Cowboy Marathon – Shane (1953)

On his way from place to place Shane (Alan Ladd) ends up randomly passing through a piece of land that’s being farmed by some poor workers.  They are being forced off their land by a man called Ryker (Emile Meyer) who believes he is the rightful owner of the land.  Shane decides eventually to stay with a family that works on the land and befriends them.   When eventually Ryker realises that Shane isn’t any regular farmer he hires a gunfighter, Wilson (Jack Palance), to deal with him and the rest of the farmers on the land.

Having now seen a few westerns I’ve realised that one of the most interesting part of the characters throughout these films is usually that they’re never really by the book heroes that never cross a line.  There’s this very ambiguous sense of right and wrong, especially in respect of our protagonists.  It almost feels like there’s a completely different rule book written for the cowboys.  This is understandable since we are in a time when the law was very local, even though really bad men were often sent to famed jails like Yuma.  So it was normal for the law to operate more on the ends rather than the means.  And usually we end up with the law deciding that this bad man’s unlawful action was justified.  It’s a very Machiavellian approach to a way of life.

In this film we’re fed the wanderer Shane, who has a very strict way of thinking.  His heroics are very one note and never waver.  While for a high school literature class that may make for a wonderful discussion on a few set themes in film it just drags out.  Until of course the hired gun, Wilson, comes into town.  I almost wish the story was told in the perspective of Wilson as opposed to Shane.  Yes I’d still expect for Wilson to lose in the end but it would really make for a gripping story in the end.  In the end I have to deal with a cliché story that felt way to much like a movie that they don’t make any more for good reason.  Even though Jack Palance’s entrance in the film increased my enjoyment exponentially anytime I had the pleasure of seeing a scene with him in it.

One thing that the film’s story did create for me was a sense of setting.  Unlike all the other westerns that I’ve seen, and am probably going to get used to, this one decided to focus more on the settlers and regular folk than the gunfighters.  We know that the John Wayne’s and Clint Eastwood’s are definitely what makes us fall in love with the genre but there were a lot more characters around at that point in time in history that definitely needs there chance to shine.  Even though I didn’t full enjoy this one, I can imagine a better film doing this in a way that I would truly enjoy.

This is hopefully the low point in the marathon that I will never have to repeat in the coming weeks as I spend the rest of this month finishing up.  Not a movie that I’d outright recommend to anyone but definitely has its place among films set in the period.

IMDB says 7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes says 96%

I say 4.5/10

  • CMrok93

    Alan Ladd was superb as the lonesome, out of place gunslinger trying to find his way in a changed frontier, only to realize the time for his kind was passing. Nice Review!

  • Univarn

    I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this one. It does struggle because it is so well beloved, it’s not easy to watch in context. What I think helps it is that it does live on that ambiguity you mentioned. The characters, and farmers, become so important to the development that we learn to care about them.