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Western films, from silent to today

Shane (1953)

Shane (1953) poster Alan Ladd is Shane, the mysterious, six-gun wielding stranger who rides into a valley where Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and a handful of other men are trying to carve out homesteads.

They’re doing that to the consternation of Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer). He helped settle this part of the West and thinks he needs all the land to raise his cattle.

He and his men are trying to intimidate the homesteaders into moving out; Joe Starrett is helping to hold them together, convincing one after another not to give up the dream of their own farm on their own land.

His wife Marian (Jean Arthur) and son Joey (Brandon De Wilde) make him cling to that dream. The arrival of Shane is welcomed by all three, though Marian’s a little concerned by his skill with a gun.

Meanwhile, Ryker has just landed a new beef contract. And when killing animals, tromping crops and setting fire to cabins doesn’t rout the homesteaders, he sends to Cheynne for a gunslinger named Wilson (Jack Palance).

Ryker wants a showdown with Starrett. He winds up prompting a showdown with Shane.


Deservedly hailed as one of the great Westerns, director George Stevens brings a realism to the West you won’t find in many other Westerns of the 1950s.

The barroom brawl, the hilltop funeral, the gunfight between homesteader Stonewall Torrey and Wilson — they’re all staged much better than we’d come to expect from Hollywood.

And the fact that Stevens brings much of it to us from the perspective of Starrett’s young son Joey, who so quickly comes to admire Shane, is a brilliant touch.

Of course, a superlative cast helps too. Ladd turns in his finest Western peformance as the quiet, but oh-so-tough stranger. Heflin is as solid as always. Jean Arthur makes a much more convincing pioneer wife than the glamour queens who usually inhabited Hollywood homesteads.

This marked Arthur’s final film; in fact, Stevens lured her out of retirement to take the role of Marian Starrett. Conversely, this marked one of the earliest roles for De Wilde and for Palance, who’d later find a home in the genre overseas.

“Shane” and its cast members wound up being nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and best supporting actor (both De Wilde and Palance). It wound up winning one, for best cinematography.

Alan Ladd as Shane, Jean Arthur as Marian Starrett and Van Heflin as Joe Starrett in Shane (1953) Directed by:
George Stevens

Alan Ladd … Shane
Jean Arthur … Marian Starrett
Van Heflin … Joe Starrett
Brandon De Wilde … Joey Starrett
Jack Palance … Jack Wilson
Ben Johnson … Chris Calloway
Edgar Buchanan … Fred Lewis
Janice Carroll … Susan Lewis
Helen Brown … Martha Lewis
Emile Meyer … Rufus Ryker
John Dierkes … Morgan Ryker
Elisha Cook Jr. … Stonewell Torrey
Douglas Spencer … Axel “Swede” Shipstead
Edith Evanson … Mrs. Shipstead
Ellen Corby … Mrs. Liz Torrey
Paul McVey … Sam Grafton
John Miller … Will Atkey
Leonard Strone … Ernie Wright
Ray Spiker … Axel Johnson
Martin Mason … Ed Howells
Nancy Kulp … Mrs. Howells

Runtime: 118 min.

Alan Ladd as Shane with Brandon De Wilde as Joey Starrett in Shane (1953)Memorable lines:

Shane, after Joe Starrett mistakes him for a Ryker man: “Mind putting down that gun. Then I’ll leave.”
Joe Starrett: “What difference does it make? You’re leaving anyway.”
Shane: “I’d like it to be my idea.”

Joe Starrett: “That land over there is Ryker’s. He thinks the whole world belongs to him.”

Joe Starrett: “Sometimes there ain’t nothin’ that will do but your own sweat and muscle.”

Ernie Wright, as homesteaders plan to hold a meeting to talk about the Rykers: “If we’re going to have a meeting, it better come to more than just poking holes in the air with your finger.”

Rufus Ryker: “From now on, when we fight with them, the air is going to be filled with gunsmoke.”

Marian Starrett: “Guns aren’t going to be my boy’s life.”
Shane: “A gun is a tool, Marian. No better or no worse than any other tool — an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.”
Marian: “We’d all be better off if there wasn’t a single gun in this valley. Including yours.”

Rufus Ryker: “I like Starrett, too. But I’ll kill him if I have to. I tell you, I’ll kill him if I have to.”
Wilson: “You mean I’ll kill him if you have to.”

Alan Ladd as Shane and Brandon De Wilde as Joey Starrett in Shane (1953)Joe Starrett: “God didn’t make up all this country just for one man like Ryker.”
Fred Lewis: “He’s got it though. And that’s what counts.”

Shane: “You’ve lived too long. Your kind of days are over.”
Rufus Ryker: “My days? What about yours, gunfighter?”
Shane: “The difference is I know it.”
Rufus Ryker: “All right. So we’ll all turn in our six-guns to the bartender. We’ll all start hoeing spuds. Is that it?”
Shane: “Not quite yet.”

Shane: “Joey, there’s no living with… with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her… tell her everything’s all right. And there aren’t any more guns in the valley.”

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