When Shane (Alan Ladd) rides onto the peaceful Starrett family’s ranch, he sees that the Rykers, the local ruffian cattlemen, are trying to push them off the land they have settled on and built up. He stays to help the family around the ranch, grateful and respectful of their hospitality. The father, Joe (Van Heflin) is thankful to have another strong man to help him with his work, and his son Joey (Brandon De Wilde) instantly idolizes Shane when he sees his gun. The mother, Marian (Jean Arthur) is weary of all the violence around the area lately and seems mildly disturbed at her sons fascination with guns. As the violence against the settled families in the valley rises, some men talk of abandoning their homes and others want to fight. When one of their own is killed by the notorious Wilson (Jack Palance), Joe is determined to fight for his land and family. But Shane knows his place is to fight and Joe’s is with his family.
Shane is an interesting character. From the moment he just rides out of nowhere, we can tell from the start that he’s a good guy. Without being prompted, he works hard to take out a stump that has obviously been given up on by Joe. To the family, he shows a strong work ethic, respectful and placid attitude. But when pushed too far by Chis Calloway (Ben Johnson) or Wilson at the saloon, he can erupt into an old fashioned cowboy fist fighting machine. There seems to be an inner struggle for Shane, he wants to settle down on a piece of land like Joe has, but he’s got a conscience that tells him he’s the best man for a fight.
At just eleven years old, Brandon De Wilde earned an Oscar nomination for his supportive role as little Joey. Joey seems to portray the ideal audience and role for any cowboy film. Shane tries to protect Joey from the violence going on in the valley, but with his small stature, Joey can hide easily and watches many of Shane’s fights in the saloon. There are so many quick shots of Joey’s big eyes soaking up all the action. He admires Shane like he’s a gun-slinging god, but these ideas seem to be mostly Joeys, since he never sees Shane shoot until later in the film. After that, of course, Joey is completely gaga for Shane. It’s really endearing to hear such a little excited voice say, “Gosh all mighty that was good!”
The best way to enjoy Shane is to become fully invested in little Joey’s mindset. Every little boy will want to grow up to be Shane but until then, they’d take Joeys place in a heartbeat, especially at the end. Start to worship and idolize Shane from the moment he rides in and think nothing but guns and fighting. Well, let a little room in so you can understand the reasons and implications of fighting, I’m not sure how much of that really gels into little Joey’s head. But ah, to be a little boy who finds pure happiness in the ideas of being a gun-slinging cowboy. That’s the perfect audience for Shane.
“You know, I like a man who watches things go on around. It means he’ll make his mark someday. ”