Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday's Film Adaption: Shane by Jack Shaefer

The Starrett family’s life forever changes when a man named Shane rides out of the great glowing West and up to their farm in 1889. Young Bob Starrett is entranced by this stoic stranger who brings a new energy to his family. Shane stays on as a farmhand, but his past remains a mystery. Many folks in their small Wyoming valley are suspicious of Shane, and make it known that he is not welcome. But dangerous as Shane may seem, he is a staunch friend to the Starretts—and when a powerful neighboring rancher tries to drive them out of their homestead, Shane becomes entangled in the deadly feud.

This classic Western, originally published in 1949, is a profoundly moving story of the influence of a singular character on one boy’s life.

Chapter 1
He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89. I was a kid then, barely topping the backboard of father’s old chuckwagon. I was on the upper rail of our small corral, soaking in the late afternoon sun, when I saw him far down the road where it swung into the valley from the open plain beyond.
In that clear Wyoming air I could see him plainly, though he was still several miles away. There seemed nothing remarkable about him, just another stray horseman riding up the road toward the cluster of frame buildings that was our town. Then I saw a pair of cowhands, loping past him, stop and stare after him with a curious intentness.
He came steadily on, straight through the town without slackening pace, until he reached the fork a half-mile below our place. One branch turned left across the river ford and on to Luke Fletcher’s big spread. The other bore ahead along the right bank where we homesteaders had pegged our claims in a row up the valley. He hesitated briefly, studying the choice, and moved again steadily on our side.
As he came near, what impressed me first was his clothes. He wore dark trousers of some serge material tucked into tall boots and held at the waist by a wide belt, both of a soft black leather tooled in intricate design. A coat of the same dark material as the trousers was neatly folded and strapped to his saddle-roll. His shirt was finespun linen, rich brown in color. The handkerchief knotted loosely around his throat was black silk. His hat was not the familiar Stetson, not the familiar gray or muddy tan. It was a plain black, soft in texture, unlike any hat I had ever seen, with a creased crown and a wide curling brim swept down in front to shield the face.
All trace of newness was long since gone from these things. The dust of distance was beaten into them. They were worn and stained and several neat patches showed on the shirt. Yet a kind of magnificence remained and with it a hint of men and manners alien to my limited boy’s experience.
Then I forgot the clothes in the impact of the man himself. He was not much above medium height, almost slight in build. He would have looked frail alongside father’s square, solid bulk. But even I could read the endurance in the lines of that dark figure and the quiet power in its effortless, unthinking adjustment to every movement of the tired horse.
He was clean-shaven and his face was lean and hard and burned from high forehead to firm, tapering chin. His eyes seemed hooded in the shadow of the hat’s brim. He came closer, and I could see that this was because the brows were drawn in a frown of fixed and habitual alertness. Beneath them the eyes were endlessly searching from side to side and forward, checking off every item in view, missing nothing. As I noticed this, a sudden chill, I could not have told why, struck through me there in the warm and open sun.
He rode easily, relaxed in the saddle, leaning his weight lazily into the stirrups. Yet even in this easiness was a suggestion of tension. It was the easiness of a coiled spring, of a trap set.

He drew rein not twenty feet from me. His glance hit me, dismissed me, flicked over our place. This was not much, if you were thinking in terms of size and scope. But what there was was good. You could trust father for that. The corral, big enough for about thirty head if you crowded them in, was railed right to true sunk posts. The pasture behind, taking in nearly half of our claim, was fenced tight. The barn was small, but it was solid, and we were raising a loft at one end for the alfalfa growing green in the north forty. We had a fairsized field in potatoes that year and father was trying a new corn he had sent all the way to Washington for and they were showing properly in weedless rows.
Behind the house, mother’s kitchen garden was a brave sight. The house itself was three rooms—two really, the big kitchen where we spent most of our time indoors and the bedroom beside it. My little lean-to room was added back of the kitchen. Father was planning, when he could get around to it, to build mother the parlor she wanted.
We had wooden floors and a nice porch across the front. The house was painted too, white with green trim, rare thing in all that region, to remind her, mother said when she made father do it, of her native New England. Even rarer, the roof was shingled. I knew what that meant. I had helped father split those shingles. Few places so spruce and well worked could be found so deep in the Territory in those days.
The stranger took it all in, sitting there easily in the saddle. I saw his eyes slow on the flowers mother had planted by the porch steps, then come to rest on our shiny new pump and the trough beside it. They shifted back to me, and again, without knowing why, I felt that sudden chill. But his voice was gentle and he spoke like a man schooled in patience.
“I’d appreciate a chance at the pump for myself and the horse.”
I was trying to frame a reply and choking on it, when I realized that he was not speaking to me but past me. Father had come up behind me and was leaning against the gate to the corral.
“Use all the water you want, stranger.”
Father and I watched him dismount in a single flowing tilt of his body and lead the horse over to the trough. He pumped it almost full and let the horse sink its nose in the cool water before he picked up the dipper for himself.
He took off his hat and slapped the dust out of it and hung it on a corner of the trough. With his hands he brushed the dust from his clothes. With a piece of rag pulled from his saddleroll he carefully wiped his boots. He untied the handkerchief from around his neck and rolled his sleeves and dipped his arms in the trough, rubbing thoroughly and splashing water over his face. He shook his hands dry and used the handkerchief to remove the last drops from his face. Taking a comb from his shirt pocket, he smoothed back his long dark hair. All his movements were deft and sure, and with a quick precision he flipped down his sleeves, reknotted the handkerchief, and picked up his hat.
Then, holding it in his hand, he spun about and strode directly toward the house. He bent low and snapped the stem of one of mother’s petunias and tucked this into the hatband. In another moment the hat was on his head, brim swept down in swift, unconscious gesture, and he was swinging gracefully into the saddle and starting toward the road.
I was fascinated. None of the men I knew were proud like that about their appearance. In that short time the kind of magnificence I had noticed had emerged into plainer view. It was in the very air of him. Everything about him showed the effects of long use and hard use, but showed too the strength of quality and competence. There was no chill on me now. Already I was imagining myself in hat and belt and boots like those.
He stopped the horse and looked down at us. He was refreshed and I would have sworn the tiny wrinkles around his eyes were what with him would be a smile. His eyes were not restless when he looked at you like this. They were still and steady and you knew the man’s whole attention was concentrated on you even in the casual glance.
“Thank you,” he said in his gentle voice and was turning into the road, back to us, before father spoke in his slow, deliberate way.
“Don’t be in such a hurry, stranger.”
I had to hold tight to the rail or I would have fallen backwards into the corral. At the first sound of father’s voice, the man and the horse, like a single being, had wheeled to face us, the man’s eyes boring at father, bright and deep in the shadow of the hat’s brim. I was shivering, struck through once more. Something intangible and cold and terrifying was there in the air between us.
I stared in wonder as father and the stranger looked at each other a long moment, measuring each other in an unspoken fraternity of adult knowledge beyond my reach. Then the warm sunlight was flooding over us, for father was smiling and he was speaking with the drawling emphasis that meant he had made up his mind.
“I said don’t be in such a hurry, stranger. Food will be on the table soon and you can bed down here tonight.”
The stranger nodded quietly as if he too had made up his mind. “That’s mighty thoughtful of you,” he said and swung down and came toward us, leading his horse. Father slipped into step beside him and we all headed for the barn.
“My name’s Starrett,” said father. “Joe Starrett. This here,” waving at me, “is Robert MacPherson Starrett. Too much name for a boy. I make it Bob.”
The stranger nodded again. “Call me Shane,” he said. Then to me: “Bob it is. You were watching me for quite a spell coming up the road.”
It was not a question. It was a simple statement. “Yes . . .” I stammered. “Yes. I was.”
“Right,” he said. “I like that. A man who watches what’s going on around him will make his mark.”
A man who watches . . . For all his dark appearance and lean, hard look, this Shane knew what would please a boy. The glow of it held me as he took care of his horse, and I fussed around, hanging up his saddle, forking over some hay, getting in his way and my own in my eagerness. He let me slip the bridle off and the horse, bigger and more powerful than I had thought now that I was close beside it, put its head down patiently for me and stood quietly while I helped him curry away the caked dust. Only once did he stop me. That was when I reached for his saddle-roll to put it to one side. In the instant my fingers touched it, he was taking it from me and he put it on a shelf with a finality that indicated no interference.

When the three of us went up to the house, mother was waiting and four places were set at the table. “I saw you through the window,” she said and came to shake our visitor’s hand. She was a slender, lively woman with a fair complexion even our weather never seemed to affect and a mass of light brown hair she wore piled high to bring her, she used to say, closer to father’s size.
“Marian,” father said, “I’d like you to meet Mr. Shane.”
“Good evening, ma’am,” said our visitor. He took her hand and bowed over it. Mother stepped back and, to my surprise, dropped in a dainty curtsy. I had never seen her do that before. She was an unpredictable woman. Father and I would have painted the house three times over and in rainbow colors to please her.
“And a good evening to you, Mr. Shane. If Joe hadn’t called you back, I would have done it myself. You’d never find a decent meal up the valley.”
She was proud of her cooking, was mother. That was one thing she learned back home, she would often say, that was of some use out in this raw land. As long as she could still prepare a proper dinner, she would tell father when things were not going right, she knew she was still civilized and there was hope of getting ahead. Then she would tighten her lips and whisk together her special most delicious biscuits and father would watch her bustling about and eat them to the last little crumb and stand up and wipe his eyes and stretch his big frame and stomp out to his always unfinished work like daring anything to stop him now.
We sat down to supper and a good one. Mother’s eyes sparkled as our visitor kept pace with father and me. Then we all leaned back and while I listened the talk ran on almost like old friends around a familiar table. But I could sense that it was following a pattern. Father was trying, with mother helping and both of them avoiding direct questions, to get hold of facts about this Shane and he was dodging at every turn. He was aware of their purpose and not in the least annoyed by it. He was mild and courteous and spoke readily enough. But always he put them off with words that gave no real information.
He must have been riding many days, for he was full of news from towns along his back trail as far as Cheyenne and even Dodge City and others beyond I had never heard of before. But he had no news about himself. His past was fenced as tightly as our pasture. All they could learn was that he was riding through, taking each day as it came, with nothing particular in mind except maybe seeing a part of the country he had not been in before.
Afterwards mother washed the dishes and I dried and the two men sat on the porch, their voices carrying through the open door. Our visitor was guiding the conversation now and in no time at all he had father talking about his own plans. That was no trick. Father was ever one to argue his ideas whenever he could find a listener. This time he was going strong.
“Yes, Shane, the boys I used to ride with don’t see it yet. They will some day. The open range can’t last forever. The fence lines are closing in. Running cattle in big lots is good business only for the top ranchers and it’s really a poor business at that. Poor in terms of the resources going into it. Too much space for too little results. It’s certain to be crowded out.”
“Well, now,” said Shane, “that’s mighty interesting. I’ve been hearing the same quite a lot lately and from men with pretty clear heads. Maybe there’s something to it.”
“By Godfrey, there’s plenty to it. Listen to me, Shane. The thing to do is pick your spot, get your land, your own land. Put in enough crops to carry you and make your money play with a small herd, not all horns and bone, but bred for meat and fenced in and fed right. I haven’t been at it long, but already I’ve raised stock that averages three hundred pounds more than that long-legged stuff Fletcher runs on the other side of the river and it’s better beef, and that’s only a beginning.
“Sure, his outfit sprawls over most of this valley and it looks big. But he’s got range rights on a lot more acres than he has cows and he won’t even have those acres as more homesteaders move in. His way is wasteful. Too much land for what he gets out of it. He can’t see that. He thinks we small fellows are nothing but nuisances.”
“You are,” said Shane mildly. “From his point of view, you are.”
“Yes, I guess you’re right. I’ll have to admit that. Those of us here now would make it tough for him if he wanted to use the range behind us on this side of the river as he used to. Altogether we cut some pretty good slices out of it. Worse still, we block off part of the river, shut the range off from the water. He’s been grumbling about that off and on ever since we’ve been here. He’s worried that more of us will keep coming and settle on the other side too, and then he will be in a fix.”
The dishes were done and I was edging to the door. Mother nailed me as she usually did and shunted me off to bed. After she had left me in my little back room and went to join the men on the porch, I tried to catch more of the words. The voices were too low. Then I must have dozed, for with a start I realized that father and mother were again in the kitchen. By now, I gathered, our visitor was out in the barn in the bunk father had built there for the hired man who had been with us for a few weeks in the spring.
“Wasn’t it peculiar,” I heard mother say, “how he wouldn’t talk about himself?”
“Peculiar?” said father. “Well, yes. In a way.”
“Everything about him is peculiar.” Mother sounded as if she was stirred up and interested. “I never saw a man quite like him before.”
“You wouldn’t have. Not where you come from. He’s a special brand we sometimes get out here in the grass country. I’ve come across a few. A bad one’s poison. A good one’s straight grain clear through.”
“How can you be so sure about him? Why, he wouldn’t even tell where he was raised.”
“Born back east a ways would be my guess. And pretty far south. Tennessee maybe. But he’s been around plenty.”
“I like him.” Mother’s voice was serious. “He’s so nice and polite and sort of gentle. Not like most men I’ve met out here. But there’s something about him. Something underneath the gentleness . . . Something . . .” Her voice trailed away.
“Mysterious?” suggested father.
“Yes, of course. Mysterious. But more than that. Dangerous.”

“He’s dangerous all right.” Father said it in a musing way. Then he chuckled. “But not to us, my dear.” And then he said what seemed to me a curious thing. “In fact, I don’t think you ever had a safer man in your house.”

A mysterious drifter helps farmers fight off a vicious gunman.

Release Date: April 23, 1953
Release Time: 118 minutes

Alan Ladd as Shane
Jean Arthur as Marian Starrett
Van Heflin as Joe Starrett
Brandon deWilde as Joey Starrett
Jack Palance (credited as Walter Jack Palance) as Jack Wilson
Ben Johnson as Chris Calloway
Edgar Buchanan as Fred Lewis
Emile Meyer as Rufus Ryker
Elisha Cook, Jr. as Frank 'Stonewall' Torrey
Douglas Spencer as Axel 'Swede' Shipstead
John Dierkes as Morgan Ryker
Ellen Corby as Mrs. Liz Torrey
Paul McVey as Sam Grafton
John Miller as Will Atkey, bartender
Edith Evanson as Mrs. Shipstead
Leonard Strong as Ernie Wright
Nancy Kulp as Mrs. Howells

1953 Academy Awards
Best Cinematography-Color - Loyal Griggs -- Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Brandon deWilde -- Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Jack Palance -- Nominated
Best Director - George Stevens -- Nominated
Best Picture - George Stevens -- Nominated
Best Writing, Screenplay - A.B. Guthrie Jr. -- Nominated

AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies -- No. 69
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains: Shane, Hero -- No. 16
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes: "Shane. Shane. Come back!" -- No. 47
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers -- No. 53
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) -- No. 45
AFI's 10 Top 10 Western -- No. 3

1953 BAFTAs
Best British Film - George Stevens -- Nominated



Author Bio:
Schaefer was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of an attorney. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1929 with a major in English. He attended graduate school at Columbia University from 1929-30, but left without completing his Master of Arts degree. He then went to work for the United Press. In his long career as a journalist, he would hold editorial positions at many eastern publications.

Schaefer's first success as a novelist came in 1949 with his memorable novel Shane, set in Wyoming. Few realized that Schaefer himself had never been anywhere near the west. Nevertheless, he continued writing successful westerns, selling his home in Connecticut and moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1955.

In 1975 Schaefer received the Western Literature Association's Distinguished Achievement award.

He died of heart failure in Santa Fe in 1991. Schaefer was married twice, his second wife moving to Santa Fe with him.

Schaefer's novel Monte Walsh was made into a movie in 1970, with Lee Marvin in the title role, and again in 2003 as a TV movie starring Tom Selleck. Shane was also made into a movie and a series.




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