When retired gunfighter Shane (Alan Ladd) rides into town, he never expects to get pulled into the range war between a homesteader (Van Heflin) and a wealthy cattleman.
But Shane can’t stand a bully, and soon he’s strapping on his guns and offering up some frontier justice.
New to the Blu-ray, the George Stevens-directed “Shane” (1953, Warner, unrated, $20) is among the best westerns ever made thanks to the rich characterizations, the jaw-dropping Wyoming scenery and the expert way it captures life on the range.
What really sells “Shane,” though, are the performances. The great Jean Arthur, in her final film role, plays Heflin’s loyal wife. As soon as she sees Shane, she feels a deep connection with him. He feels the same way about her too. They never kiss or act upon their feelings, but it’s all there in the way they look at each other.
As Heflin’s and Arthur’s son, Brandon DeWilde is both funny and touching as he communicates his awe of this buckskin savior with the ability to show grace under pressure.
“Shane” would be a regular love-fest if not for the hired gun determined to drive the farmers off their tiny plots of land. That hired gun is played to perfection by Lattimer Mines’ native Jack Palance.
There’s something very modern in the way Palance approaches the role. With more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice, he discusses the job at hand with his greedy rancher boss, a man he clearly despises. And when Palance taunts a brave but deluded sodbuster (Elisha Cook Jr.), he seems as psychotic as Joe Pesci in “GoodFellas” — and just as scary.
Critic David Thomson once described Palance as “the greatest mean ornery arrogant gunfighter there ever was, or will be.”
Amen to that.