Wednesday, January 31, 2007

THERE AREN'T ANYMORE GUNS IN THE VALLEY

Some random movie thoughts for anyone who cares. So last night I was up til 12:30 because I watched Shane on TCM, for the brazillionth time. I'll assume most of you have seen it at one time or another. If not, I'm not planning to spoil the movie, but if I accidentally give something away, you've been warned. Plus, it's a classic Western, so if you don't know how it's gonna end, you need more help than a spoiler alert can supply.

Incidentally, I really hated it the first time I saw it, about 12 years ago. I don't remember where, but I'd read an article talking about Unforgiven being a modern update (or post-modern, it probably said) of Shane. I loved Unforgiven (and still do; it's up in GoodFellas or Apocalypse Now territory for me), so I jumped at the chance to see it's distant predecessor.

And I didn't make it past the 45 minute mark. It wasn't just that it was too dated, because I've always liked good, old movies. I can roll with the old-fashioned acting styles, or the swelling music. That wasn't the problem. The problem was Brandon DeWilde, the kid who played Joey, Van Heflin's & Jean Arthur's boy. As a sneeringly cynical, mid-90's Tarantino fanboy there was just no way I could've handled a sensitive & honest treatment of the "crush" Joey developed on the swaggering, gun-slinging Shane. And I didn't.

(In honesty, the fact that Alan Ladd's wavy blonde locks & fringed suede jacket made Shane look like he belonged in a Village People tribute act more than a gunfighter in 19th century Wyoming didn't help either. The 50's, baby!)

But now, as an older guy, I love this film more and more every time I see it. The way that Shane and Heflin's Joe handle the boy's affections is real: Shane is torn between wanting to present Joey with a true picture of who he really is, versus the sterilized image he realizes that Joey should see; the way that Heflin works hard to cover up his jealousy, knowing that his son finds Shane's gunman far more compelling than his own pig-farmer; their competing desires to be both tough, and civilized in the young boy's eyes.

And the subtle emotions between Jean Arthur, Alan Ladd, and Van Heflin are spectacular. Nothing is explicitly revealed in the dialogue, but their feelings, their temptations, their sense of guilt & loyalty are clear. These are characters feeling the pull of love, of competition & the hunger for excitement. But also with a deep sense of honor, of doing what's right. Director George Stevens did a helluva job there. Every time I see it, I find the interplay between the three of them a little more moving. There's a deep sadness just beneath the surface, but they keep it hidden, for pride . . . and for Joey.

I have to admit that the fist-fights & gunfights seem either tame or cartoonish after 55 years of Leone, Peckinpaugh, Kirosawa & Eastwood reinterpreting the western. But the foreplay, if you will, the sharp camera angles, the jagged rhythms of the score, the use of seemingly secondary action like storms, spooked horses, or stampeding cattle is masterful. The tension is palpable throughout the final 20 minutes of the movie.

And, I'd be a fool not to mention one other thing: Jack Palance as hired gun, Jack Wilson. With his famous grin & his slow, deliberate walk, he's a picture of laconic evil. Simply put, he's just a lot "scarier" than most of the bad guys in older Westerns. Palance's Wilson has more in common with Lee van Cleef's Angle Eyes than with the standard 40's/50's gunman.

That's all. Not looking to go into excruciating detail about the ins-and-outs of the movie. Just wanted to spend a few minutes rambling about my feelings after watching again last night. One thing I know, I'll watch again next time it comes on.

18 Comments:

Blogger Mort said...

I noticed that was on last night. Alan Ladd always cracks me up when he tries to play a tough guy.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

Mike -

New address for The BOG

edinwestchester.blogspot.com


I never saw Shane. I, like you, loved Unforgiven.

11:10 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

watching Shane is also mandatory for me. Although I loved it from the jump. It's such a beautiful mix of hokey and subtle. that whole conflicted hero thing . . . ah well, i don't apologise for loving it because as john wayne's character in she wore a yellow ribbon capt brittles would tell you

it's a sign of weakness.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

I was always more of a High Noon fan when it came to that era's westerns. I guess it was the fact that Gary Cooper didn't have to stand on a soapbox to kiss his leading ladies.

Still, I should rewatch this one. Thanks for the tip.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

High Noon is great, without question. Talk about slow-burning tension! That describes the whole film.

I don't know much about Alan Ladd other than this one. I get the idea he was both short & not especially tough?

12:46 PM  
Anonymous waitingforthealiens said...

Mike,

I finally have something I strongly disagree with you about; not Shane but Apocalypse Now. I felt absolutely violated that FFC had made that piece of shit from the work that I still consider the apex of prose in the English language, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

The story, or novella if you wish, is a brilliant, as-close-to-perfect work of art as I know. I think T.S. Eliot once said that to be considered literate, one must have read the Bible and Heart of Darkness.

The shame is that if a film maker had the courage, conviction and artistry it could be made into a great movie exactly as it’s written.

Now that that is off my chest, for a western, it’s hard to beat the original Money Walsh with Lee Marvin and Jack Palance.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

Mike, believe it or not, I've never seen Shane, except for the last scene about three times. Maybe even a bar room scene, too. But you've sold me.

Oh, and that makes two movies in a row that you've written about that I haven't seen. But at least I've heard of Shane; I have never even heard of the Gumball Rally or whatever it's called.

Applesaucer

p.s., the wife and I saw Pan's Labyrinth last night. I actually was the one who suggested it, but she ended up liking it more. Not that I disliked it, but it's the kind of tragedy-for-tragedy's sake that gives her an opportunity to put in a good, cathartic cry (it's just about the ONLY situation in which I see her cry).

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

WFTA -

I've read "Heart of Darkness," and I liked it. Though I have to admit, I don't like it as much as Apocalypse Now. The latter is one of my favorite films, but Conrad's novella doesn't reach my personal favorites list (though, as I said, I do like it).

Apple -

Now that's funny, because as I wrote the post this morning, I could picture you explaining to me back about 10 years ago what made Shane a quality film.

I'll say this, if your "analysis" came only from watching the final scenes, you managed to nail it on a very small sample size.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

"I could picture you explaining to me back about 10 years ago what made Shane a quality film."

It had to be a different movie. If I think of it, I'll let you know.

"The shame is that if a film maker had the courage, conviction and artistry it could be made into a great movie exactly as it’s written."

With all due respect, I have to voice my strong disagreement with waitingforthealiens on this point.

First, I TRY to watch one work of art on a standalone basis, as if I have neither read nor seen its inspiration.

Second, some things that make written aret good would make cinimatic art boring. Some things that make a film great would make a novel heavy handed. For instance, I think the Godfather was an all time great cinimatic work of art; I liked the novel upon which it was based, but to me it was airplane reading. The difference wasn't the writing -- it was what Coppola could do with the camera.

Third, something I love now about Apocolypse Now is Marlon Brado's performace. Some might say it was campy, overdone, etc. I might have thought so at one time. I still might think so. Still, I now find it riveting. I could watch it over and over again. I cannot get that performace, obviously, from the novel.

Fourth, as we've discussed many times, Apocolypse has it's own disciplined progression which in an of itself is masterful.

Applesaucer

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

It had to be a different movie.

No, it was Shane.

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

Are you sure?

If you're right, then there are two implausible explanations:

(1) I actually saw Shane and have completely forgotten seeing it; or

(2) I didn't see it, but decided to review it for you and pretend that I had seen it anyway.

As for explanation (1), there is a MINUTE chance that i saw it hung over one weekend in an emotionally-vulnerable-retention-weak state and discussed it with you soon thereafter.

Can you be specific about what you remember me saying?

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I described for you what I said in today's post regarding it's datedness, and how much the kid got on my nerves.

And you -- who watched the whole thing, as opposed to quitting at the 45 minute mark -- talked about the Shane-Joe(the father)-Joey(the son) triangle, and about the whole "A killer is a killer in others eyes" thing, and how that affected Shane's view of the role he had in Joey's life.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

Now you got me thinkin'.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous waitingforthealiens said...

Pardon. That should have read Monty Walsh. It was probably Freudian in that I just watched Pocket Money with Paul Newman, Lee Marvin and Strother Martin. Best part is the title song by Carol King.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Aplesaucer said...

Mike, it was NOT Shane that I was talking about 10 years ago; it was Witness.

I'm watching Shane right now, maybe Witness borrowed from it.

Applesaucer

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Peter B said...

I'll put Ladd up against anybody. Just because he was short doesn't mean he wasn't tough.

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

it was NOT Shane that I was talking about 10 years ago

I stand by what I said. Maybe you only caught the end, but decided to sound off anyway.

I'm watching Shane right now.

What'd you think?

I'll put Ladd up against anybody. Just because he was short doesn't mean he wasn't tough.

Now this is what you like. A comment-thread battle about the toughness of an actor dead for 43 years.

I'll admit I don't know much about Ladd beyond Shane, but he makes a pretty convincing tough guy in that one.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

I only got to see the last hour or so of the movie, unfortunately. I'll have to put it in my Blockbuster cue sometime soon. Some parts looked familiar; others didn't.

I still doubt that I discussed the movie with you in the manner you suggest; oh well.

As for what I think of the movie -- the hour or so I saw I enjoyed. My father was over and I remarked to him that it reminded me a lot of Witness (which is why I suggested Witness as the possible alternative) -- almost to the point where I'd argue that Witness is a modernized version of Shane. He disagreed when I said -- "jeez, I'll bet Witness is just a disguised remake."

He's almost certainly right but the point remains that there are similar themes running through both movies, depicted in similar fashion.

It's one of those movies that serves multiple layers to multiple audiences -- the thiller, which probably deters you from watchingt the movie but is well-done; the love story, which doesn't particularly interest me, but, again, is uniquely tolerable; the "cultural observation documentary," which is the strongest element of the movie.

This is where Peter Weir demonstrates his directorial skill.

You have to WATCH this movie and reflect on details unrelated to the thriller- or love story-related plot points.

Perhaps "reflect" is the wrong word, because I felt that I nearly-literally experienced what it is like to live in a true social democracy like that which exists among the Amish. There's an element of great joy during one scene that I've never actually felt in any other movie that I can recall. The scene is barely relevant to the thriller-related plot, but is key to understanding the guts of the movie, IMHO.

Every time I see Witness, I wonder whether the Amish are onto something, something about what we need as human beings -- "a nourishment for the soul."

Make no mistake: the movie is not a typical "look how cute the little people are" flick. The Amish are not depicted in typical Hollywood fashion.

I hope you get around to seeing it someday.

Applesaucer

10:48 AM  

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