Everything you need to know about being a man can be found in the 1953 western Shane.
My father taught me the essentials all the same.
Shane, now available for the first time on Blu-ray, holds a cherished place in my family. Director George Stevens’ epic was my father’s favorite film, an honor that never changed over the decades. My four year old’s middle name is Shane, given as a tribute to both the film and my father, who was chronically ill when my son was born and died in 2011.
So watching Shane again, for the first time since becoming a father myself, meant much more than an exercise in nostalgia. Even as a lad I appreciated the laconic Alan Ladd’s turn as Shane, a man doomed to revisit his violent ways. The fist fights crackled, the climactic duel rattled my senses and hearing young Brandon deWilde shout, “Come back, Shane” tore into my heart more than the death of Old Yeller.
Seeing it now, without my father but with the burden of instilling strong values in my sons, gave me a richer appreciation for the movie. As a boy I couldn’t process how the film mirrored my father’s take on the world, from his stern moral code to his approval of doing the right thing in challenging times.
Consider how Shane and homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) bond over the removal of a tree trunk on the family’s farm. The two men barely know each other, but each recognizes the value of teamwork and progress.
“Sometimes there ain’t nothing will do except your own sweat and muscle,” Joe says as the men wrestle the stump free, the film’s score swelling to one of many crescendos.
Shane insinuates himself into the Starrett family through grit and loyalty, and along the way Stevens hints at an attraction between the gunslinger and Joe’s wife, Marian (Jean Arthur). One senses Shane would never make a pass at her. He respects the couple’s marriage too much to even consider it.
Joe may lack social graces and Shane’s way with a gun, but he knows how to treat a woman. In one sequence he beams as Marian approaches the Starrett wagon, taking in her beauty as if they were just declared man and wife. My father would treat his own bride the same way on more than a few occasions.
The Starretts, along with their peaceful neighbors, are being bullied off their land by a rancher named Ryker (Emile Meyer). Some of the neighbors would rather leave than face the potential for danger, even death. Not Joe. And when Ryker hires an out-of-town gunslinger (Jack Palance, the era’s iconic screen villain) Shane realizes he must strap on his six shooters one more time.
Shane even has something to say about the current Second Amendment debate.
“Guns aren’t going to be my boy’s life,” Marian tells Shane when she finds him teaching Joey how a gunslinger draws his weapon.
Shane is resilient and quick on the draw, but he takes time to model the right behavior for little Joe. When Marian applies some first aid to Shane’s wounds after a fist fight, Joey figures the larger than life hero can handle the pain.
He’s Shane, isn’t he?
Instead, Shane shatters his own myth, comically wincing as Marian attends to his cuts. It’s well and good to be brave, Shane tells the lad without saying a word, but no one is impervious to pain, and violence has consequences.
At long last Shane is in high definition, its Oscar-winning vistas captured on a shiny silver disk. I’ll have to wait a few years before my boys are old enough to watch–and appreciate–it. I’ll cry, no doubt, when we see the film together as a family. I did the first time I popped the film’s Blu-ray edition into the player. The shadow of my father sitting beside me, glowing at how he passed his love of the film and its values onto his son, was impossible to ignore.
It’s all right to cry while watching Shane. The movie taught me that and so much more.