George Stevens’s Shane defined the archetypal Western hero who is not a cowboy or a sheriff, but a wandering gunslinger who comes upon oppression in a lawless frontier and sides with the oppressed.
If the Western is the quintessential American mythology, Shane (Alan Ladd in his best-known role) is the Western’s great knight-samurai archetype: stern in battle, mild with women and children, siding with the wronged, honoring marriage.
Shane is self-consciously mythic, in part because the story is seen through the eyes of a young boy, Joey (Brandon De Wilde), the son of a homesteader couple (Jean Arthur and Van Heflin) beleaguered by a ruthless cattle baron (Emile Meyer). The viewer sees Shane as Joey does, but also sees Shane’s consciousness of how Joey sees him, highlighting the disconnect between the boy’s hero worship and what the man knows himself to be.
The depiction of violence in Shane warrants mention. While an extended barroom brawl (eagerly witnessed by Joey from a safe hiding place) is ultimately as cheerfully romanticized as any in the genre, the film takes a notably different view of gun violence. Shane is overtly critical of the romantic view of guns in many Westerns — an attitude Joey exemplifies. The number of bullets actually fired in the film is remarkably small — especially compared with the number of punches thrown in the brawl scene — and each bullet has enormous impact.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.