Tuesday, August 18, 2020
George Stevens | Shane
A.B. Guthrie Jr. and Jack Sher (screenplay, based on the novel by Jack Schaefer), George Stevens (director) Shane / 1953
Quite by accident, I ordered two films from Netflix back to back that I would never have thought to pair, but which share the same narrative structures: George Stevens’ 1953 classic, Shane, and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 movie, Teorema.
As in the Pasolini work, a visitor (Alan Ladd) appears out of nowhere and is quickly welcomed to live with the family, in this case working as a hired hand.
Almost as in Teorema the young boy, Joey (Brandon deWilde) immediately takes a liking to the handsome stranger crossing his family’s land, as does the Shane to the boy. Clearly, there is no sexual relationship between the two, but it is equally obvious that Shane is absolutely worshiped by Joey, and, at one point, he tells his mother even that he “loves” the stranger. Perhaps it is just their good acting and the easy comfort in one another’s company, but Ladd and deWilde do seem absolutely delighted being together, winking and smiling every time their eyes come to rest on each other. Joey’s mother (Jean Arthur), knowing that one day Shane will have to leave, warns her son not to love him too much.
If her husband, Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), demonstrates little jealousy of Shane, it may be because, he too, obviously is attracted to the man and enjoys his company. Hardly have the two met when Shane sheds his shirt and helps Starrett remove a front-yard stump that the farmer has been whittling away for years. Starrett, too, changes his whole demeanor whenever Shane appears.
By single-handedly fighting and beating the entire gang, Shane emboldens the Starretts and others to remain on their land. And by determining to take on the gunslinger, Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) Ryker has hired to kill Starrett, Shane saves his friend’s life. Even as Shane wrestles Starrett to prevent him from going alone to Ryker’s headquarters, it appears the two are more engaged in a sexual embrace than in a true battle, and it takes a gun (again with all its Freudian associations) to knock him out. Once Shane accomplishes the act, he immediately gets water to help the loser to be quickly returned to consciousness.
Now that he has restored meaning to the Starrett’s lives, he, like Pasolini’s beautiful hero, must leave, despite young Joey’s moan of despair: “Shaaaane, don’t go.”
Los Angeles, June 8, 2016
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (June 2016).