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Shane (film)

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] 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[4]) and Van Heflin, and features Brandon deWilde, Elisha Cook, Jr., Jack Palance and Ben Johnson.

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 category Western.


File:Jean Arthur in Shane.jpg
Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur

Shane (Alan Ladd), a skilled gunslinger with a mysterious past, rides into an isolated valley in the sparsely settled state of Wyoming some time after enactment of the Homestead Act of 1862. At dinner with homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur), he learns of an ongoing conflict between the valley's homesteaders and the ruthless cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), who is trying to seize their land.

Shane rides into town with Starrett and other homesteaders to pick up supplies at the general store. In the saloon adjacent to the store, where Ryker's men are drinking, Shane orders a soda pop. 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."

Starrett's son Joey (Brandon deWilde) is drawn to Shane and his gun. 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. There is an obvious, mysterious attraction between Shane and Marian. Shane counters that a gun is a tool, no better nor worse than an axe, shovel, or any other tool. A gun, he says, is as good or as bad as the man using it. Marian retorts that everyone would be better off if there weren't any guns, including Shane's, in the valley.

Jack Wilson (Jack Palance), an unscrupulous, psychopathic gunfighter who works for Ryker, taunts Frank "Stonewall" Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a hot-tempered ex-Confederate homesteader. Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and "all the rest of them rebs" are "Southern trash," Wilson says. "You're a low-down, lying Yankee," responds Torrey. "Prove it," Wilson replies—and when the inexperienced farmer goes for his gun, shoots him dead.

Fear spreads through the valley. At Torrey's funeral many ranchers talk of leaving; 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. Starrett is adamant, and Shane is forced to knock him unconscious, to Marian's dismay. Is he doing this for her, she asks? Yes, replies Shane; and for Joey, and for all the decent people who want a chance to live in peace in the valley.

Shane enters the saloon. He and Ryker are both relics of the Old West, he says, but Ryker hasn't realized it yet. Then he turns to Wilson; "I hear that you're a low-down Yankee liar," he says. Wilson again replies, "Prove it." Shane kills Wilson, and then Ryker as he draws a hidden gun. Ryker's brother Morgan, overhead in a dark balcony, has Shane in his rifle sight; but Joey, who followed Shane into town, shouts a warning, and Shane shoots Morgan as well.

The battle is over, the settlers have won, and Shane tells Joey that he must move on. "Now you run on home to your mother," he says, "and tell her ... tell her everything's all right. There aren't any more guns in the valley." As Joey reaches out, blood drips onto his hands; Shane's left arm hangs limply at his side as he mounts his horse. He rides out of town, past the grave markers on Cemetery Hill and toward the mountains, his body slumped forward in the saddle, ignoring Joey's desperate cries of "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.

Production notes

Behind the scenes of the filming of Shane.
Although never explicitly stated, elements of the setting are 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.[5] The physical setting is the high plains near Jackson Hole, 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 cast Montgomery Clift as Shane, William Holden as Joe Starrett; when they both proved unavailable, the film was nearly abandoned.[6] 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 she had not made a picture in five years, Arthur accepted the part at the request of George 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, significantly older than her two male co-stars), 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. The scene where Shane practices shooting in front of Joey required 116 takes.[citation needed] 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 Wilson galloping into town was replaced with him simply walking in on his horse, which was noted as improving the entrance by making him seem more threatening. In the bar scene where Alan Ladd shoots Jack Palance twice, he noticeably blinks as his gun fires.

The final scene, in which the wounded Shane explained to the distraught Joey why he had to leave ("There's no living with a killing...") was a moving moment for the entire cast and crew—except Brandon DeWilde. "Every time Ladd spoke his lines of farewell, Wilde 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.' De Wilde behaved."[7]

Technical details

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.[8] Paramount, in conjunction with the management of Radio City Music Hall, installed a screen measuring 50 feet wide by 30 feet high,[9] replacing the Hall's previous screen, which was 34 feet wide by 25 feet high.[10] 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.[8] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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. Director George 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 was in World War II and saw what a single bullet can do to a man.[13]

In the mid to late 1970s, the Welsh television station HTV Cymru/Wales broadcast a version dubbed into the Welsh language.[14]

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[15]

Shane premiered in New York City at Radio City Music Hall on April 23, 1953,[10] and grossed $114,000 in its four weeks there.[16] In all, the film earned $8 million in North America over its initial run.[17]

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."[18]

Nearly 50 years later, Woody Allen called Shane "George Stevens' masterpiece", on his 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, " a great movie and can hold its own with any film, whether it's a Western or not."[19]

Awards and honors



  • Academy Awards:
    • Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Brandon deWilde
    • Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Jack Palance
    • Best Director, George Stevens
    • Best Picture, George Stevens
    • Best Writing, Screenplay, A.B. Guthrie Jr.; 1954


  • In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Shane was listed as the third best film in the western genre.[20][21]

American Film Institute recognition

Copyright status in Japan

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.[22]


  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. ^ Vermilye, J: Jean Arthur: A Biofilmography. AuthorHouse (2012), p. 143.
  5. ^ Hyams (1984), p. 115.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Hyams (1984), p. 116.
  8. ^ a b Weaver, William R., "All Para. Films Set for 3 to 5 Aspect Ratio". Motion Picture Daily, March 25, 1953.
  9. ^ "Hall Alters Projection Equipment for 'Shane'". Motion Picture Daily, April 8, 1953.
  10. ^ a b "Para. Wide-Screen At Music Hall for Premiere of 'Shane'". Motion Picture Daily, April 8, 1953.
  11. ^ "Midwest 'Shane' Premiere at Lake". Motion Picture Daily, May 13, 1953.
  12. ^ George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey[page needed]
  13. ^ "Film Genre" The Western (2002)
  14. ^ "Dr. J.R.P. Evans" The role of Adult education in preserving the identity of an ethnic minority: the Welsh case (1991)
  15. ^ Hyams, J. The Life and Times of the Western Movie. Gallery Books (1984), p. 115.
  16. ^ "'Wax,' 'Shane' End Sturdy B'Way Runs". Motion Picture Daily, May 20, 1953.
  17. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  18. ^ Crowther, Bosley (April 24, 1953). "Shane (1953)". NYT Critics' Pick. The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2014. 
  19. ^ Watching Movies With...Woody Allen: Coming Back To Shane, an August 2001 article from The New York Times
  20. ^ American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved June 18, 2008. 
  21. ^ "Top Western". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 18, 2008. 
  22. ^ 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. 
20. The Making of Shane, Walt Farmer, Jackson, WY, 2001

External links

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