This little big western has no pretense of great thrills or action sequences. It’s the characters simplicity and a few key moments that deliver like a punch to the face.
From the novel by Jack Schaefer, the story is simple: a gunman called Shane (Alan Ladd) stops by a settler’s family ranch and witnesses how a cattleman’s gang intimidates and tries to make them leave the land. A small supportive gesture by Shane makes the gang backs down. From then on, Joey, the family kid, begins to look up to the newcomer as a hero. It’s just a matter of time before the determined gang tries again and a confrontation builds up.
The key scene in this film for me is the realistic fist fight in the town’s supply store where our reluctant hero exchanges some of the best punches ever filmed with one of the gang members. The effective use of no music at all by director George Stevens during this sequence made this technique almost a trademark for other action sequences in other films made after this 1953 movie, most notably the now famous chariot race in Ben-Hur (1959). On the other hand, notice how director Stevens use music effectively later when building up tension for the climactic scene.
In the finale, Shane faces Jack Wilson (Jack Palance), the quiet and sinister viper-like gunman, in a memorable duel; one that was probably studied by Kurosawa and other influential directors.
See also by director George Stevens: Giant (1956), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).