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Paramount Studios presents
"A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can't break the mold."
DVD ReviewSome of the greatest conflicts in American history were the frontier disputes between the cattlemen who rode the range and the homesteaders who sought to fence off their own little parcels. This theme was taken lightheartedly in some films (such as Oklahoma!) and deadly serious in many others. One of the greatest of the latter category is George Stevens' classic, Shane.
The mysterious ex-gunfighter Shane (Alan Ladd) rides onto the Wyoming homestead of Joe Starett (Van Heflin) just as a group of riders from cattleman Rufe Ryker are arriving to harass Joe and his compatriots. Ryker wants to get rid of the homesteaders, who are in the way of his cattle. Shane sees the way of life that the homesteaders have made for themselves and throws in his lot with them. In essence, we have The One Samurai rather than seven. Joe's son, Joey (Brandon de Wilde) rapidly idolizes Shane and his gunhandling prowess, and Joe's wife Marian (Jean Arthur) seems to be falling for him as well. Ryker increases the pressure on the homesteaders and further stacks the deck by bringing in hired killer Jack Wilson (an incredibly young Jack Palance.) Before long, a stand must be made against Ryker and Wilson.
Director George Stevens (Giant) was a World War II veteran, and as such he felt a great distaste for westerns where barroom brawls would be antiseptic and bloodless and gunfights would go on at length. Although the bar fight in this film is a spectacle, blood is drawn, the participants get dirty and sweaty, and all involved are quite out of breath when it's over. The earnestness of such an affair is emphasized by Stevens' intercutting of the fight with its impact upon the boy, Joey, who is watching through the barroom door.
Indeed, much of the film incorporates Joey's perspective. Though he is often in these shots, the camera acts as a boy companion and shares his viewpoint. The audience travels with the boy from his initial innocence ("Bang! Bang! I wish they'd give me bullets for this gun.") to his knowledge of life, honor and death at the conclusion when he witnesses the climactic gunfight.
One of the most notable points of this film is that Ryker, who could have just been a cardboard villain, gets to articulate his case. He resents the fact that he helped tame this territory, and that the homesteaders are reaping the benefits and taking what he sees as his land. Rather than a Machiavellian schemer, we see him as a desperate man whose only remaining option is to try to scare off the homesteaders. This depth of character is quite unusual in American westerns of the early 50's, and is part of why this picture is an acknowledged classic.
The performances are excellent throughout, including the charismatic Ladd as the reticent gunslinger. Palance also excels in one of his rare understated performances. The supporting roles are filled out well, particularly that of "Stonewall" Toomey, played by the ubiquitous Elisha Cook Jr. For a change, he is an almost heroic figure, rather than one of the shady gunsels and stoolies he usually played. The pathos as he dies in the mud, with the foreground all in shadow and the background lit, is quite moving. The camera work is outstanding throughout, with setpieces such as the homesteaders gathered at the graveyard being shot in one long take with a panning camera; it almost makes one wish that widescreen films had been in use in 1952. The film is a masterpiece of editing, as the scenes of conflict utilize montages of many points of view; the extremely rapid cutting (for the day) combined with Victor Young's score supplies a solid base of tension throughout
But while Shane contains solid, serious drama and plenty of action, the film is most notable as being one of the few tearjerkers for men. Shane is a manly man's movie, but the womenfolk will like it too.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The restored image is beautiful throughout. The palette is limited but comes through quite nicely via the three-strip Technicolor process. Blacks are terrific and the blues of the sky and scenic vistas of the Teton mountains are gorgeous. My one criticism is that the day-for-night sequences tend to be a little too dark, to the point of not being readily legible. However, this is an extremely pleasing picture overall for a fifty-year-old movie. There are not more than a handful of speckles visible, and no serious frame damage visible at all.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is presented in English in 2.0 Dolby Surround, and in French in 2.0 mono. The surrounds are primarily used as an additional music source; the dialogue is almost entirely center-oriented and there is precious little directionality. The dialogue is clear throughout and there is no clipping or distortion to be heard in the music. Victor Young's alternately lush and tense score comes through quite nicely. The ominous jangle of Palance's spurs comes through loud and clear and sets the mood well.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by George Stevens Jr. and Ivan Moffat
Extras Review: While it might seem a little odd to have a commentary by the producer/director's son, in this instance it is somewhat appropriate, for George Stevens Jr. worked on Shane as a young man. He is joined by one of the very few surviving participants, associate producer Ivan Moffat. They provide a pretty solid commentary, although it starts out roughly at the beginning while George Jr. reads a number of memos. Overall, there is plenty of good information.
In addition, there is a beaten-up trailer which shows what an immense amount of work must have been done on the film itself. Don't watch the trailer before the film; incredibly, it gives away the climax. Chaptering is adequate, though just barely so. The subtitles are a readable yellow, but slightly paraphrased at times. Overall a very satisfactory package for Paramount, who not too long ago refused to include any extras whatsoever with their DVD releases.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA classic film, given a superb presentation by Paramount. With a small caveat on the slightly dark transfer of the day-for-night scenes, this disc is very highly recommended. For best results, view it in a slightly darkened room.
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