(George Stevens, USA, 1953)


There comes a moment in the history of every cinematic genre when what was previously spontaneous and naturally evolving becomes sedimented and self-conscious.

Unfortunately, it is these 'decadent' films – often made by outsiders to the genre – which usually get hailed as works of art, rather than the usual bill-of-fare.

George Stevens' Shane occupies this position in the Western genre. It magnifies, stylises and elegises every classical Western element: landscape, gesture, violence, and especially the seemingly mythic relation between the enigmatic wanderer Shane (Alan Ladd), the boy (Brandon de Wilde) who adores him, and the settler parents (Van Heflin and Jean Arthur) who are rather more ambivalent about his presence.

It is a fascinating film, with many fine sequences. But when it comes to a real Saturday afternoon Western, I prefer a film by John Ford or Anthony Mann every time.

MORE Stevens: The Talk of the Town

© Adrian Martin May 1992

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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