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Shane – George Stevens

Submitted by on January 10, 2011 – 1:19 pmNo Comment

While Shane clearly champions the populism represented by Starrett and the settlers, it also sadly concludes that there is no place for the rugged individualist within this new system. Finally, the film demonstrates that Ryker’s kind of capitalist individualism violates law and community, while Shane’s individualism enforces the principals of collective life. When Shane tells the cattle baron, “Your kind of days are over,” Ryker replies, “My days? What about yours, gunfighter?” But Shane’s next line, “The difference is I know it,” stresses his own awareness of what he is. Shane, then, is the noble outlaw/savage who cannot be accommodated by civilization. It is he alone who is equipped to take effective action when words have proved to be inadequate.

In recent years, many revisionist critics have sought to devalue Shane because of its rigorous classicism. These critics argue that the “real” Hollywood Westerns have been made by once-slighted directors such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann, and Budd Boetticher. While the great contribution made to the genre by these directors is incontestable, George Stevens’ brief foray into a genre in which he had never worked (and never again worked) can be equated with the writers who came from the East to write about the frontier. Stevens takes the most familiar conventions of the West and stylizes them considerably. For him, the generic material becomes a means of glamorizing this most durable of Hollywood forms. This material also becomes a means of self-expression, and Shane’s greatness is due in no small measure to Stevens’ pictorial style and personal vision. Stevens himself has been devalued by revisionist critics, but he represents the best of the classical Hollywood cinema. Few directors used the close-up as effectively as Stevens, and the editing patterns linking close-ups of Shane, Marian, and Joey serve to make the film genuinely touching and dramatically potent. This kind of editing recalls Stevens’ great love stories, including Swing Time (1936), Woman of the Year (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), and A Place in the Sun (1951). After Shane, Stevens was weighted down by several elephantine spectacles which contain only flashes of his early brilliance. Shane is perhaps his last fully realized work. It is like those Stevens films in which a social misfit/outcast helps to make life better for someone who has a position within the social order, but who has certain problems which only the misfit/outsider can resolve. Notable among these films are Vigil in the Night (1940) and The Talk of the Town (1942). Other Stevens films detail the trials and tribulations of the social misfit/outcast in general, especially Alice Adams (1935), A Damsel in Distress (1937), A Place in the Sun, and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).

Shane was made during the peak of Stevens’ career, when the release of any film from him was considered an event (in this sense, Stevens was like Capra, Wilder, and Hitchcock). At the time of-its release, Shane earned as much acclaim as any film of the 1950’s. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing (screenplay). De Wilde’s poignant performance was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, as was Pa-lance’s menacing Wilson. Loyal Griggs received an Oscar for his breathtaking color cinematography. Stevens won the National Board of Review’s Best Director award, and was also honored by the Director’s Guild for quarterly directorial achievement. Shane was included on the ten best films of the year lists of the National Board of Review, Time magazine, and the New York Times. The film’s box-office gross of eight million dollars made it the third biggest moneymaker of 1953, and even today, it is one of the most financially successful Westerns of all time.


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