IF THE ONLY thing you know about Shane is the clas­sic last line — “Shane, come back!” — then you have a treat in store. Ge­orge Stevens’ 1953 West­ern is a mas­ter­piece, a pro­found moral­ity tale ex­plor­ing the thin lines be­tween good and evil and the con­se­quences of vi­o­lence. Nowhere is this more preva­lent than in the film’s touch­ing fi­nal moments when mys­te­ri­ous stranger Shane (Alan Ladd), who has be­come an in­te­gral part of the Star­rett fam­ily life, says good­bye to lit­tle Joey (Bran­don dewilde) af­ter mur­der­ing the bad guys. Off he rides, ig­nor­ing lit­tle Joey’s cries.

“The line at the end is, ‘There’s no liv­ing with a killing,’ like you can­not change the mould of some­one,” says Ed­ward Coun­try­man, au­thor of the BFI Film Clas­sics book on Shane. “There has been an in­ter­ven­tion. The stranger has come in, he has found a dis­turbed world and in­ter­vened in it. He toys with re­main­ing but he can­not stay there. There is no place for him in the set­tled val­ley.”

While Shane was con­ceived as a ve­hi­cle for Ladd, it was his young co-star dewilde who truly shone, the boy earn­ing an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for his work on the film. Born into a theatri­cal fam­ily, dewilde was an award-win­ning Broad­way ac­tor aged seven (praised by John Giel­gud), and Jean Arthur, who played Joey’s mother, was said to have mar­velled at dewilde’s abil­ity to keep do­ing what Stevens asked — ad in­fini­tum. “John Ford shot so you could only edit it one way,” says Coun­try­man. “Well, that was not Ge­orge Stevens. The man shot and shot and shot and shot and shot. And shot some more just in case.” Shoot­ing the fi­nale, dewilde fi­nally lost his pa­tience. Ev­ery time Ladd spoke his lines, dewilde crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue. Fi­nally, Ladd snapped and called to the boy’s fa­ther, “Make that kid stop or I’ll beat him over the head with a brick.” Dewilde quickly fell in line.

The scene’s en­cap­su­la­tion of the trou­bled lonely hero who must leave played into the likes of The Searchers and Pale Rider (a vir­tual re­make). The film has also rip­pled through­out su­per­hero cul­ture, both in light-hearted ways — the ’60s

Bat­man TV se­ries fea­tured a vil­lain called Shame in ‘Come Back, Shame’ — and in more sub­stan­tial ways. Not only does Shane play a piv­otal role in James Man­gold’s Lo­gan — Charles Xavier (Pa­trick Ste­wart) watches it in a ho­tel room and ex­plains it is al­most 100 years old in 2029 — but Laura’s (Dafne Keen) mono­logue at Lo­gan’s grave is taken word-for-word from the film; a poignant homage to Shane’s long good­bye.

“I am al­ways re­minded, through Joey and this film, of one of the most bit­ter­sweet facts,” Man­gold wrote in an in­tro­duc­tion to Shane for the Acad­emy Of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts And Sciences. “That the course of our lives can be pro­foundly changed by folks who some­times can­not stay. The tem­po­rary na­ture of some re­la­tion­ships in our lives does not di­min­ish their power, and in fact some­times en­larges them.”

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