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I happened to run across a channel airing the movie "Shane" last week. I've watched it many times, but am still drawn to it. The movie was made in 1953 and starred Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Brandon de Wilde, and Jean Arthur; and is based on the novel written by Jack Schaefer. I read the novel as a reading assignment in seventh grade, and saw the movie just a few weeks later on television. As I grew older, I was able to appreciate the movie on different levels.

As a child, the movie was a typical Western with good guys being victimized by bad guys, and the good guys triumphing over evil in dramatic fashion. Viewed in later years, I appreciated the complex relationships between a married couple, Joe and Marian Starrett, and the handsome gunslinger, Shane. The wife appears to have feelings for the stranger; the son, Joey, is enthralled with the way Shane handles a gun which in turn causes the father to feel inadequate. Complicating matters is the conflict between the homesteading Starretts and the range baron trying to run all the farmers off their land. Since the movie was made in a time where most everything was left to the imagination; no torrid affair was shown, but you can definitely feel the "what-if" moments presented by the main actors. Joey's final comment to Shane, as he attempts to persuade him to stay, is "Momma needs you, Shane!" That one line sums up the underlying sexual tension present in the film, noticed even by the young son. Shane is a mystery. He has a past, is a killer, though we assume who he killed deserved it, and wishes for a more normal life. However, in the end, he realizes he cannot change what he is, and must leave, knowing his presence in the now peaceful valley would only bring more trouble.

What adds even more to the film is knowing what happened to the actors after the movie was produced. Brandon de Wilde, who played the boy, Joey, was only 10 years old at the time. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film. He went on to appear in many more movies and also did a musical stint with Graham Parsons of the Byrds. Tragically, he was killed in 1972 at age 30 when driving a camper van that ran off a road in Denver. Alan Ladd, an Arkansan born in Hot Springs, played the title character and had starred in many other Westerns. He was known for making poor role choices. He turned down leads in the films "Giant," which subsequently went to James Dean; and "The Sons of Katie Elder," which was then offered to John Wayne. Ladd was also short, about 5-foot, 6-inches, and accommodations for his height had to be made during filming. Romantic interests were played by women shorter than he, or they would stand in holes in the sets to give Ladd the appearance of being taller. Many thought the actress Cheryl Ladd was his daughter, because she was also short, but she was actually his daughter-in-law. He died in 1964 from cerebral edema caused by an accidental overdose of alcohol and sedatives.

Jean Arthur played the role of Marian Starrett. She had a long string of feature roles in movies such as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "The More The Merrier." Shane was her last movie. She became very reclusive in Hollywood and moved back to the East where she appeared on Broadway for a very short time. She taught drama at Vassar College and the North Carolina School of the Arts. One of her students at Vassar was Meryl Streep. Arthur noted that the young Streep was destined to be a star. She died in 1991 at the age of 90.

When compared to today's movies, today's younger viewers would most likely see "Shane" as ridiculous. The dialogue may be simplistic clichés and the actors stiff or overly dramatic. For many of us, though, it reminds us of a simpler time when movies simply conveyed human emotions and actions in the presence of conflict. There was no blood, no nudity, and no crude language, just the telling of a story. Critics are divided as to the importance of the movie in cinema history, but it regularly appears on lists of best movies. Sometimes the best stories are the simplest.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to devin.houston@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 01/23/2019

Print Headline: "Shane" reminds of a simpler time

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