“SHANE” (1953) Review

“SHANE” (1953) Review

The history behind the production for the 1953 classic Western, “SHANE” is a curious one. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Westerns ever made in Hollywood. And director George Stevens’ first choices for the film’s two male leads never panned out. Yet, despite the expenses and Stevens’ initial bad luck with his casting choices, “SHANE” became one of the most famous Westerns ever made in Hollywood. 

“SHANE” was based upon Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel of the same title. Many film historians and critics believe the narrative’s basic elements were based upon a historical event, the 1892 Johnson County War. Although this was never acknowledged by Stevens, Schaefer or the film’s screenwriter, A.B. Guthrie Jr. And yet . . . the film’s setting turned out to be the same one for the famous cattlemen-homesteaders conflict, Wyoming. The plot for “SHANE” proved to be simple. An experienced gunfighter named Shane, weary of his violent past, arrives at a county in Wyoming Territory and befriends a homesteader/rancher named Joe Starrett and the latter’s family. Despite Starrett’s revelation of a conflict between homesteaders like himself and a ruthless and powerful rancher named Rufus Ryker, Shane accepts a job as Starrett’s ranch hand. Before long, Shane not only finds himself emotionally drawn to the Starretts, but also pulled into the range war that is raging.

Anyone with any knowledge about old Hollywood or American Western films will automatically tell you that “SHANE” is highly regarded and much-beloved movie. The American Film Institute (AFI) has list it as one of the top three (3) Hollywood Westerns ever made and it is ranked 45 on the list of top 100 films. The movie earned six Academy Award nominations and won an award for Best Cinematography (in color). Many people believe Alan Ladd should have received an Academy Award for his performance as the mysterious “former” gunslinger Shane and consider the role as his best performance. How do I feel?

I cannot deny that “SHANE” is a first-rate movie. Who am I kidding? It is an excellent look at violence on the American frontier. And thanks to George Stevens’ direction, it is also brutal. Unlike many previous movie directors, Stevens did not stylized the violent deaths depicted in the film. A major example of this peek into life on the frontier is a scene that featured the brutal death of Frank “Stonewall” Torrey, a small rancher portrayed by Elisha Cook Jr., who was killed by Jack Wilson, a villainous gunslinger portrayed by Jack Palance:

 

Contrary to what one might originally believe, I do not believe “SHANE” preached against violence. Yes, the screenplay written by Guthrie questioned the constant use of violence to solve problems. But the movie made it clear that sometimes, one has no choice but to fight. Does this rule apply to the situation in “SHANE”? Hmmmm . . . good question.

Another aspect of “SHANE” that I found fascinating was Shane’s attempts to put his violent past behind him in his interactions with the Starrett family. Whether Shane was working or riding beside Joe, befriending Joey and struggling to suppress his obvious sexual desire for Marian; it seemed pretty obvious that he had developed close feelings for the entire family. And it would also explained why he would hang around, despite the danger of being dragged into a range war.

I cannot deny that “SHANE” featured some first-rate performances. I also cannot deny that Alan Ladd was in top form as the soft-spoken gunslinger who tried to hang up his gun belt, while staying with Starretts. I have always believed that Ladd was an underrated actor. Many critics have regarded his role as Shane as a singular example of how excellent he was as an actor. Do not get me wrong. I also admire his performance as Shane. It was a prime example of his skills as a movie actor. But I have seen other Ladd performances that I found equally impressive. Van Heflin’s portrayal of the determined small rancher, Joe Starrett, struck me as equally impressive. I could never really regard his character as complex, but Heflin made it easy for me to see why Shane had no problems befriending Joe . . . or why other ranchers regarded him as their unofficial leader. Jean Arthur had been lured out of an early retirement by Stevens for the role of Marian Starrett. I thought she did a superb job of conveying her character’s complicated feelings for Shane. Thanks to Arthur’s performance, Marian seemed to be torn between her love for Joe, her attraction to Shane and her revulsion toward his violent past.

Brandon deWilde had received an Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as the Starretts’ young son, Joe Jr. (Joey). Do not get me wrong. I thought deWilde gave a very good performance as the impressionable, yet energetic young Joey. But an Oscar nod? Honestly, I have seen better performances from a good number of child actors – then and now. Another Best Supporting Actor nomination was given to Jack Palance for his role as the villainous gunslinger, Jack Wilson. When I re-watched this movie for the last time, there seemed to be two faces to Palance’s performance. Most of his appearances featured the actor projecting the stone-faced villainy of his character. But there were moments when Palance managed to convey the more human side of Wilson – whether it was his boredom toward his employer’s other minions or weariness at the idea of facing another person to kill. It is strange that I had never noticed this before.

I also have to give kudos to Elisha Cook Jr. as the doomed Frank Toomey, who spent most of the movie aggressively expressing his anger at Ryker’s attempts to drive him and other small ranchers out of the valley. And yet . . . Cook’s best scene featured Toomey’s last moments, when he began to silently express regret at his quick temper and his realization that he was about to meet his death.“SHANE” also featured some first-rate performances from Emilie Meyer as the ruthless and greedy Rufus Ryker; Ben Johnson as one of Ryker’s ranch hands, whose early encounter with Shane made him see the light; and the likes of Ellen Corby, Edgar Buchanan, Douglas Spencer and Edith Evanson.

Despite my admiration for “SHANE”, George Stevens’ direction and A.B. Guthrie Jr.’s screenplay . . . the movie is not a particularly favorite of mine. I like the film, but I do not love it. There are certain aspects of “SHANE” that prevents me from fully embracing it. One is Loyal Griggs’ cinematography. I realize that he had won an Academy Award for his work. And I must say that he did an excellent job in capturing the beauty of the movie’s Wyoming and California locations. But I found his use of natural lighting for the interior shots very frustrating, especially since I could barely see a damn thing in some shots. Another aspect of “SHANE” that annoyed me was its message regarding violence. I have no problem with any story declaring the use of violence in certain situations. My problem is that I did not find the local ranchers’ situation with Ryker dire enough that they had to insist upon fighting it out. Granted, if they had agreed to sell their land to Ryker and leave, it would have meant his victory. I do not know. Perhaps I did not care. Or perhaps this feeling came from my contempt toward the Frank Toomey character, who had stupidly decided to give in to his anger and aggression by facing Ryker and Wilson.

Another aspect of “SHANE” that annoyed me was the Joey Starrett character. I have seen my share of on-screen precocious children in movies and television. But there was something about Joey Starrett that truly got under my skin. I do not blame Brandon deWilde. He was only following Stevens’ direction. But before the movie’s last reel, I found myself wishing that someone would push dear Joey into the mud . . . face first. If there was one aspect of “SHANE” that truly annoyed me, it was bringing the U.S. Civil War into the narrative. I can only recall three characters who were established as Civil War veterans – Shane, Frank Toomey and Jack Wilson. Of the three, guess which one fought with the Union? That is correct. The evil and slimy Wilson. And to make matters worse, Guthrie’s screenplay had Shane utter these words to Wilson before shooting him – “I’ve heard that you’re a low-down Yankee liar.” In other words, “SHANE” became another example of Hollywood’s subtle, yet never-ending reverence for the Confederate cause. And considering that only three characters in this film were established as war veterans, why on earth did Schaefer, Guthrie or Stevens had to drag the damn war into this story in the first place? It was so unnecessary.

Regardless of my frustrations, I must admit that “SHANE” is a first-rate Western. Director George Stevens, screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr. and the excellent cast led by Alan Ladd did an exceptional job in creating a Western that many would remember for decades. If only I had enjoyed it more than I actually did.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set During the 1600s

Below is a list of my favorite movies set during the 1600s: 

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING THE 1600s

1. “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” (1974) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the second half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.

2. “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1977) – Richard Chamberlain portrayed duel roles in this loose adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. Directed by Mike Newell, the movie co-starred Jenny Agutter, Patrick McGoohan and Ralph Richardson.

3. “The Three Musketeers” (1973) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the first half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.

4. “Adventures of Don Juan” (1948) – Errol Flynn starred in this swashbuckling movie as the infamous Spanish nobleman and fencing master for King Philip III and Queen Margaret of Spain’s court, who comes to the aid of the couple when another nobleman plots to steal the throne from them. Vincent Sherman directed.

5. “The New World” (2005) – Terrence Malick wrote and directed this cinematic look at the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement. The movie starred Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale.

6. The Three Musketeers” (1948) – George Sidney directed this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel. The movie starred Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, Lana Turner and June Allyson.

7. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (2005) – Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson starred in this adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 historical novel about a Dutch housemaid; her employer, painter Johannes Vermeer; and the creation of his famous 1665 painting. Peter Webber directed.

8. “The Wicked Lady” (1945) – Margaret Lockwood starred in this adaptation of Magdalen King-Hall’s 1945 novel, “Life And Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton”. Directed by Leslie Arliss, the movie co-starred James Mason and Patricia Roc.

9. “Forever Amber” (1947) – Otto Preminger directed this adaptation of Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel about the rise of a 17th century English orphan. Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde starred.

10. “The Crucible” (1996) – Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder starred in this adaptation of Arthur Miller’s 1953 stage play about the Salem Witch Trials. The movie was directed by Nicholas Hytner.

Movie and Television Productions Featuring U.S. Marines During World War II

Today is the U.S. Marines’ birthday. To celebrate, I thought it would be nice to recommend ten movie and television productions (in chronological order) that feature U.S. Marines during World War II:

 

MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS FEATURING U.S. MARINES DURING WORLD WAR II

1. “Pride of the Marines” (1945) – John Garfield portrayed real life Marnie, Al Schmid, a decorated hero who was blinded during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Eleanor Parker and Dane Cook co-starred. Delmer Daves directed.

2. “Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949) – John Wayne earned an Oscar nomination in this dramatization of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Directed by Allan Dwan, John Agar and Forrest Tucker co-starred.

3. “Battle Cry” (1955) – Raoul Walsh directed this adaptation of Leon Uris’ novel about U.S. Marines in love and war during World War II. Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, James Whitmore, and Tab Hunter co-starred.

4. “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” (1957) – John Huston directed both Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in this character study about a shipwrecked Marine and a nun, who wait out the war on an island in the Pacific.

5. “In Love and War” (1958) – Philip Dunne directed this adaptation of Anton Meyer’s novel about three Marines on leave in San Francisco. Robert Wagner, Dana Wynter, Jeffrey Hunter, Hope Lange and Bradford Dillman co-starred.

6. “Hell to Eternity” (1960) – Jeffrey Hunter portrayed real-life Marine hero Guy Gabaldon in this biopic about a homeless Latino in Los Angeles, who is adopted by a Japanese-American family and later becomes a hero at the Battle of Saipan. Phil Karlson directed.

7. “The Outsider” (1961) – Tony Curtis starred in this biopic about Marine Ira Hayes, one of the flag raisers on Iwo Jima. Directed by Delbert Mann, the movie co-starred James Franciscus and Gregory Walcott.

8. “Windtalkers” (2002) – John Woo directed this account of the Navaho code talkers in the U.S. Marines and the men assigned to protect them. Nicholas Cage, Adam Beach, Frances O’Connor and Christian Slater starred.

9. “Flags of Our Fathers” (2006) – Clint Eastwood directed this account on three of the six men who raised the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima. Ryan Phillipe, Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford co-starred.

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10. “The Pacific” (2010) – Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produced this 10-part award-winning miniseries for HBO about the experiences of three U.S. Marines – Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone – during World War II. James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello and Jon Seda starred.

“THE THREE MUSKETEERS” (1948) Review

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“THE THREE MUSKETEERS” (1948) Review

There are times when I find myself amazed at the longevity of Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The novel has been in circulation for nearly 170 years. Hollywood and other film industries have been adapting the novel for the movies or television for nearly a century. One adaptation I recently viewed was the Hollywood movie produced and released by MGM Studios in 1948. 

We all know the story. A young Frenchman from Gascon sets out for Paris in the early 17th century to join the King’s Musketeers. During this journey, he meets a beautiful, mysterious woman and picks a fight with one of the lady’s escorts. Upon his arrival in Paris, d’Artagnan presents himself to Commander de Treville of the Musketeers and successfully joins the unit, despite losing his father’s letter of introduction. D’Artagnan also manages to annoy three of the most skillful Musketeers – Athos, Aramis and Porthos – and schedule a duel with all three of them. His duel with Athos ends when members of Cardinal Richelieu’s men tries to arrest the Musketeers. And d’Artagnan assists the Musketeers in their fight against the Cardinal’s men. The young Gascon befriends his fellow Musketeers, acquires a valet named Planchet and falls in love with the goddaughter of his new landlord, Constance Bonacieux. However, Constance also happens to be Queen Anne’s dressmaker. Thanks to her romance with d’Artagnan, the latter becomes involved in royal and political intrigue as he helps Constance prevent Cardinal Richelieu from exposing the Queen’s romance with England’s Duke of Buckingham; and becomes the target of one of the Cardinal’s top agents – the beautiful and deadly Milady de Winter, who happened to be the mysterious woman he had briefly encountered on the road to Paris.

Directed by George Sidney and written by Robert Ardrey, “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” turned out to be the second most faithful adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Mind you, there were differences. Due to Code restrictions, Constance Bonacieux was the goddaughter of d’Artagnan’s landlord, not the wife. Therefore, this version avoided any adulterous taint in the relationship between the hero and his lady love. The war conducted between France and Spain featured in Dumas’ novel was transformed into a private military campaign conducted behind King Louis XIII’s back, between Richelieu and Buckingham. And Milady de Winter’s prison guard in England turned out to be Constance (in hiding from Richelieu), instead of John Felton, one of the Duke’s officers. Which meant that Constance’s death occurred at Buckingham’s castle, instead of inside a monastery in France. Fortunately, these changes barely made any negative impact on my viewing pleasure. But there were some aspects of the movie that did not sit well with me.

Mind you, Gene Kelly’s overall performance as d’Artagnan struck me as well done, despite the actor being over a decade older than the actual character. But there were times in the movie’s first half when I found his performance a little hammy and strident – especially in his effort to convey the image of a passionate and impetuous youth. A good example of this hamminess was his reaction to his first sight of Constance Bonacieux. Screenwriter Robert Ardrey did very little to showcase the Comte de Rochefort character in the film and ended up wasting the presence of actor Ian Keith, who portrayed the character in this film and in the 1935 adaptation. I liked Frank Morgan’s portrayal of King Louis XIII, but I must admit that he seemed to old for the role. And the Queen Anne character, portrayed wonderfully by Angela Landsbury, practically disappeared in the movie’s second half, despite the major roles played by Constance and the Duke of Buckingham during that period.

Despite these quibbles, I must admit that “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” is probably my second favorite adaptation of Dumas’ novel. One thing, the Technicolor featured in this film is absolutely beautiful. The color, combined with Robert H. Planck’s photography of the movie’s locations really took my breath away . . . especially in scenes that featured some of the characters’ travels across France and England. Herbert Stothart, who had won an Oscar for his work on 1939’s “THE WIZARD OF OZ”, did an admirable job of blending the movie’s score with the on-screen drama and action. Speaking of action, this movie featured some of the best sword fighting choreography I have ever seen on screen. The fight scenes definitely benefited from Kelly’s dancing skills and athleticism. But Kelly was not the only one who looked good in the action scenes. So did Van Heflin, Robert Coote and especially Gig Young. Even Keenan Wynn, who portrayed d’Artagnan’s valet Planchet, looked good in one or two scenes. I must admit that Walter Plunkett’s costume designs looked absolutely beautiful – for both the male and female characters. However, a part of me suspected they were not an accurate reflection of early 17th century France.

Ardrey’s adaptation of Dumas’ novel may not have been perfect. But I cannot deny that the screenwriter still fashioned a first-rate script. He did an excellent job in meshing the two major plotlines of the novels – the theft of Queen Anne’s diamonds and Milady de Winter’s activities against d’Artagnan and the Duke of Buckingham in the movie’s second half. George Sidney’s energetic direction and excellent performances from the cast elevated the script even higher. Not only did the sword fighting sequences impressed me, I especially enjoyed the long sequence that featured d’Artagnan’s journey to England to fetch Queen Anne’s diamonds. The movie also featured some fine dramatic scenes. One of them featured superb performances from Lana Turner and Vincent Price, in which the two villainous characters discuss the fates of both the Duke of Buckingham and d’Artagnan. Another turned out to be a showcase for Van Heflin in which the drunken Athos revealed the details of his failed marriage. But my favorite featured Athos’ revelation of Milady as his estranged wife in a conversation with d’Artagnan. This scene revealed some outstanding performances from both Heflin and Kelly.

No movie is perfect. I can honestly say that the 1948 movie, “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” is no bastion of perfection. It has its flaws. But it also possesses virtues that outweigh its flaws – including an excellent cast, beautiful photography, and a well-written adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel. Most of all, all the movie’s virtues were increased tenfold from a well-paced and energetic direction from George Sidney. It is a pity that MGM Studios failed to profit from “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”. The studio certainly deserved to.