#69 Shane

Will someone shut that kid up? #sixwordmovies

#69 Shane (1953)

The American Film Institute has two top 100 lists, and I’ve explained that I’m watching my way through the first list that they released in 1997. Their updated tenth anniversary list differs a bit, with films swapping positions, about 20 or so films freshly added and freshly dropped. Shane is one of the films that moved up on the list, from #69 to #45. Having watched Shane, I honestly struggle to understand this. I find it absolutely mind-boggling.

Now I understand why Americans loved this film in 1953. It’s got one great big, incontrovertible virtue. It’s a western! A glorious two-hour western! Westerns are our American equivalent to the Arthurian legend. Cowboys are our knights, and the Old West is our Camelot replete with tales of cowboys and gunslingers playing cards in taverns, damsels in distress, and valiant souls taming the rugged mountainous terrain and bringing order to chaos. Westerns are our mythology. I get it. Even so, the appeal of this movie is something I can’t wrap my head around.

Alan Ladd plays Shane, a roving gunslinger who, seeking to reform his violent lifestyle, arrives on a Wyoming homestead and becomes a hired worker. He becomes fast friends with the man of the farm Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), prompts the lady of the farm (Jean Arthur) to make eyes at him, and mesmerizes their young son Joey (Brandon De Wilde). The Starrett homestead is threatened by a settler vs. rancher conflict and one thing leads to another, and voila! Wouldn’t you know it? Shane has to abandon his attempt at the peaceful life in order to defend this family he’s come to love. It’s a solid plot with well-defined characters, even if they aren’t exactly cutting edge. But the problem is that it moves so slowly and predictably that it’s really hard to care. Leonard Maltin says that it doesn’t matter that it’s boring and predictable. He says it’s great because it sets up archetypes, plays out like an opera, is set against the beauty of the Tetons and that it was shot in color. Huh? And Maltin knows more about movies than I do. See now why my mind is boggled?

Maltin also praises the young Brandon De Wilde as the little boy infatuated with Shane. Sorry, but I think the appeal of this kid is a wee bit overestimated. The kid is the worst part of this film. The kid is absolutely unbearable. I understand that in the 1950’s America was having a lovely baby boom, and so more and more kids were going to be shown on screens big and small. I’m not opposed to that. Children can be good little actors and can play important and memorable parts in films. But this kid is the pits. He’s whiny, aggravating, and…well…he kind of resembles a duck. I’m not being funny. I know it’s a little bit mean, but the kid looks like a damned duck. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I really like ducks, but this kid waddles around the movie like a moronic little duck with a stupid haircut, constantly tugging at Shane’s sleeve with his annoying questions and getting on my very last nerve.

Into drinking games? Take a shot every time this loathsome little duck child whines out another “Shaaaneeee?” You’ll be drunk inside of ten minutes.

There is what feels like a forty minute bar fight in the middle of the film that becomes laugh out loud hilarious about five minutes into it. It’s just men swinging at each other, falling down, getting up with a chair, swinging that, falling down, flying over the bar, getting thrown through a table, falling down, getting up with a stick or something, being punched in the face, falling down, a little duck in the corner biting into a peppermint stick, having some guy fall on top of you, getting up, punching someone in the face then getting punched in the face twice, falling down again. It’s great, stupid, ridiculous fun! The only way it could be improved is if there were some circus theme music playing in the background.

I’ve read a lot of praise for the film’s climactic gun fight. I yawned through it because I just don’t care about Shane as a character. I’m meant to latch onto Shane because he’s defending this nice little family, but thanks to the stupid kid I find that I don’t care very much about the family. So, what? I have to like Shane because what exactly? Because of his good looks? Because he has a gun? Because the movie is called Shane? Because he beats up guys in the bar? I don’t know. By the way, Shane rides to this final gun fight in the dark at a pretty high speed. Little Joey follows him on foot, and gets there in time not only to witness the bout but also yell out a word of warning that saves Shane from being gunned down when he least expects it. Our little duck’s got a future ahead of him as a long-distance runner!

I dare you to watch this clip without laughing a little.

The ending is famous. With Shane injured during the gun fight with Jack Palance, he pats Joey on the head, tells him to be a good little duck and then rides off into the night. Joey runs after him yelling, “Shane! Come back!” But that’s not all he yells. He tries to tempt Shane to come back with the following: “Pa’s got things for you to do!” Ok, trying to tempt his hero back with the promise of employment. When Shane doesn’t go for it, he tries again, but this time he gets creepy with it. “And Mother wants you! I know she does!” Creepy little duck child. No wonder Shane just kept riding into the night.

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