What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
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Given the title of this series, one might think it a bit odd to hate on a movie in an event intended to be a celebration of all things Alan Ladd. Like the title says, everybody loves this movie. All those same people call this movie a classic. The esteemed host of this blog-a-thon titled it “The Man Who Would Be Shane; The Alan Ladd Blog-a-Thon.” AFI rates this movie at #69 of all-time. As far as westerns go, they have this movie at #3. Hell, even I have this movie on my list of essential films.
So, why would I have a movie on my own list that I supposedly hate? There’s a two-word answer for that.
Let’s be honest. The only reason “Shane” is lauded so highly as a film is because Ladd delivers a career-defining performance; one that not only makes the viewer ignore all the problems this film has, and pulls it off while not looking anything you would picture the “Shane” character to be. Think about it. “Shane” is supposedly a gunfighter looking to hang up his “shootin’ irons;” I expect that guy to look like life has done some heavy-duty shit to him. But Ladd is his usual “leading man” self, complete with his golden locks and his clean new buckskins.
Again, if you think about it, the plot of “Shane” intersects in one major way with at least a couple of other classic westerns. The “mysterious drifter/retired gunfighter” coming to the aid of people he’s just met fits John Wayne’s “Hondo” and Clint Eastwood’s “The Unforgiven.” But those guys looked the part; even our esteemed host couldn’t describe Ladd’s look in this film as “grizzled bad-ass.”
Let’s say you tried to remedy that by flipping Jack Palance’s and Alan Ladd’s roles in this movie. Palance is perfect for “grizzled bad-ass;” the minute you see that guy on-screen you know there’s heavy weather coming. Not to mention, Ladd would have been great as that perfectly despicable “pretty-boy” villian. The problem is Palance would never have been able to pull off the “retiring gun-fighter looking for redemption” thing. That guy looks like 40 miles of bad road, and if I’m Van Heflin in this movie, there’s no way I’m letting that guy anywhere near my wife and kid. Not only that, but wouldn’t you spend this whole looking at Palance wondering just what he was running from? I sure as hell would.
That’s a huge part of why Ladd makes this movie work; you never get that sense from him that the previous “grizzled bad-ass” is just waiting to re-appear. Instead it takes the appearance of another “grizzled bad-ass” in Palance to draw Ladd’s out. By that point, you’re invested in the story, and you’re all about rooting for Ladd as the hero against Palance the villain. In fact, you’ll be so engrossed in that plot, you might not even notice the things about this movie that drive me nuts.
DISCLAIMER: If you’ve never seen “Shane,” watch it before you read any further. If you have seen it, tell me how many of these things you didn’t notice because Ladd’s performance hid them.
1) The “Shane” Drinking Game
Here’s the challenge. Take a drink every time you hear the word “Shane” said…last person remaining conscious wins. But there won’t be one. If you do this, there won’t be anybody in the room who isn’t face down in a puddle of their own sick.
2) “Deer:” The Alternative Drinking Game
If you’re not up to the “Shane,” drinking game, but you still think you may need adult beverages to get through this film, try this. For every deer you see on screen, chug a full beer. It’s a decidedly different road, but it gets you to the same place.
3) Joey Is The Most Annoying Kid Ever
I get it…it must be hard to be a kid living on a God-forsaken chunk of dirt in the middle of nowhere, but Jesus…dial it back a notch, could you? First of all, 75% of those mentions of “Shane” which will have your liver suing for divorce come from the mouth of Joey. Not only is he a clingy pain in the ass, but that kid wants blood. Just look at the scene where Shane is startled by a loud noise and instinctively goes for his gun. Joey breaks out in a smile suggesting he is both a burgeoning blood-thirsty maniac, and probably a serial killer waiting to happen. Joey just can’t wait for people to get killed.
4) Joey’s Obsession With Shane Is Super Creepy
The goal here for director George Stevens was to tell this story shone in the light of innocence to illuminate Joey’s fascination with Shane. I completely understand that, and I can even see it, but once I realized Joey is a little weirdo, innocence was the last place to which I could return. The fact is Joey gets off on watching Shane play with guns, and all it would take is about fifteen minutes more running time after Shane leaves at the end to see Joey start torturing small animals.
5) This Movie Has The Pace Of A Snail On Thorazine
But the last thing this movie needs is more running time. When asked about the pace of this film, most “reel-heads” would say “the timing in this film allows Ladd to flow through scenes while maintaining his ‘strong but silent’ tough guy character.” That may work in ENG 102-Film as Lit, but the bottom line is this movie is at least 20 minutes too long.
That may not seem like much when compared to 19th-century Russian writers who can consume the better part of a forest simply to establish the setting, but a big chunk of this movie feels like being near the end of a road trip, but you have to pee and there is nowhere to go until you get there.
6) The Longest “Fight Scene” Ever
America’s involvement in the Second World War (there’s a great blog-a-thon on that which just concluded – check it out when you’re done here) lasted four years from 1941 to 1945. This was only slightly shorter than the bar fight scene in “Shane.” It starts with Ladd going into said bar, ordering two shots, then proceeding to open not just a can, but an entire case of “whoop-ass.” Again, this is where Ladd doesn’t necessarily look like a “bad-ass,” but he more than pulls it off in a way only he can.
Actually, this scene is a microcosm for the whole movie; he plays this scene so well you don’t notice two big flaws. The first is this fight has worse choreography than a high-school drama club attempt at a Bob Fosse production. It’s laughably bad, but you never notice it because Ladd is so smooth…so seamless in his sheer ass-kickery. But eventually you do notice than Ladd must have tantric-level cardio conditioning because this scene goes on longer than Larry Holmes-Randall “Tex” Cobb title fight.
If you’re a film fan who doesn’t follow boxing, you still may very well recognize Randall “Tex” Cobb. He has a significant IMDB page; to me his most notable role was “Leonard Smalls” in 1987’s “Raising Arizona.” For purposes of this discussion, he’s also another perfect “grizzled bad-ass” type who would have pulled off Jack Palance’s character in “Shane” to a tee.
7) The Type-Casting of Edgar Buchanan and Nancy Kulp
Speaking of familiar faces, a common trait of most movies that annoy me is a phenomenon I like to call “Backward Type-Casting.” This happens when you see an actor who played a role in something which became part of this country’s cultural fabric, and even when you see them in something made before their face became associated with an iconic character, that’s all you can see. In other words, if you are me and grew up on a lot of 1960’s American television, you will see two faces in this movie as immediately recognizable as other characters.
Even though this movie is made the better part of a decade before the 1960’s CBS sit-coms for which they will be forever known, Nancy Kulp always in my mind will be “Miss Hathaway” from “The Beverly Hillbillies” as Edgar Buchanan will be “Uncle Joe” from “Petticoat Junction.” Once I see those two, I’m immediately off to one of my internal tirades
Kulp’s “Miss Hathaway” was the weakest attempt to thinly-disguise a lesbian in American TV history short of Alice the Maid on the “The Brady Bunch.” As long as we are on the topic of thin disguises, Buchanan’s “Uncle Joe” was the lone bulwark against realizing the hotel around which “Petticoat Junction” was centered was actually a brothel. It’s in a town which is nothing more than a whistle-stop for the railroad, it was run by “Kate,” an overly make-upped and wigged middle-aged woman, and the hotel had three permanent residents…all smoking hot young girls.
That’s why “Uncle Joe” was a harmless fat old drunk. If that character looks like Jack Palance, he would obviously be the “enforcer” present at every brothel; the guy who moves your facial features around if you get out of line. The presence of a guy like that would completely shatter the illusion that “Kate” is a widow rather than a madam, and that the three hot girls are her “daughters.”
Anyway, the point is that once I’m off on that internal tirade, I’ve completely lost focus on the movie.
“Reel-heads” almost universally will call “Shane” George Stevens directorial meisterwerk…and they’re not wrong. Despite the things about this movie that make me crazy, it has several bits of brilliance. At no point do you ever wonder who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. There’s stark beauty in the simplicity of the story; it’s an old-fashioned, straight-up, no-nonsense western, which is easily my favorite kind of movie. On top of that, telling that story through they eyes of Joey was also a stroke of genius.
As far as the things about this movie which make my brain swell, Alan Ladd’s performance so brilliantly masks them all. When you watch “Shane,” ask yourself who else could have pulled that off, even if they delivered the performance of a lifetime. Imagine how God-awful this movie would be if Stevens’ landed his original choice for the role of “Shane.” I can’t even get my non-swollen brain around Montgomery Clift in that role. Worse yet, Stevens wanted William Holden in the “Joe Starett” role, which would have only let him steal the movie, just like he did in another western, Streets of Laredo.
But the one brain-swelling part of this movie I can’t get past is that both Jack Palance and that annoying, creepy kid got Best Supporting Actor nominations and Ladd got stiffed by the Academy. Palance was pretty damn good in this movie, but both him and the kid were boats lifted by the tide that was Alan Ladd. Not only did that fucking kid get nominated, but the fact that Dan O’Herlihy got a Best Actor nomination for “Robinson Crusoe” over Ladd is the ultimate for one of of my brain-swelling internal tirades.
It’s safer for me to pretend those girls on “Petticoat Junction” really were prostitutes.
You can see all the movies I hate here.
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