STORY OF THE SHOT
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.”