Our verdict: Shane certainly has.
In the summer of 2001, The New York Times invited Woody Allen to select a favorite film, and dissect it in print. No matter what you may think of Allen these days, he displayed back then excellent judgement. He chose Shane.
While professing his liking for The Ox-Bow Incident and High Noon, Allen wrote that neither title can hold a candle to ‘Shane.’ ‘Shane’ is in a class by itself, because if I was making a list of the best American movies, ‘Shane’ would be on it, and none of these other movies would.
Allen said he had by then seen ‘Shane’ certainly more than 20 times, and I am always riveted. That nicely summarizes our view that a true movie classic can be viewed repeatedly, and it seems to get better with each viewing. And Shane is certainly a classic.
The movie is director George Stevens’ 1953 western about a group of homesteaders besieged by an especially nasty group of land barons. Into town comes a reluctant gunfighter (Alan Ladd as the title character) who befriends a gentle homesteader (Van Heflin, seen with Ladd above), the loving and protective father of a young son (Brandon DeWilde, seen with Ladd below) and faithful husband to Jean Arthur.
Ladd is perhaps best known today for his role as the weary, gentle-spoken gun fighter, who is finally convinced to take on the bad guys on behalf of the homesteaders — and of the homesteader’s young son with whom the ex-gunslinger has grown especially fond.
Ladd once said of himself that he had the face of an aging choirboy.
Born in 1913 in Hot Springs, Ark., he endured a hard scrabble childhood that more than occasionally left him malnourished. He was undersized as a result (his nickname was “Tiny”).
At 5-foot-6-1/4-inches, the fully-grown Ladd was one of the shortest leading male figures in Hollywood history. All manner of devices — hidden platforms, low camera angles, shoe lifts — were employed during filming to mask his diminutive stature especially relative to his leading ladies.
In Shane watch carefully how director Stevens filmed the climatic gunfight scene showing Ladd squaring off against 6-foot-4-inch Jack Palance as the cold-blooded villain.
As for Brandon deWilde…..
…He played the young ‘Joey,’ who becomes attached to the ex-gunslinger. Brooklyn-born DeWilde was a well-known child actor before he got the part, and Shane provided a real career boost. Born in 1942, he was all of 11 when he made the film, which earned him a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. He was killed in a road accident at age 30.
In comparing Shane to High Noon, Allen noted that For whatever reason, probably because Stevens himself had some of the poet in him, it infuses that material with a certain poetry that ‘High Noon’ doesn’t have.
‘High Noon’ is more like a fine piece of work, you know, whereas ‘Shane’ is sort of a fine piece of poetry. Amen.