Shane – George Stevens
While Shane can never be a part of this family, he performs a heroic deed so that they—and the other homesteaders—can thrive in the valley. Before Shane rides off to meet Wilson, Marian asks, “Are you doing this just for me?” Shane replies, “For you—and Joe—and little Joey.” As Shane rides off to the gunfight, he is again clad in his buckskins and, of course, is wearing a gun. Once again, his outsider status in relation to the family unit is suggested by editing: the Starretts are seen together in a single frame, while Shane rides off alone. Moreover, the ensuing long shots of Shane framed against the sky and mountains reaffirm his status as mythic figure.
Shane’s relationship with Joey points to the Western genre as a source of preadolescent wish-fulfillment. This relationship is delineated in a number of ways. The lengthy fight in the saloon contains several cut-ins of Joey watching in fascination, as does the final gunfight. During the gunfight, Joey gets to realize his wish of participating in Shane’s heroic actions, since he warns Shane that one of the Rykers is about to ambush him from upstairs, enabling Shane to kill the man. Prior to the climax, Joey gets to “be like” Shane be means of cutting on sound. During the saloon fight, after Shane lands a .punch on the jaw of a Ryker henchman, a cut to Joey shows him biting hard on a candy stick. Here, the snapping sound of the bite replaces the sound of the punch.
Also crucial to an understanding of the film is the structuring opposition of civilization versus savagery that is a vital part of the generic structure of the Western. The valley town is not a thriving community but a few spread-out buildings and some tents. We see a disparate group of settlers (including an immigrant family and a family headed by a man who fought for the Confederacy), and the film posits that this cross-section holds the promise for a future—the transformation of a wilderness into a garden. The settlers are shown as nonviolent, and they are further ennobled by their harmonious relationship with the earth. During the scene in which they ride into town as a group, they are framed against the majestic mountains, the morning mist, and a sparkling brook. Moreover, the settlers clearly represent progress. This is suggested when Joe looks at a store catalogue from the East, and from his point of view we see the pages, full of appliances, dress suits, and so forth. The settlers, however, lack the ability to bring law to the savage land; they are ill-equipped to stop Ryker from transgressing nature. One homesteader notes that there is not a marshal within a hundred miles. The law, then, belongs to whomever has the fastest gun.
Within this opposition, Ryker and Shane, both of whom represent savagery, have no place in the advent of civilization. While Ryker is a villain, there are shades of gray to his character. He is the man who tamed the valley with his own sweat and blood. As he tells Starrett at one point, “We made this country. We found it and we made it.” But Ryker’s frontier dream has been perverted by his capitalistic greed, and Starrett’s reply to his remark, “That ain’t the way the government sees it,” suggests the homesteaders are sanctioned by culture and law. The film closely equates Starrett with democratic populism. This is especially suggested during the Independence Day celebration—the day honoring the establishment of the United States is also the anniversary date of the Starretts. During the celebration, the American flag is featured prominently.
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