Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#110. Shane (1953)

DVD Synopsis: Acclaimed director George Stevens' legendary rendition of the quintessential Western myth earned six Academy Award nominations, and made Shane one of the classics of the American cinema. The story brings Alan Ladd, a drifter and retired gunfighter, to the assistance of a homestead family terrorized by a wealthy cattleman and his hired gun (Jack Palance). In fighting the last decisive battle, Shane sees the end of his own way of life. Mysterious, moody and atmospheric, the film is enhanced by the intense performances of its splendid cast.

The story of Shane is simple enough; good guys on one side fighting bad guys on the other, with a stranger named Shane caught in the middle of it all. It's a simplicity that even extends to the overall tone of the film, yet when it came to Shane's visual style, 'simple' is exactly what director George Stevens was shooting for. 

Throughout Shane, Stevens will hold a single shot for a long period of time, keeping his camera perfectly still and never once cutting away from the action. When discussing the film in a 1974 interview with writers Patrick McGilligan and Joseph McBride, Stevens addressed his use of sustained shots in Shane, and the effect he was hoping to achieve with them. 

In one of those long takes”, Stevens said, “the camera gets rooted in one place almost as if it has discovered something of extraordinary importance. It doesn’t move in to examine it closely; it draws the audience in to make an effort to see more. The audience must explore it, discover why there is this muted telling of some significant point”. 

Through simplicity, George Stevens challenged his audience as opposed to merely leading them from one moment to the next, and to his credit, this approach worked. I know, because I myself was watching quite intently, completely caught up in the action on-screen. In the case of Shane, less certainly amounted to much, much more.

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DZ said...

My English teacher in 7th grade had us read the novel and watch the movie after. Shane is a great story. I'd be surprised if it wasn't re-told at some point since it has all the hallmarks of a great story. It also humanizes the gunfighter in a way spaghetti westerns never really got around to. Jack Palance slithers through his scenes as an added bonus. I need to see this movie again and maybe share it with my nieces.

Dave Becker said...

@DZ: Thanks for the comment, and for checking out the blog.

Must have been nice seeing SHANE in 7th grade! It is certainly a great story, excellent in it's simplicity, and the 'human element' is definitely a strong point (whereas Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN de-glamorized the Hollywood gunslinger, SHANE does indeed humanize him). And Palance must certainly go down as one of the screen's best villains (the scene where he shoots Elisha Cook always gets to me).

Definitely show this one to your nieces...I watched it with my sons a few years ago, and they really enjoyed it.

BTW, I'm going through some serious CINEMA DIABOLICA withdrawal here! I know I've read on Palavr that it's over, but...damn! Being an exploitation novice, you guys turned me on to a lot of great movies, many of which will definitely make their way here at some point in time. Thanks for putting out such a great show.

Caftan Woman said...

"Shane" is the movie that made me love movies. George Stevens did that for me.