Shane (film)

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theatrical poster
Directed by George Stevens
Produced by George Stevens
Screenplay by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
Jack Sher
Based on Shane
1949 novel 
by Jack Schaefer
Starring Alan Ladd
Jean Arthur
Van Heflin
Brandon deWilde
Jack Palance
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography Loyal Griggs
Edited 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 Technicolor Western film from Paramount,[2][3] noted for its landscape cinematography and contributions to the genre.[4]

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 the last feature, and only color, film of her career)[5] and Van Heflin, and features Brandon deWilde, Jack Palance, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Ben Johnson.[4]

Shane was listed No. 45 in the 2007 edition of AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list, and No. 3 on AFI's 10 Top 10 in the 'Western' category.


Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur

Shane (Alan Ladd), a skilled, laconic gunfighter with a mysterious past,[4] rides into an isolated valley in the sparsely settled state of Wyoming some time after the Civil War. At dinner with a pioneer homesteader, Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur), he learns that a war of intimidation is being waged on the valley's homesteaders.[4] The ruthless cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is trying to seize the land they claimed under the Homestead Acts. Starrett offers Shane a job, and he accepts.

At the town's general store, Shane and other homesteaders are loading up supplies. Shane enters the saloon adjacent to the store, where Ryker's men are drinking, and orders a soda pop for the Starretts' son, Joey (Brandon deWilde). Chris Calloway (Ben Johnson), one of Ryker's men, throws a shot of whiskey on Shane's shirt. "Smell like a man!" he taunts. Shane doesn't rise to the bait; but at their next encounter Shane orders two shots of whiskey, pours one on Calloway's shirt and throws the other in his face, then knocks him to the ground. A brawl ensues; Shane prevails, with Starrett's help. Ryker declares that the next time they meet, "the air will be filled with gunsmoke." Ryker then hires professional gunfighter Jack Wilson (Jack Palance).

Joey is drawn to Shane. Shane shows him how to wear a holster and demonstrates his shooting skills; but Marian interrupts the lesson. Guns, she says, are not going to be a part of her son's life. Shane counters that a gun is a tool, no better or worse than any other tool. Marian retorts that everyone would be better off if there weren't any guns, including Shane's, in the valley.

Wilson taunts Frank "Stonewall" Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a hot-tempered ex-Confederate homesteader, into a fight by denigrating "rebs" such as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Torrey calls Wilson a "low down lying Yankee" to which Wilson retorts "Prove it." When the inexperienced farmer goes for his gun, Wilson kills him.

Fear spreads through the valley. At Torrey's funeral many homesteaders talk of surrendering their land to Ryker; but after they unite to fight a fire set by Ryker's men, they find new determination and resolve to continue the fight against Ryker's evil ambitions.

Ryker invites Starrett to a meeting at the saloon to negotiate a settlement and then orders Wilson to kill him when he arrives. Calloway, unable to tolerate Ryker's treachery any longer, warns Shane of the double-cross. Starrett says he will shoot it out with Wilson if he has to, and asks Shane to look after Marian and Joey if he dies. Shane says he must go instead, because Starrett is no match for Wilson in a gunfight. Starrett is adamant, and Shane is forced to knock him unconscious in a fistfight in order to stop him from going to meet Ryker.

Shane rides to town and enters the saloon where he and Ryker trade words before Shane turns his attention to Wilson. Shane draws him into a gunfight by calling Wilson a "low down Yankee liar," recalling Torrey's last words, then kills him. Ryker levels a gun at Shane and is killed, as well. Ryker's brother, Morgan, attempts to shoot Shane in the back, but Joey, who has followed Shane into town, shouts a warning, and Shane kills Morgan as well.

The film ends with Shane leaving the valley—"there's no living with a killing," he tells the distraught boy—and Joey shouting behind him, "Shane! Come back!"


Jack Palance was the last living top billed cast member when he died in 2006. Beverly Washburn, who played one of the homesteader children though uncredited, may be the last living cast member.[citation needed]

Production notes[edit]

Behind the scenes of the filming of Shane.

Film rights to the novel were purchased by Paramount in 1949. The project was assigned to producer Robert Fellows. In February 1950 it was announced that Alan Ladd would star.[6] Shane would be his second Western in a row, following Branded.[7] Before Shane, however, Ladd made another Western, Red Mountain.[8]

Although never explicitly stated, elements of the setting for Shane were derived from Wyoming's Johnson County War (1892), the archetypal cattlemen-homesteaders conflict, which also served as the background for The Virginian and Heaven's Gate.[9] The physical setting is the high plains near Jackson, Wyoming, and many shots feature the Grand Teton massif looming in the near distance. Other filming took place at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

Director George Stevens originally wanted Montgomery Clift as Shane and William Holden as Joe Starrett; when both proved unavailable, the film was nearly abandoned.[10] 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 Arthur had not made a picture in five years, she accepted the part at the request of 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), 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.[10] The scene where Shane practices shooting in front of Joey required 116 takes. 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 Palance's character galloping into town was replaced with him simply riding his horse at a walk, which was noted as improving the entrance by making him seem more threatening.[10] In the scene in which Alan Ladd shoots Jack Palance twice, Ladd noticeably blinks as his gun fires.

The final scene, in which the wounded Shane explained to the distraught Joey why he had to leave, was moving for the entire cast and crew except Brandon deWilde. "Every time Ladd spoke his lines of farewell, deWilde crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue. Finally, Ladd called to the boy's father, 'Make that kid stop or I'll beat him over the head with a brick.' DeWilde behaved."[11]

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.[12] Paramount, in conjunction with the management of Radio City Music Hall, installed a screen measuring 50 feet wide by 30 feet high,[13] replacing the Hall's previous screen, which was 34 feet wide by 25 feet high.[14] 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.[12] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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. 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 had been in World War II and had seen what a single bullet can do to a man.[17]

In the mid to late 1970s, the Welsh television station HTV Cymru/Wales broadcast a version dubbed into the Welsh language.[18]

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


"That's just what I need — to get advice from a guy who never saw Shane."

Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzarelli, Happy Days[19]

Shane premiered in New York City at Radio City Music Hall on April 23, 1953,[14] and grossed $114,000 in its four weeks there.[20] In all, the film earned $8 million in North America over its initial run.[21]

Bosley Crowther called the film a "rich and dramatic mobile painting of the American frontier scene". He continued:

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, "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."[22]

Since its release, Shane has spawned numerous imitators, among them, Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider released in 1985.[4][23]

Woody Allen has called Shane "George Stevens' masterpiece", on his 2001 list of great American films, along with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, White Heat, Double Indemnity, The Informer and The Hill. Shane, he wrote, "... is a great movie and can hold its own with any film, whether it's a Western or not."[24]

Influence on later works[edit]

The pair of episodes "Come Back, Shame" and "It's How You Play the Game" of the TV series Batman featured a villain named Shame, a parody of the hero Shane.[25] The scene when Joey hides under the saloon doors was referenced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Fistful of Datas", when Alexander hid under the saloon doors as his father was about get into a gunfight.

Awards and honors[edit]




American Film Institute recognition

Copyright status in Japan[edit]

In 2006 Shane was the subject of litigation in Japan involving its copyright status in that country. Two Japanese companies began selling budget-priced copies of Shane in 2003, based on a Japanese copyright law that, at the time, protected cinematographic works for 50 years from the year of their release. After the Japanese legislature amended the law in 2004 to extend the duration of motion picture copyrights from 50 to 70 years, Paramount and its Japanese distributor filed suit against the two companies. A Japanese court ruled that the amendment was not retroactive, and therefore any film released during or prior to 1953 remained in the public domain in Japan.[28]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b c d e Andrew, Geoff. "Shane", Time Out Film Guide, Time Out Guides Ltd., London, 2006.
  5. ^ Vermilye, J: Jean Arthur: A Biofilmography. AuthorHouse (2012), p. 143.
  6. ^ Thomas F. Brady (March 1, 1950). "Paramount Gets Option on Novel: to Enact Title Role". The New York Times. p. 42. 
  7. ^ Thomas F. Brady (March 24, 1950). "Warners Acquire 'Winterset' Rights: Studio Buys Screen Privilege From R.K.O. and May Star Humphrey Bogart in It Of Local Origin". The New York Times. p. 29. 
  8. ^ "Alan Ladd to Star in Historical Film: He Will Appear in 'Quantrell's Raiders,' Which Wallis Will Produce at Paramount U.-I. Buys "Fifth Estate"". The New York Times. September 27, 1950. p. 48. 
  9. ^ Hyams (1984), p. 115.
  10. ^ a b c Turner Classic Movies,, "'Shane' (1953) - Trivia" Retrieved 2015-08-08
  11. ^ Hyams (1984), p. 116.
  12. ^ a b Weaver, William R., "All Para. Films Set for 3 to 5 Aspect Ratio". Motion Picture Daily, March 25, 1953.
  13. ^ "Hall Alters Projection Equipment for 'Shane'". Motion Picture Daily, April 8, 1953.
  14. ^ a b "Para. Wide-Screen At Music Hall for Premiere of 'Shane'". Motion Picture Daily, April 8, 1953.
  15. ^ "Midwest 'Shane' Premiere at Lake". Motion Picture Daily, May 13, 1953.
  16. ^ George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey[page needed]
  17. ^ "Film Genre" The Western (2002)
  18. ^ "Dr. J.R.P. Evans" The role of Adult education in preserving the identity of an ethnic minority: the Welsh case (1991)
  19. ^ Hyams, J. The Life and Times of the Western Movie. Gallery Books (1984), p. 115.
  20. ^ "'Wax,' 'Shane' End Sturdy B'Way Runs". Motion Picture Daily, May 20, 1953.
  21. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p. 34
  22. ^ Crowther, Bosley (April 24, 1953). "Shane (1953)". The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2014. 
  23. ^ TCM Movie Database - "Pale Rider" (1985) Retrieved 2015-08-09
  24. ^ Rick Lyman (August 3, 2001). "Watching Movies With: Woody Allen; Coming Back To 'Shane'". The New York Times. 
  25. ^ Bill van Heerden (1998). Film and Television In-Jokes: Nearly 2,000 Intentional References, Parodies, Allusions, Personal Touches, Cameos, Spoofs and Homages. McFarland. p. 162. ISBN 9781476612065. Cliff Robertson appears as the villain Shame (a takeoff on Alan Ladd's western hero, Shane, 1953) 
  26. ^ American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved June 18, 2008. 
  27. ^ "Top Western". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 18, 2008. 
  28. ^ Mitani, Hidehiro (Autumn–Winter 2007). "Argument for the Extension of the Copyright Protection over Cinematographic Works". CASRIP Newsletter. UW School of Law. Retrieved May 27, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

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