Shane, (2023, March 31), In Wikipedia:

Reflections from History and Faith

By Jeff Olson

     Seldom do I write human interest stories, and even more seldom do I write them with me as one of the subjects of the story. On this day I make a rare exception, and I do so to honor a classic of the American cinema which holds a very special place in my heart. 

     Like most youngsters of my day, and even those of today for that matter, I had my favorites in a multitude of categories: food, sports players, musicians, bands, television shows, and movies just to name some. Some of the people in these categories also served as my heroes, even if they were only fictitious characters on the silver screen.

     What inspired me to think about this was this past Saturday when I was channel surfing on the television, and lo and behold…I came across my favorite movie of all time. Though I was catching only the final ten minutes of the film, I had to see it. The ending is perhaps the most memorable part. 

     I do not remember when it was that I saw this film for the first time, but it had to be in grade school or maybe junior high. At this point, I must digress and portray just how important this movie was to me. Looking back now, it seems kind of silly, but it was serious stuff to a young guy who loved movies – particularly westerns and especially this one! 

     In the spring of my junior year in high school, I attended our school’s junior-senior prom. I think I had originally planned to take a young lady, but changed my mind. What changed my mind? I didn’t tell my parents my change of plans until I had to when I came home early from the prom. Naturally, my parents were very surprised to see me. Maybe shocked would be a better description. I finally broke it to them: My favorite movie of all time was on television that night, and I did not want to miss it. You can remember back in the day before VHS and DVD there was no such thing as recording a movie at home unless of course, you did it in front of the TV with a movie camera. And in those days, the recording quality left something to be desired. 

     So, what was I to do? Watch the movie, or wait until it came on again in another year or so? It was a no-brainer for me and I was already committed, so I sat down and thoroughly enjoyed Shane. Years later, when VHS technology became available, guess what the first movie I bought was? You guessed it – Shane.

    My intention here is not to write a movie review, but simply share with you some of why Shane was my favorite movie 50 years ago and why it still is today. Perhaps most of all, it was about heroes, and Shane was one of mine. The memorable, enduring sight of Shane clad in fringed buckskins with a white (but well-worn) hat riding down from the mountains into the Jackson Hole Valley nestled in the shadows of the Grand Tetons is, breathtaking. That ride took him into the lives of a young family whose only child, Joey soon idolized the gunfighter who in desperate hope, tried once again to escape his past and live a normal life. 

     The familiar story of open range versus homesteaders provides the central theme and conflict of our story, but not the only one. Shane’s respect for and friendship with Joe Starrett and his unspoken but deep love for Marian Starrett, and his affection for Joey are almost enough to give Shane his chance to escape his dark past – but it’s not enough. Sooner or later, the conflict, the war between the cattlemen and farmers would come to a head. Joe held the unsteady homesteaders together as best he could, enough that cattle baron Rufus Ryker sent for a hired gun to give him an advantage over Joe and the homesteaders and what he perceived to be an equal playing field against Shane, if it came down to gunplay.

     Joe knew that this was his fight, not Shane’s, but Shane knew that Joe facing a hired gun, a stacked deck, would be playing right into Ryker’s hands and leave him dead. The remainder of the homesteaders would then give up and leave. What’s a reforming gunfighter to do? He did what he had to do to protect the family he loved and defeat the way of life that threatened to destroy them. The showdown between Starrett and Ryker came down to a showdown between Shane and Jack Wilson, a showdown between the past and the future, a showdown between good and evil. Joe’s refusal to let Shane keep that date led to a fight between them – a fight which Shane won, but only by knocking Joe unconscious with his gun. This didn’t go unnoticed by Joey, who consequently told Shane that he hated him.

     In a goodbye to Joe, Joey, and Mrs. Starrett, which transcended words and circumstance, Shane rode off to keep the date with Wilson. The long ride through the valley slowly crescendoed with suspense until Shane arrived at Grafton’s saloon. Sure enough, there waiting for Joe were the Ryker brothers and Jack Wilson. Wilson donned with black hat sitting in a dark, dreary corner of the room, is slowly drawn into a showdown with Shane. Drawing first was not enough. Wilson was not fast enough on the draw, nor did subsequent help from the two Ryker brothers make a difference. A little warning from Joey, who had followed Shane all the way into town, did help Shane escape with only a flesh wound in the arm.

     In leaving the saloon with senses of victory and loss at the same time, Shane mounts his horse to move on to somewhere else he’s never been. Joey apologized to Shane, as he could never hate his hero. Thinking Shane is returning to his home, Joey starts to mount behind Shane until Shane tries to explain to him: “There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back for me…there’s no going back…run on home to your mother and tell her…tell her everything’s alright. There aren’t any more guns in the valley.” Shane then gently tells Joey to “go home to your mother and father and grow up to be strong and straight…and take care of them…both of them.” With a broken heart, Joey watches Shane ride away but still with a naïve hope that he will turn back at any moment and go home with him. Joey’s cry of “Shane…Shane, come back!” fade with his tearful face as Shane rides off into the sunset through the cemetery, which symbolized a life he no longer wanted but knew he would have to live with until the end. 

Postscript: My reflections on Shane are timely for two reasons, one personal, one otherwise. The personal one I’ve shared with you in the text above. The other is historical. Shane, though filmed between April and October 1951, was released 70 years ago this week, April 24, 1953. The taglines of Shane included: There never was a motion picture like SHANE.” Truly, there wasn’t.

Shane (Alan Ladd) befriends the Starrett family (Brandon deWilde, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin) as they confront open-range cattlemen determined to remove them from their homestead.

Author Jeff Olson Hot Springs Village

Jeff Olson, Author