Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Lady from Shanghai 1948

'The Lady from Shanghai's' visuals make this Orson Welles film noir memorable, especially those of Rita Hayworth.

I’d never gone out of my way to see 1948’s The Lady from Shanghai, though I admire Orson Welles’ storytelling style, and adore Rita Hayworth’s electric magnetism. Perhaps reading about the film’s original flop reputation, with Rita criticized as out of her dramatic depth, made me pass this Lady over for decades. The Lady from Shanghai’s reputation has risen over the decades, to the status it enjoys today. Long overdue, I watched Welles’ film noir and was surprised in unexpected ways.

Orson Welles in a scene that shows his talent for striking visual compositions.

*Beware, spoilers ahead. The Lady from Shanghai is certainly a mixed bag of cinematic treats. What’s most delectable is the movie’s visual style. Orson Welles takes an already familiar genre and puts his original spin on this film noir spider web. Lady feels like a gorgeous nightmare, filled with huge, sweaty close-ups, off-putting camera angles, and the bizarre juxtaposition of visuals, situations, and dialogue. The villains of this film noir are deliciously over-the-top, and there’s some choice campy dialogue for them to chew on.
On the half-baked side is Welles’ intrusive Irish accent and Orson trying to pigeon-hole his already larger-than-life persona and puffy physique into the standard film noir anti-hero. Also overstuffed is the convoluted story that literally has to be explained by Welles to baffled viewers. Still, The Lady from Shanghai, flaws and all, is spellbindingly watchable.
That Orson Welles eye: The sailor and the siren tryst at an aquarium, not some ordinary cocktail lounge!

The Lady from Shanghai is a precursor to Welles’ decade later A Touch of Evil. And both films feel like a later inspiration for David Lynch’s directorial eye. Visually, the movie is a feast of the eye: the ominous aquarium scene, the Chinese opera, and especially, the funhouse and house of mirrors finale, are all memorable. The languorous scenes on the yacht and down Mexico way are sensual, yet with an undercurrent of dread and ennui. However, the courtroom scene is downright silly, complete with a lively Greek chorus and the villainous lawyer who cross-examines himself!
An Orson Welles action scene means tipping over a bookcase on his opponent...how intellectual!

Orson Welles' strengths were strongest as a director. I'm always struck by how phony Orson’s film acting could be, full of theatrical accents, wigs, costumes, and wild over-acting. I know that Welles was capable of subtle performing, such as his classic role as Harry Lime in The Third Man. Here, as sailor Michael O’ Hara, his Irish accent inspires laughter, with no relief, from his constant film noir narration. Welles’ brogue is right up there with his unintelligible drawl for The Long, Hot Summer or his Hungarian hamming in The VIPs. Also eyebrow-raising is how often the other characters refer to Orson’s Michael as “big and strong.” I was surprised to read that Welles was over six feet tall, because Orson looks short and fat, and his billowy suits don’t help. The action scenes all involve Welles’ hero, and look cartoonish. The final fight, with Welles tearing apart a judge’s chambers to get away from a burly guard, is downright absurd.
Everett Sloane is the abrasive, shyster lawyer married to a sultry young woman who disobeys smoking signs.

Legend has it Orson turned in a 155 minute version of The Lady from Shanghai to Columbia Studios. The final version is just under 90 minutes, which some film folks decry as too bare bones. Well, Laura, perhaps the best film noir ever, clocks in at about the same running time. And Laura’s production was nearly as fraught as Lady. Frankly, the insanely twisted story is Lady’s least interesting aspect, so I can't imagine what another hour would have added. Fun as it would be to see a longer version of the climactic funhouse scene, or the deleted scenes, it’s also not essential to the final film.
Who's really captain of this ship? Rita's yachting ensemble would make RuPaul green with envy!

Much like The Big Sleep, it's the atmosphere that keeps viewers enthralled in The Lady from Shanghai. It doesn't have the sly repartee of Sleep, but Lady has some bizarrely memorable lines. And some seem so archly campy that you wonder if this movie is supposed to be a black comedy version of a film noir.
Glenn Anders in one of his many ominous but oddly hilarious uber close-ups, as Grisby.

Glenn Anders is fascinating as George Grisby, the villain's drunken partner. His creepy character and delivery of some of the film’s most loony lines are really out there. Lady also features some of the most uncomfortable close-ups ever on film, of Anders’ Grisby, especially as he is tries to intimidate Welles’ sailor stud. Everett Sloane has one of best roles as Bannister, the shady lawyer, who is memorably sinister, yet also pathetic. The shootout showdown with his seductive young wife in the house of mirrors is riveting, but also oddly touching. And one could have a drinking contest over who brays their character’s form of addressing Welles’ sailor or Rita’s siren more: George’s ‘fella’ or Bannister’s ‘lover!’
One of the most brilliant finales in movie history: the fun house mirrors sequence from 'The Lady from Shanghai.'
Rita Hayworth as the seemingly saddest femme fatale in the world.

I had no doubt that Rita Hayworth would fulfill the female aspects of her femme fatale just fine. However, I was surprised by Rita’s striking performance as Elsa Bannister. Filmed on the heels of her signature role as Gilda, Hayworth is again the mystery woman tied to an older, ominous man, and a younger man drawn into their orbit. Unlike defiant Gilda, Hayworth's Elsa seems incredibly sad and defeated. Elsa seems like the wounded women Rita played after her return to Hollywood in the '50s, after her disastrous marriage to Prince Aly Khan. That steamy sequence on the yacht, with Rita lounging in a swimsuit, driving all the men wild, reminded me of Ava Gardner’s scene later in The Barefoot Contessa, a film loosely based on the life of Hayworth.
Bang, bang, my hubby shot me down: Rita rocks the stone cold villainy as Elsa Bannister.

To then see Rita revealed as the stone cold, stone-faced villainess at the finale is a jolt. Hayworth’ performance made me wonder if her acting was that good, or did Orson change the story as he went along—as he was known to do. Either way, Rita is riveting, going from melancholy and mysterious to murderous. The finale, with Rita crawling across the floor, screaming, ‘I don't want to die!’ as Orson walks out the funhouse door, is a stark departure from most '40s movies, even for film noir.
Nobody’s particularly likeable here, typical of film noir, but Orson Welles really pushes the envelope here. Despite the conniving characters and the convoluted plotting, there’s much to admire about this stylish Lady from Shanghai.

Elsa and Michael soon bid farewell in 'The Lady from Shanghai.' Before the film's release, so did Rita and Orson.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Enchanted Cottage 1945

Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young 'feel pretty' when they're in 'The Enchanted Cottage.' The premise of the 2018 Amy Schumer comedy was borrowed from this romantic drama.

One way to look at 1945’s The Enchanted Cottage is pure Hollywood golden era fantasy.  Another way—beauty is literally in the eye of the beholder—is that the film’s message is timeless.
The British government commissioned playwright Sir Arthur Wing Pinero to write The Enchanted Cottage, to uplift WWI’s returning soldiers, after many men returned home physically and emotionally shattered. First a play, then a silent movie, The Enchanted Cottage was remade two decades later for WWII audiences, with Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young. 
Dorothy McGuire as lonely Laura Pennington looks on at the cottage's latest lovebirds, Beatrice and Oliver.

Oliver Bradford brings his lovely fiancée, Beatrice, to a cottage where honeymooners once nested, on the New England coast. The tradition was broken 25 years earlier when the last groom died tragically; the bride is now the cottage’s taciturn owner/housekeeper, Mrs. Minnett. The current couple's plans are put on hold when Oliver is sent off to war after the Pearl Harbor attack. Tragedy strikes when he is injured and left disfigured. His lovely bride-to-be bails and Oliver later arrives alone at the cottage.
Mildred Natwick and Dorothy McGuire as the lonely housekeeper and maid, keepers of 'The Enchanted Cottage.'

The soldier meets the housekeeper's maid, Laura Pennington, a girl with a homely face and the heart of a romantic. They bond and Oliver proposes. Sadly, Laura is more in love than Oliver; for him, it's a marriage of convenience. Yet, on their honeymoon, he sees past his self-pity and realizes how loving Laura is. Miraculously, they begin to appear physically beautiful to each other. Laura attributes this to the enchanted cottage. Hedging their bets, they keep to themselves, not wanting to jinx their good fortune. Finally, the newlyweds decide to face his parents. Their sympathetic pianist pal, Major Hillgrove, who is blind, tries to warn the visiting family. However, Oliver's childish mother and boorish stepfather react badly, breaking the couple's romantic spell. Oliver and Laura are crushed. The housekeeper passionately tells them that their love for each other is what makes them beautiful, not the cottage. They realize that she is right, and the newlyweds renew their bond.
Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire are Oliver and Laura, who see their inner beauty at 'The Enchanted Cottage.'

Cottage hosts a small but stellar cast: Robert Young, who found later renewed fame on TV in Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, was an intelligent leading man whose unmannered work looks better to modern audiences’ eyes. Young plays charmingly cheerful and later bitter and disillusioned equally well. Interestingly, this was Robert Young's favorite film, for its romantic message, and later told Leonard Maltin that he didn't want filming to end.
Herbert Marshall is the blind pianist who befriends the reclusive couple.

Herbert Marshall, with that mellifluous voice, is the perfect storyteller here and as usual, plays with authority. Though blind, his character has more of a clue than the others. It’s ironic that Herbert Marshall himself was an English WWI veteran who lost a leg in service.
Spring Byington is a scene stealer as the shallow, clueless chatterbox mother. Byington gives Billie Burke a run for her money in the flighty department here. Hillary Brooke manages to remain sympathetic as Beatrice, the beauty who leaves the soldier after his injuries leave him scarred.
Mildred Natwick is a standout as the heartbroken housekeeper.

Mildred Natwick deserved a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role as the brusque housekeeper with a broken heart. Natwick’s big scene, when Mrs. Minnett tells the new couple the true secret of the cottage, is moving and beautifully performed.
Dorothy McGuire gives a soulful, touching performance as the homely maid with a beautiful heart.

However, the jewel in the crown is Dorothy McGuire. A popular star in her day, Dorothy should have been even bigger. Amazingly, McGuire did not receive an Oscar nomination for her soulful performance as lovelorn Laura, nor for her tough tenement mother Katie Dolan, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—both released in 1945. Perhaps that’s because McGuire was under contract to producer David Selznick, and not to RKO or Fox respectively, as all studios encouraged their blocs of voters to support their own stars. Selznick star Jennifer Jones had recently snagged an Oscar at Fox for The Song of Bernadette—but she was his protégée and future wife. While 1945 was Joan Crawford’s year for Mildred Pierce, a number of the other nominees were Hollywood’s perennial pet nominees, and Dorothy should have made the cut. As Cottage’s Laura Pennington, McGuire is as soft and gentle as she was tough and hurting as Tree’s Katie Nolan. The scene at the canteen, when no soldier will ask the homely housekeeper to dance, is a reverse-Cinderella moment where she doesn’t become the belle of the ball, and is a classic tearjerker moment. McGuire reminds me of Eva Marie Saint—an appealing, classy, smart leading lady who was perhaps too “normal” to be a larger than life movie diva.
The dreamy photography of 'The Enchanted Cottage' softens Robert Young's & Dorothy McGuire's harsh looks.

My one quibble: From today’s viewpoint, Laura is hardly hideous, and Oliver's scars and limp arm aren’t very horrifying. But for a '40s film, when beauty and perfection were everything, McGuire and Young gamely present themselves as imperfect. McGuire's pain at being rejected is palpable, and Young's self-pity at no longer being perfect and carefree is realistic.

What makes The Enchanted Cottage work is the taste level of everyone involved. Director John Cromwell was always terrific with actors. He was also a strong storyteller and very adult in the handling of material. Of Human Bondage, In Name Only, and Caged come to mind, where he shows strong emotions without going over the top.
'The Enchanted Cottage' is both haunting and a honeymooners' haven!

The Enchanted Cottage’s score and tone poem for Robert and Laura was created by Roy Webb, who received the film's sole Oscar nomination. The cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff is soft focus perfection. The score and photography together create a romantic atmosphere in which this dream-like story is played out. The nearly poetic screenplay was written by DeWitt Bodeen and Citizen Kane’s Herman Mankiewicz.
A remake of The Enchanted Cottage has been discussed several times. First, in the early '70s, there was talk of McGuire and Young playing the older roles of the housekeeper and pianist. That fell through when Dorothy, after a screening, declared the story a product of its time. I think in terms of the story—if not the sentiments—McGuire was right. In the mid-1970s, Cher wanted to get into movies, starting with a remake of Cottage, a project she pursued for years. She owned the rights twice! Other great stars like Streisand, Midler, and Spielberg have remade their favorites, A Star is Born, Stella (as in Dallas), and Always (A Guy Named Joe). Sometimes, it's better just to watch your film faves and not remake them in your image.
Dorothy McGuire's Cinderella gone wrong moment, when the canteen hostess gets her to go dance with the soldiers.

I noticed in research for The Enchanted Cottage some people feel that the message of the movie is that unattractive people need to hide away. I’m not sure why, because the film’s final scenes are clear. Once the couple's spell is broken by family members, the housekeeper tells them the truth, and declares that their love is what makes them beautiful to one another. Alone, Oliver and Laura talk it over, and reaffirm their love. They then write their names on the cottage's glass panes like past newlyweds. The film ends with the couple joining the pianist and his guests at a dinner party, ending their seclusion.
Eventually, Oliver and Laura's names join the other newlyweds' names on the cottage's window panes.

The other complaint is confusion over the film’s POV, when the couple shows off their “new” selves. It’s simple: the damaged soldier and homely girl appear the way to whoever is looking at them. When the husband is looking at his bride, she is beautiful. When the stepfather listens to their story, he sees their actual appearance. Once the couple realizes that there is no miracle, they see their actual themselves. When Oliver and Laura reaffirm their love, they're beautiful again. To nitpickers, I think they just confirm the film's message about people seeing what they want to see!
The real charm of The Enchanted Cottage is that it is one of the most genuinely romantic movies ever. For a studio era movie, it’s quite subtle. This film may be a product of its time, but it’s also timeless.
Here's my own little 'enchanted cottage' in Upper Michigan!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Laura 1944

Portrait of 'Laura,' perhaps the most famous painting in movie history.

What is left to say about 1944’s Laura, one of the most celebrated film noirs? So much has been written, that I can only comment that Laura is one of my all-time favorite films, regardless of genre.
When I was younger, I found dark, nightmarish film noirs fascinating and very adult. As I’ve grown older, this genre usually grates on my nerves, especially those with stories that hinge on incredible coincidences or characters who seem to be telepathic. For instance, my eyes roll routinely if I catch The Postman Always Rings Twice, where Leon Ames’ D.A. is on to John Garfield and Lana Turner’s illicit lovers from the start—before they even consider wrong-doing! The same goes for Double Indemnity, when scheming couple Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanywck can’t catch a break with Fred’s insurance company boss Edward G. Robinson around.
Dana Andrews as the detective who seems to be love with a portrait of a dead woman.

For me, what makes Laura such a great film noir is not about the plotting and double-crossing, it’s about the mood and characters. Frankly, I never thought there was much mystery regarding Laura’s killer. While every character in the film is crazy about lovely Laura, you wonder what she sees in them—they’re mostly a pit of vipers.
'Laura' and the men in her life: the columnist, the playboy, and the detective!

The much-imitated story revolves around Laura Hunt and her social circle after it is thought she has been shot to death, right in her beautiful face. No-nonsense detective Mark McPherson is on the case and while sifting through the evidence and Laura’s life, becomes infatuated with her. There’s also a stunning portrait of Laura over her fireplace to inspire him. Mooning over the dead beauty while sorting through the case, he falls asleep at her apartment, only to be awakened by Laura, who isn’t dead after all. The murdered woman turns out to be a co-worker, with everyone a suspect—even Laura herself. The fun isn’t in the mystery, but the motives of each character, and the detective sizing them all up, to determine whodunit.
Clifton Webb in the role that made him a star, as the aptly named Waldo Lydecker.

Clifton Webb is routinely cited as stealing Laura. A former Broadway performer, Clifton created a classic character as catty columnist Waldo Lydecker, who’s obsessed with Laura. While Webb’s way with cutting comedic lines gets most of the praise, he also gives a great dramatic performance as the older man drawn to an ideal young woman, who knows that he can’t truly have. With Laura, the acidic, flamboyant Webb became an unlikely but big movie star, moving on to dramas like The Razor's Edge as well as the classic Mr. Belvedere comedies and the family favorite, Cheaper by the Dozen.
One of the great beauties of '40s films, Gene Tierney in literally her signature role as 'Laura.' 

Gene Tierney is usually touted for her great beauty, and rightly so. During her heyday, critics weren’t often kind, and a few felt that Tierney wasn’t all that Laura was touted to be, by the other characters. Gene wasn't as dynamic of an actress, as say, Vivien Leigh. Yet, Tierney radiated class and intelligence, something that studios went to great pains to give the illusion of in many of their actresses. However, like Leigh, Gene’s picture perfect, placid beauty had an undercurrent of emotional tension, which gave an extra dimension to her performances. Both actresses had turbulent personal lives and struggled with emotional illness, and worked hard to keep an even keel. I think Gene’s background and persona made her perfect as Laura Hunt. Consider that Hedy Lamarr was an early choice for Laura, and it’s easy to see how well Gene Tierney works in the role.
Vincent Price as the weak charmer, Shelby, the kind of role that made a character star instead of matinee idol.

Vincent Price became typecast after co-starring as Gene's smarmy, slightly campy second-string love interest in both Laura and the next year in Leave Her to Heaven. Yet, Price plays the type so well! Vincent is sly and self-deprecating as boy toy Shelby Carpenter. And Judith Anderson is both sympathetic and sinister as Ann Treadwell, Laura’s aunt and rival for Price’s Shelby.
Dana Andrews is effortlessly natural as the street-smart detective Mark McPherson.

However, the unsung hero of Laura is Dana Andrews as detective Mark McPherson. Andrew’s gumshoe is street smart and tough, but with a tender side, which causes him to fall for Laura's bewitching portrait. Dana Andrews is a bit like Humphrey Bogart, but without the more obvious mannerisms. Andrews is the perfect everyman in which audiences can view lovely Laura and her circle of friends. Amidst the movie’s intrigue and baroque characters, Andrews is the movie's rock.
Movie composer David Raskin wrote Laura’s theme, a recurring refrain throughout the film, and became justifiably famous. Later, lyrics later added by the great Johnny Mercer, and became even more popular.
Azadia Newman, wife of the original director of 'Laura,'
was a portrait painter. This was her take on Joan Crawford;
her portrait of Gene Tierney as Laura was not used!

This film is so smooth and near flawless, that it’s hard to fathom that Laura had such a fraught production. Fox’s head honcho Darryl F. Zanuck first refused to let Otto Preminger direct, but only produce. Rouben Mamoulian was brought in, but nobody was happy with his vision of Laura. So Rouben was given the boot, along with his painter wife Azadia Newman’s portrait of Laura. Even with Preminger now on board, Zanuck, a notoriously “hands on” mogul in more ways than one, called for a change in Laura’s ending. That is, until he showed it to columnist pal Walter Winchell, who basically commented, “Great picture, except for the ending!” I’m giving you the Reader’s Digest version, as my Mom likes to say, because the behind the scenes drama is a movie in itself.
Dana Wynter as Laura in '55's 'Portrait of Murder.'

This sublime slice of cinema was hilariously remade as a TV movie in the 1955. Robert Stack, with his glowering eyes and otherwise stony face, plays Dana Andrews’ detective role. The future Untouchables star only demonstrates how subtle Andrews was, compared to Stack, who always sounds like a morose radio announcer. Since this was 20th Century Fox’s foray into television, who else but Fox contract player George Sanders would do as Waldo Lydecker, right? Sadly, Sanders is on acid-tongued autopilot here and the cartoonish script has his Lydecker getting decked by the detective. Dana Wynter, a pale substitute for Tierney as Laura, comes across like a prim secretary. And since this is ‘50s TV, there’s even a wise cracking kid, who was Laura’s smitten neighbor, and says things like, “Gee, why would anyone want to kill a swell girl like Laura?”
Robert Stack and George Sanders reprised their roles a dozen years later
in yet another TV remake with Lee Radziwill as 'Laura.'

Even stranger was another TV remake over a dozen years later, in ‘68. Aging Robert Stack and George Sanders were trotted out once again as the detective and the columnist, opposite Jackie O's sister, Lee Radziwill, as Laura. Lee was getting mentored by writer/society pal Truman Capote as an actress—I’m surprised Tru didn’t suggest himself as catty scribe Waldo Lydecker! The reviews were lethal and any copies of the production are now hard to come by.
Also, did you know there was a 1962 German TV version of Laura, with Hildegard Knef as Laura? You can watch it on YouTube.
Who remembers the Carol Burnett spoof, 'Flora?'

And TV fans, do you remember Carol Burnett’s spoof of Laura, called “Flora?” I only remember Vicki Lawrence as Bessie, the hysterical maid, and Steve Lawrence as the wisecracking detective. And I’m sure Harvey Korman played the imperious Waldo Lydecker. Does that leave Lyle Waggoner as Shelby Carpenter? I’d love to find this!
So, what do I love about Laura? That it gave Gene Tierney her signature role? That it made Clifton Webb a movie star at 55? That it makes audiences appreciate the naturalistic Dana Andrews even more today? That it has one of the loveliest movie themes ever? Laura is one of those rare films where all the elements come miraculously together, despite what was going on behind the camera, to create movie magic.

1944's 'Laura' all comes together in one lovely film noir.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Shane 1953

'Shane' is still a classic.

I never watched 1953’s Shane all these years because I thought it was just a typical Hollywood western. Well, George Stevens’ Shane is “just a western” about as much as his A Place in the Sun is just a romance or Giant is just another epic. Director Stevens gave depth to movie genres in his honest look at the American way of life.
I just saw Shane for the first time during a snowy spring break in Upper Michigan. My Mom couldn’t believe I’d never seen one of movie’s most famous westerns, so we watched Shane together. I was knocked out the imaginative storytelling, memorable scenes, stellar cast, authentic location shooting, and the realistic attitude about how the west was really won.
Alan Ladd in his signature role as the reluctant gunslinger, Shane.

Joey: Why don't you ever wear your six-shooter, Shane?
Shane: Well, I guess I don't see as many bad men as you do.
The simple story, but with complex storytelling, was inspired by the infamous Johnson County War in 1892, when rich ranchers tried to run off homesteaders with the help of guns for hire. Adapted from Jack Schaefer’s popular novel, Shane is a gunfighter trying to escape his past. He comes upon the Starretts, a farming family who could use a hired hand. Not only are there chores to be done, a domineering cattle rancher named Rufus Ryker wants the Starretts and other homesteaders out of his way. Joe Starrett staunchly believes that he and his fellow farmers have a right to their claims. Starrett soon admires the strong, silent Shane, as does his wife Marian, and son Joey. Shane goes out of his way not to be goaded into fighting, but as the Ryker clan escalates their efforts to drive out the farmers, this inevitably leads to the climatic gunfight.
The Starrett family all admire the strong, silent Shane.

Joe Starrett: Who is Ruf Ryker or anyone else to run us away from our own homes? He only wants to grow his beef and what we want to grow up is families, to grow 'em good and grow 'em, grow 'em up strong, the way they was meant to be grown. God didn't make all this country just for one man like Ryker.
The myth that Paramount shelved director Stevens’ Shane is absurd. While Shane was shooting in the fall of ‘51, the same studio released Stevens' A Place in the Sun, a critical and commercial smash. While he was up to his elbows in pruning the fruits of his four month Shane shoot in early 1952, George Stevens won his first best director Oscar for Sun. It's highly unlikely that Paramount would then shelve their golden boy's latest movie. Stevens was famous for his long filming schedules, with footage shot from every conceivable angle, which would then take him anywhere from one to two years to edit. George Stevens Junior once said that his father’s movies were really made in the editing room.
George Stevens and his reams of film footage.

Another hold up was when Paramount decided that Shane would be their first widescreen film, though it was filmed in the standard smaller screen ratio. Then they decided to add Stereophonic sound to complement the big screen ratio. There was no way they were going to sit on or dump Shane. “Did you know Shane was shelved at first?” makes a good Hollywood story. Just as how The Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life were supposedly flops when first released, these stories take on a life of their own.

Ed Howells: This Wilson, would you know him, Shane? If you saw him?
Shane: Maybe. If it is Wilson, he's fast on the draw, so be careful.
Howells: You seem to know a lot about this kind of business, Shane. I don't want no part of gunslinging. Murder's a better name.

Shane manages to be naturalistic and mythic at the same time—and this fits the talents of Alan Ladd perfectly. I had never seen any Ladd films prior, except for his last film, The Carpetbaggers. As world weary cowboy star Nevada Smith, Alan Ladd was the best thing about the shallow Hollywood soap opera. 
As Shane, Alan Ladd is low-key but strong, never overacting or falling back on mannerisms. The Paramount star, in his last film under contract, is totally natural and magnetic. Alan Ladd also possessed a wonderfully resonant speaking voice, like other iconic actors of the time: Gregory Peck, William Holden, Rock Hudson, etc.
Ben Johnson, as Chris Calloway, giving Ladd as Shane a very hard time.

Alan Ladd was a contemporary of Tyrone Power, they were a year apart. While 20th Century Fox treated Ty like a prince in comparison to Paramount and Ladd, Power also felt insecure that he was regarded as just a pretty face. While neither were Laurence Olivier, I think both Ladd and Power were underrated by critics of the era. With Shane, you see what Ladd could do, with great material and director.
Alan Ladd may have been slight in build, but was still the star!

Shane: Yeah, you've lived too long. Your kind of days are over.
Ryker: My days! What about yours, gunfighter?
Shane: The difference is I know it.
Much has been made of the fact that Alan Ladd was short, especially opposite tall leading ladies or villains. Well, you know what? A lot of actors were short back then—and still are today! Back in Alan Ladd's era, three of the shortest male stars had larger than life personas at Warner Brothers: Bogart, Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. The difference was these guys were not your typical movie stars, yet comfortable in their own skins. Later, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino continued that tradition. Short action heroes Cruise and Stallone came later. When Robert Redford broke through in the ‘70s, his height was actually the basis of a magazine article! And Patrick Swayze, who plays sort of a bouncer version of Shane in Roadhouse, takes a lot of wisecracks for his short, slim appearance from the small town’s bad guys.
Ladd was 5'5", as if that made him less masculine. My Dad was also 5’5”—and he was not to be messed with. When I was in 7th grade, an older boy walked up to me one lunch hour. He asked if Dick Gould was my old man. I nodded yes.
The clean-cut kid smirked and said, “I’ve seen him around. He’s just a sawed-off cowboy, isn’t he?”
My dad and his equally short brothers’ reputations were pretty well-known in my hometown, so I boldly replied, “The next time you see him, why don’t you tell him that?”
The boy stared at me a moment, then walked away!
I guess that generalization makes Ladd a sawed-off cowboy, too. Yet, with his almost animal-like stare and stillness, Ladd’s totally believable as a bad ass in Shane.
Alan Ladd and Van Heflin as the gunfighter and the homesteader in 'Shane.'

Joe Starrett (to rancher Ryker): I'm not belittlin' what you and the others did. At the same time, you didn't find this country. There were trappers here and Indian traders long before you showed up and they tamed this country more than you did.
Ryker: They weren't ranchers.
Joe: You talk about rights. You think you've got the right to say that nobody else has got any. Well, that ain't the way the government looks at it.
Brandon De Wilde, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, and Alan Ladd head a memorable cast in 1953's 'Shane.'

Van Heflin, that great star character actor, is likeable and believable as the decent farmer family man. Heflin’s Starrett is ahead of his time as a movie male who is secure with his wife’s crush on the hero. Jean Arthur was one of director Stevens favorite actresses, so he chose her as the farmer’s wife, Marion. Arthur is one of film's all-time delightful comediennes, who could also play drama. However, Arthur’s uniquely squeaky voice, especially during the film’s climatic moments, undercuts her credibility in trying to stop the impending violence. Also, Arthur at 50 and Heflin, 43, are bit long in the tooth as a pioneer couple with a small boy, and celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. As their son, Joey, movie fans seem to either love or loathe Brandon De Wilde’s performance. I found De Wilde better than most child actors of the era, though I think his Joey is used to telegraph the film’s underlying story a bit too much.

Marion: Guns aren't going to be my boy's life.
Shane: A gun is a tool, Marion. No better and no worse than any other tool—an axe, a shovel, or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.
Marion: We'd all be much better off if there wasn't a single gun left in this valley—including yours.
Jack Palance, the man whose mug launched a 1,000 nightmares, as Wilson, the gunslinger with an evil grin.

Shane has a stellar supporting cast. Jack Palance has a small but vivid role as the ranchers' smiling gunslinger, Jack Wilson. A young Ben Johnson is intense as Chris Calloway, one of Ryker’s ranch hands. This is a rare bad guy role for Johnson—though Chris redeems himself near the film’s climax. Also, did you know that Johnson was originally a rodeo cowboy and stunt man? Emile Meyer is memorable as the firebrand ranch baron, fierce and pathetic at the same time. Elisha Cook, Jr. was born to play Stonewall, the spooked would-be tough guy.
Shane happens to feature some of TV’s future classic familiar faces, like Ellen Corby (Grandma Walton!), Nancy Kulp (Jane Hathaway!), and Edgar Buchanan (Uncle Joe!).
Don't believe the bullshit stories that 'Shane' was shelved. This was director
George Stevens' follow-up to 'A Place in the Sun.' 

The extensive location shooting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming is superb, with the Grand Tetons prominent in the background. Cinematographer Loyal Griggs couldn’t have been thrilled to see his work shaved from the top and bottom to appear widescreen. Perhaps the Oscar he won for Shane helped ease the pain. Today, revivals and DVDs of Shane are rightfully shown in its original ratio.
Director Stevens didn’t want the typical backlot/soundstage western look for Shane. Stevens had the characters’ homes and makeshift town constructed on location and the characters looked more sweaty than spiffy. That same realistic attitude is true with the film’s attitude toward bar brawls and gun violence. People are left with bruises after fights and lost lives leave bereaved family members bereft.

Shane: I gotta be goin' on.
Joey: Why, Shane?
Shane: A man has to be what he is, Joey. You can't break the mold. I tried it and it didn't work for me.
Joey: We want you, Shane.
Shane: Joey, there's no living with, with a killing. There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks. There's no going back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her, tell her everything's alright, and there aren't any more guns in the valley.

George Stevens, always a socially conscious movie maker, was changed by his time in WWII. Stevens’ film unit captured the landing at Normandy, the liberation of Paris, and freeing the Dachau concentration camp. Stevens didn’t come back to Hollywood, just looking for a hit to put him back on top. George Stevens made several war documentaries, some of which were used at the Nuremberg trials. And when he did return to commercial filmmaking, George Stevens was more interested in what was going on in the world than just recycling Hollywood clichés. Even when working in the western genre, Stevens’ big fight scene were punctuated by huge close ups and excruciatingly timed punches, so audiences felt beaten and weary by the fight, too. The gunfight scenes were one of the first in film to use wires to jerk the performers back, mimicking the impact of a gunshot. Stevens wanted to show the effects of violence as well as the dilemma over the use of force.
Shane says his goodbyes to Little Joey.

George Stevens was a masterful storyteller, using powerful imagery and truth in his films. I knew of Shane’s famous ending, but I was overwhelmed when I watched for the first time. The finale is truly memorable, and Shane is still a classic.
Joey: Shane, you’re hurt!
Shane: I'm alright, Joey. You go home to your mother and your father. And grow up to be strong and straight. And Joey, take care of them, both of them.
Joey: Yes, Shane. [Tears well up in Joey's eyes] He'd never have been able to shoot you - if you'd have seen him.
Shane: Bye, little Joe.
Joey: He never even would have cleared the holster, would he, Shane? [calls after him] Pa's got things for you to do, and Mother wants you. I know she does. Shane! Shane! Come back!

Shane! Shane! Come back! Better have a few tissues handy!