Shane, considered by many critics to be the greatest western movie, is released by Paramount Pictures.
Based on Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel of the same name, Shane was a new type of western. After World War II, Americans began to crave books and films that offered more realistic and complex characters. Simple two-dimensional heroes like Hopalong Cassidy no longer seemed believable to adults who had lived through the horrors and hardships of World War II. Schaefer’s book, and the movie based on it, created a western hero for a more mature and sophisticated America.
Alan Ladd played a drifting gunfighter who goes by only one name, Shane. In the opening scene, Shane rides down out of the rugged Teton Mountains into a fertile valley (the movie was filmed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming) where he meets a homesteading family: Joe and Marian Starrett, and their son, Joey. Eager to give up the rootless gunfighter’s life, Shane hires on as a farmhand. Soon, however, he learns that the local cattle baron is trying to run the Starretts and other homesteaders off their land so he can continue using it for grazing.
Shane is initially reluctant to use his guns to help the homesteaders. However, when the cattle baron hires a famous gunslinger named Wilson (played by Jack Palance) who kills one of the farmers, Joe Starrett is determined to take revenge. Realizing the stubborn Starrett will almost certainly be killed, Shane knocks him unconscious and goes in his place. After killing Wilson, Shane reluctantly concludes that he cannot escape his violent past and must leave the settled valley. In one of the most memorable scenes in movie history, Shane rides off into the wild mountains, the boy Joey’s voice echoing after him: “Come back, Shane!”
Simultaneously mythic and realistic, Shane created one of the first fully rounded western heroes. Shane lives by his gun, but he is essentially a good man who envies Joe Starrett’s settled family life. Ironically, Shane’s fate is to use violence to create civilized communities where violence is no longer acceptable or necessary.