Today after a long day of work I watched Shane, directed by George Stevens in 1953. I feel bad, but I honestly just wasn't very into this movie. I will say that this is probably largely based on my mood. I felt like going out and doing something, and I was a little resentful that I had to watch a long, meandering movie instead. I usually like meandering, but this just felt a little off to me. What's so frustrating is that there are many parts that I actually liked, but they often were followed by something I really disliked - and that little scene I hated seemed to stand out more. These are more faults of myself than of the film, though. It's another one of those movies where I can so clearly see what it's masterful, but just didn't personally feel anything for it.
The movie is about - you guessed it - Shane, a young gunfighter. He dresses differently than everyone else, wearing fringed buckskin and looks pretty attractive. He wants to try to settle down with a farming family and help them out, and leave his harder days behind him. There is a love interest between himself and the wife of the farmer that is never acted on, and Shane is clearly touched by the admiration of the young boy in the house, who looks up to him like he was a dime novel hero. There is also a conflict between a powerful cattle rancher, who wants to force homesteaders like the family Shane is staying with off the land. Shane wants to leave his violent days behind him, but to defend the family, he is forced back into action.
This plot sounds so good when I type it out! Maybe it was just a little too slow for my mood tonight. I really like the idea of it, but I'm not sure I was in love with the execution. I like that it focuses on a more boring side of the west, like homestead life. It was interesting to see something that didn't glorify gunslingers for the entire film - it was more about normal everyday people instead of the few lone wolf cowboys that were out there. I think it's a really unique viewpoint, and an important one. So many westerns are basically just dime novels themselves, based on huge, unreal characters, but I liked that this one focused on normal people instead.
What I didn't like was that all the scenes I thought were cool were followed up by something unpleasant. I really hate how kitschy some westerns from this period are. I don't like it when they aren't dirty and gritty and nasty. I don't like the weird, contrived music. I like my westerns to be dirty - everyone must be sunburned and dusty, and if there is music, it's moody and appropriate. Ideally, there is little to no comic relief. This movie is just full of that sort of bad music and lack of filth. There is a scene where Shane is fighting in a bar and losing. Joe, the farmer he is staying with, hears the commotion and uncharacteristically bursts into the bar and starts kicking ass. It's a really cool scene, but then - some dopey music plays and the action slows down so we can zoom in on their faces, and they turn to smile at each other, acknowledging this special bonding moment. Ugh. That's all I can think of now when I think of that scene. That style is just not my style.
Oddly enough, there is a western similar to Shane, inspired by Shane and with a similar plot to Shane - Pale Rider. I've never seen it, but from browsing around and reading about it, it sounds like my kind of western. It probably looks gritty. It probably has moody music. It has Clint Eastwood. It has a bunch of religious symbolism. It focuses on normal, everyday people and ends just like Shane ends. I think I would probably love Pale Rider, because it seems like it has everything I liked about Shane but without the weird tacky feeling of a 50's western. I know that this is sort of unfair of me, but I just have never been attracted to the feel and style of movies like Shane, and it's what really just kept me from liking the movie. I know it's sort of shallow and maybe not the best way to think about films, but it's how I feel.
I think at this point it's well documented that I don't like this style of western, so I don't feel too bad. I am happy that it exists, though. The plot is clearly great, and I'm glad that it inspired other westerns and directors as well. It's clearly a good movie, but it's just so not a movie for me, you know what I mean? So yes, some of this was my mood, but I also just really don't enjoy this style too much - but I would never say that it's a bad movie.
Have any thoughts on Shane? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on Shane
Buy or rent it on Amazon