Friday, November 8, 2013

Alan Ladd in “Shane” at The Edge in Bigfork

How much more can you expect in a cowboy movie? Starting off, the gunslinger “Shane” takes the side of homesteaders against a greedy cattle baron.  Staying at the homesteader’s place, he falls for the wife, teaches the young son about guns, and finds out that the bad guy’s thugs are out to get the homesteader…then? Well, you have to see the movie to find out.  This 1953 Western film classic from Paramount won an Oscar for cinematography, is in the National Film Registry, was number 45 in the American Film Institute’s 2007 "100 year’s of movies" list and is number 3 on its top ten Western category.  Bigfork’s resident movie authority, Jack Nachbar, will show the movie along with a cartoon from the same period and provide informative commentary.  Date November 14. Time 6:30PM. Admission free and includes goodies appropriate for the movie during the intermission.

A big screen, as in The Edge Center, shows best why “Shane” got an Oscar, and why it has its high ranking over time. It was directed by George Stevens and originated from a 1949 novel by the same name. The movie version has an outstanding cast from an earlier time; Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur in her last film, Van Heflin, Branden de Wilde, Jack Palance, and Ben Johnson. The movie went over budget and the studio tried to sell it to Howard Hughes thinking it was going to be a bust.  Then they saw a rough-cut and Hughes really wanted it.  “Shane” paid its bills and made a nice profit during its initial release. More at:

Alan Ladd was not as handy with guns as other actors of the time.  Reportedly it took over 100 takes to get one gun-handling scene completed.

Jean Arthur finished a 35-year career with the movie “Shane” and had to be coaxed out of retirement to do it. She was actually 50 years old…come and see how well she does as a 30ish leading lady.

Jack Palance did not do well with horses.  To get him filmed looking as if he were jumping into the saddle, the director had to film him getting off the horse and run it backwards.

Van Heflin (above left), the homesteader, was a really “nice guy”.  And you know what can happen to a nice guy in the Old West

Branden deWilde, the little boy, did a great job in getting to Shane and making him want to help the family.

Ben Johnson (top right and bottom left going down) is a thug named Calloway who thinks he can bully Shane...not tough guy Shane, so Calloway gets what's coming to him.

The film was innovative technically.  It was shown on a flat widescreen, had a new sound track system, used early examples of really loud gun shot sounds (using a small cannon fired into a garbage can), and used wires to pull the shot actors backwards.  All of this helped to make the film’s reception such a positive one since watching “Shane” was such a better experience in a big screen theater with a professional sound system than on small screen televisions.  This was important since television was a serious detriment to the film industry at the time.

The story is fiction, but like many great movies, it has a historical base.  In this case, the disputes were created by the Homestead Act, which started in 1862.  One of these conflicts was the Johnson County war of 1892.  This is the conflict that “Shane” is set in.  The Homestead Act offered varying amounts of “free” land to people who would settle and develop the West.  The problem is that the land was not empty, but being used by “free range” cattle ranchers who did not take kindly to folks moving in, setting up homes, and running barbed wire. They objected, often violently, cheating  when buying homesteaders out, or using hired guns to chase them away.

With such challenges to the settling of the West, many gave up, and the rest needed all the encouragement possible to succeed. Without the Homestead Acts the country would certainly not have developed the way it did.  To succeed, the country needed people willing to relocate and stand-up to the harsh realities of a rough life. These homesteaders were often from other countries that did not offer opportunities like the Old West did, and they did not look, dress, or talk like the people already there.

“Shane” deals with a very narrow slice of this complicated package and considers the problems of a single family (not European or “different”) just trying to face the challenges.  It makes a good story.  The movie tells it well, and according to contemporary movie critics it was successfully done.  Here is a sample of a contemporary review by Bosley Crowther, He was a credible critic of the arts who worked for the New York Times for many years.  After attending the premiere, he called the film a "rich and dramatic mobile painting of the American frontier scene".

Here is more of Bosley’s review:  “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.”

Come to The Edge Center in Bigfork on November 14 at 6:30PM and see how all this fits together.  You will especially enjoy “the little boy” who not only is a “scene stealer” in the movie but also adds so much to the family nature of the movie. The use of a youngster in such a critical role in a movie plot (subtitled strip below) was also a newer concept.  As indicated earlier, admission is free and includes goodies appropriate for the movie.

1 comment:

  1. "Shane" is the most true and honest film about the conflict between homesteaders and cattle barons in the late 1890's. A new law had been passed outlawing shooting guns at anyone except in self-defense or unless "drawn on" or fired at by someone or by groups. Prisons were being built. Professional gun fighting was outlawed, so many of the gunmen had to flee their former haunts often with lawmen on their trail and tail. The film shows the whole picture at the time in the Wyoming valley just east of the Grand Tetons high peaks of the northern Rocky Mountain Range.