By Rosalie Tirella

The videocassette of SHANE. photos: R.T.

SHANE. Such a terrific film. Such graceful performances. So many complex feelings and complicated conversations. Mystery made extra haunting because the action unfolds against the Teton mountains in Wyoming, filmed so beautifully. (Shane won the 1953 Oscar for best cinematography). You can learn some American history watching SHANE – open range cattlemen being supplanted by the new homesteaders; hired gun fighters being replaced by the rule of law. But there’s so much more to this 1953 Western directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd. Mostly you can learn about love – the cozy, deep, familial kind and the exotic, exciting, restless kind. The unrequited kind and the kind that comes with rose-gold satin wedding gowns and forever vows.

Little Joey, Marian and Joe Starett

The film begins with Shane, a tanned, handsome Ladd wearing a fringed buckskin outfit, riding onto the property of homesteader Joe Starett – Van Heflin – and his wife Marion – Jean Arthur. The Staretts, farmers in the middle of their work day, look grubby. Ladd, arguably the territory’s fiercest gunfighter, looks glamorous. Naturally, the Staretts’ little boy, Joey, is starstruck by this very cool interloper. And for all his sex appeal, Shane is a super sensitive type, sensing the boy’s curiosity, innocence – and sweetness. He likes him. So he rides right up to Joey, who’s sitting on a fence, and says, “You were watching me for a while, weren’t you boy?” Joey sits quietly, with his head down, too shy to answer Shane. Shane reassures him: “I like a man who watches things…It means he’ll make his mark some day.”

Joey lifts up his head, smiling …

Shane sees Marian through the cabin window and is immediately attracted, drawn to a love, a life, he’s probably never known. I believe Marian is attracted to Shane, too. After all, it’s Marian who asks her husband to ask Shane to stay for dinner and spend the night. This happens after a misunderstanding surrounding Joey’s unloaded rifle and a startled Shane showing his true gunslinger instincts. Shane is slight, not very tall. Alan Ladd had a movie career full of standing on platforms to look as tall as costars or costars standing in trenches to look shorter than Ladd. In SHANE director Stevens let’s him just be, and it adds to Ladd’s portrayal of the taciturn gunfighter, gives Shane another dimension. After all, it’s more about brains than brawn. We see the physical puniness of Shane, yet marvel how it’s erased by his self-confidence, skill and sheer guts. He has a quiet lethality all his own.

Yet something in Marian’s serving of the slices of homemade pie, after her home-cooked dinner … pie with fresh coffee, with the special dessert forks … the quiet beauty and goodness of wife and mother Marian that moves Shane. After dinner – during which Shane furtively catches glimpses of Marian cooking over the hot stove, pouring the coffee at the supper table, serving a slice of pie to her son – Shane walks to the window and then to the seated Marian and thanks her: “It was an elegant dinner, Mrs. Starett.” Now it’s our turn to realize Shane is the elegant one here. Shane the poet, for whatever reasons, has made his living by his fancy gun.

How did such a man end up leading such a murderous life?

Now, seeing Marian, loving Joey, too, Shane – who’s handsome enough to have had any woman during his travels – realizes what he’s been missing, what he really wants. When husband Joe asks Shane during supper, “Where you headed?” Shane, his eyes sheepishly settling on Marian, says: “Some place I’ve never been.”

It’s a snow day: watch the film!

Marian understands. Husband Joe, a good, decent man full of integrity and honesty and his own brand of bravery, is a bit clueless here and grunts his approval before taking another bite of a chicken wing.

The Ryker brothers, the open range cattlemen hell bent on busting up the Staretts and the other homesteaders’ farms so they can run their thousands of head of cattle to market and to graze, are getting more aggressive with Joe and friends. They want these newbies OUT of their world. So they bully them and destroy their farms bit by bit: tear down fences one day, run their steer over planted crops another day. They kill a family’s sow sucking her piglets. The head Ryker boy eventually hires a professional gunfighter, Wilson – another Shane, only sadistic – played by Jack Palance – to murder Joe. Ryker knows that with leader Joe dead the other homesteaders will crumple.

So it’s up to Joe Starett – says Joe – to fight Ryker and save everybody. But he doesn’t know there’s a professional gunslinger – Wilson – waiting for him at Grafton’s general store and saloon. Shane knows what Joe’s up against and tells him he’s no match for Wilson. He’ll do the killing for Joe…and for Marian and Little Joey, whom he grows to love more and more each day. And the other homesteaders. Joe has hired Shane to help him on the farm, and Shane has gotten to know and like the other hardworking families. Shane, who respects Joe, has been staying on as his farm hand/ laborer … and friend. During this time Shane’s feelings for Marian grow stronger, and she senses she is falling for Shane, too.

What if your soulmate rides up to your family farm one day – and makes you feel feelings you never felt before? What if looking out a rain-streaked window, you see him, the one, hat on head, leather jacket soaked, his handsome face drowning in rain drops, looking back at you. You. The only one … with such sadness and longing. But you’re a mother. And you’ve been married for 10 years to a good man who loves and respects you and provides for you. What can you do but tell your little boy: “Don’t get to liking Shane too much …”

“Why not, Ma?”

“Because some day he’ll be moving on, and you’ll be upset.”

Then you blow out the flame in your lamp, and all of a sudden it’s dark.

What if …?