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While on the surface a deceptively simple story about a mysterious stranger who gets involved in a range-war between homesteaders and cattlemen in 19th century Wyoming, the themes that underpin George Stevens' 1952 Shane run deep — hence its popular appeal over many years. Arriving at the Starrett homestead from parts unknown, gunfighter Shane (Alan Ladd) takes a job from family man Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), who, like his many neighbors, seeks only to live free on his claim, dependent upon no man and able to provide for his wife Marian (Jean Arthur) and son Joey (Brandon De Wilde) with the fruits of his honest labor. But the homesteaders are an irritation to the local cattle interests, led by the vicious Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), who have no interest in sharing the land with a community of "sod-busters," families who build fence after fence on the open plain. Its only a matter of time before Joe's hard-headed nature, along with Shane's icy determination, leads the valley into open warfare. As agreeable as the archetypal good-vs.-evil plot of Shane may be, there is a twist in the storytelling that has made the film an indelible classic, for everything that happens is witnessed by young Joey, and Shane is his story, a tale about growing up, learning right from wrong, and how to become a man via the example of male role models. And this is not a namby-pamby vision of youth, as witnessed too often in post-'60s films that rarely make men the focus of a family unit. In fact, were Shane made today, Joey's father simply wouldn't exist — instead, his mom would be single and Shane would represent the missing father figure, a Freudian cipher trying to communicate values in a hostile environment (the oddest and yet most obvious example of this is E.T., but the past few decades are rife with such plot templates). However, in Shane Joey already has a father, and a strong-willed, honorable one at that. Shane is simply another man — a delivering angel for the community, or perhaps just an uncle or an older brother for Joey — but a man in a world that sees the possibility of multiple male role models in a child's life. Why the film remains so popular, and why we may never see its like again, is both a testament to the enduring quality of this small masterpiece and a sad commentary on our own fractured, modern-day culture. Also starring Jack Palance in his screen debut. Paramount's DVD edition of Shane features a clean transfer in the open-matte full-frame (shown at 1.66:1 theatrically), from an acceptable print that is showing some slight damage and color fading. Audio is in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Commentary with associate producer Ivan Moffat and George Stevens Jr., re-release theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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