993) with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Rosanna Arquette was loosely based on Shane. The 1965 comedy western Cat Ballou spoofs Shane in various ways. Its buckskin-clad "good" gunfighter Kid Shelleen and black-clad villain Tim Strawn are obviously patterned after Shane and Jack Wilson, respectively, though in Cat Ballou the two adversaries turn out to be brothers. The McBain family funeral scene in the Sergio Leone epic Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is borrowed almost shot-for-shot from the funeral scene in Shane.

The 1984 album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by British musician and Pink Floyd founder member Roger Waters references the film Shane extensively. Mainly in the track "5.01AM" where audio samples from the film are used to punctuate verses of the song.

It is also speculated that the animated series Cowboy Bebop based its final episode loosely on the ending as an homage.

The 1966 television series Batman featured a cowboy-themed villain called "Shame" played by Cliff Robertson. The storyline that introduces Shame also riffs on the film's famous catchphrase, featuring a young boy calling "Come back, Shame!"

The "Come back, Shane" catchphrase was also referenced by Charles M. Schulz in his Peanuts comic strip on occasion (see March 23, 1989 strip).

In the "Jerky Boys the Movie" Kamal says, "Come back Shane" when they show the Caravan Pictures logo.

Robert Deniro's character in Goodfellas incorrectly refers to the film during a card game right before Joe Pesci shoots Michael Imperioli in the foot in a re-enactment of The Oklahoma Kid.

In the 1998 film The Negotiator, Kevin Spacey's character tries to convince Samuel L. Jackson's character that viewers should conclude that Shane is dead at the end of the film because he is slumped over his horse and unable to look back. Jackson's character contends that Shane's death is only an assumption. "Slumped don't mean dead," he says.

Season two of the 1995 television show "Sliders" contained a western-themed episode titled "The Good, the Bad and the Wealthy" in which the child of one of the guest stars ends the episode with the line "Quinn? Quinn, where are you? Quinn, come back! Quinn?"

Two of the main characters in the movie Swingers debate whether or not Shane dies at the end of the movie.

Copyright status in Japan[edit]

In 2006, Shane was the subject of a major legal case in Japan involving the expiration of its copyright in Japan. First Trading Corporation had been selling budget-priced copies of public domain movies, including Shane, as Japanese law only protected cinematographic works for 50 years from the year it was published—which meant that Shane fell into the public domain in 2003. In a lawsuit filed by Paramount, it was contested that Shane was not in the public domain in Japan due to an amendment which extended the copyright term for these works from 50 to 70 years, and came into effect on January 1, 2004. It was later ruled that the new law was not retroactive, and any film produced during or before 1953 was not eligible for the extension.[20]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Shane. The Numbers. Retrieved April 13, 2012.
  2. ^ Variety film review; April 15, 1953, page 6.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; April 18, 1953, page 63.
  4. ^[dead link]
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Weaver, William R., "All Para. Films Set for 3 to 5 Aspect Ratio". Motion Picture Daily, March 25, 1953.
  7. ^ "Hall Alters Projection Equipment for 'Shane'". Motion Picture Daily, April 8, 1953.
  8. ^ a b "Para. Wide-Screen At Music Hall for Premiere of 'Shane'". Motion Picture Daily, April 8, 1953.
  9. ^ "Midwest 'Shane' Premiere at Lake". Motion Picture Daily, May 13, 1953.
  10. ^ George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey[page needed]
  11. ^ "Film Genre" The Western (2002)
  12. ^ "Dr. J.R.P. Evans" The role of Adult education in preserving the identity of an ethnic minority: the Welsh case (1991)
  13. ^ "Para. Wide-Screen At Music Hall for Premiere of 'Shane'". Motion Picture Daily, April 8, 1953.[chronology citation needed]
  14. ^ Crowther, Bosley (April 24, 1953). "Shane (1953)". NYT Critics' Pick. The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  15. ^ "'Wax,' 'Shane' End Sturdy B'Way Runs". Motion Picture Daily, May 20, 1953.
  16. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  17. ^ Watching Movies With...Woody Allen: Coming Back To Shane, an August 2001 article from The New York Times
  18. ^ American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  19. ^ "Top Western". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  20. ^ Mitani, Hidehiro (Autumn–Winter 2007). "Argument for the Extension of the Copyright Protection over Cinematographic Works". CASRIP Newsletter. UW School of Law. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 

20. The Making of Shane, Walt Farmer, Jackson, WY, 2001

External links[edit]