Alan Ladd as Shane. photo by AMPAS
I am friendly with a woman named Alana Ladd, daughter of legendary actor Alan Ladd. She is married to wonderful talk show host Michael Jackson and mother to top caterer Alan Jackson. Once, many years ago, at Fred Hayman's beach house she told me that she had the actual hat which her father wore in the movie, Shane, sitting in her garage....and the next time I saw her she had the hat in hand. I reverently put it on...it fit me perfectly.....and that was the closest I came to sartorial fame as a Western movie star. But I have been a devoted fan of Western movies all my life, which is rather surprising for a kid from the streets of Brooklyn who never saw a live horse until he was nineteen and went to a dude ranch in upstate New York to ride one. I had seen so many Westerns by then that I confidently put my foot in the stirrups and slung myself up and over, only to fall off the other side. Eventually, I rode like the wind..after all, I had been doing it in my imagination for many years. To my mind, one of the greatest movies ever made was "Red River," directed by Howard Hawks.... I used to be able to recite almost every line of dialogue in that John Wayne-Montgomery Clift starrer. (It featured Joanne Dru as the beautiful loose woman, and John Ireland was the heavy... all about a cattle drive from Texas to the railhead in Kansas. Monty Clift plays the son of Tom Dunstan (Wayne) and the conflict between father and son, where the son takes the herd away from his autocratic father, who vows deadly revenge, is a classic Shakespearean situation.) Another favorite movie of mine, which came out shortly thereafter in 1953, was the magnificent "A Place in the Sun," based on the Theodore Dreiser novel, directed by the equally great George Stevens ("Giant," Gunga Din"). So when Stevens had finished it and was looking for his next film, his teenage son, George Jr., now a famed producer, gave him the 1949 novel of "Shane" by Jack Schaefer to read..,and that was it! The L.A. Times noted that the original casting was to be Monty Clift as Shane and William Holden as Joe, the homesteader, but when they dropped out George Stevens immediately cast it in a few minutes with Alan Ladd as Shane and Van Heflin as the older lead, with Jean Arthur (she of the exciting gravily voice) in her last role, as the mother of the young boy, Joey, in the movie. He is played by Brandon De Wilde, whom I was reminded today by my best friend Jerry, came from Rockville Center, Long Island, where Jerry also lived as a kid.
Principal cast of Shane: Ladd, Heflin, Arthur. photo by AMPAS
Alana Ladd and her husband, Michael Jackson, at the screening. photo by Jay.
Ladd with Brandon De Wilde. photo by AMPAS
As a longtime film executive and then producer, I came close to Western greatness only once, when I was the young co-head of production for a widescreen film company called "Cinerama," and the owner of the film firm, Nicolas Reisini, assigned me to supervise the making of a co-production with MGM, "How The West Was Won." It was a long, herculean task of some 20 months....and I loved every minute of it. A hitherto-unknown fact which I am revealing here for the first time: the reason why that film featured some 42 top movie stars... was that we enlisted the aid of feared movie columnist Louella Parsons to help get the cast in return for assigning a significant percentage of the profits to St. John's Hospital, her favorite charity. Needless to say, we went so far over budget that there were no profits...or so I am told. But it was a magnificent epic Western and I am deeply proud to have played a small part in its production.
Jack Palance about to kill one of the settlers. photo by AMPAS
Which is a roundabout way to get to the subject of this Huffington, which is a screening I attended last night at my Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) of a digitally-restored version of the 60-year old Paramount classic, SHANE. I saw Alana there and reminded her about the hat incident...much of the Ladd family was at the screening. (Laddie was watching Monday Night Football.) This film recounts the age-old story of the duel between good and evil through the eyes of the young boy Joey, who idolizes a mysterious gunslinger, Shane (Alan Ladd), a man without a past or a future who inserts himself into the battle over land being waged between homesteaders and a cattle baron....and in the process Shane transforms this beleaguered town. Van Heflin and Jean Arthur co-star as Joey's parents who find their lives deeply affected by Shane.
George Stevens and Alan Ladd at the preview. photo by AMPAS
The picture marked director George Steven's initial foray into color. It was shot on location near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the film's rich Technicolor cinematography captures the panorama of the frontier during a crucial moment in Western mythology when civilization was encroaching on the seemingly endless wildness. (It won the Academy Award for best Color Cinematography by Loyal Griggs.)
A wonderful moment at the end of the screening came when a six minute video from Woody Allen was played in which he extolled his admiration for George Stevens. Woody praised the film's "poetry and elegant flow. It is a film that transcends the genre of cowboy movies and to me is one of the truly great American films." He humorously began his comments by saying that he dislikes most Western and rural films, and "the only flag I want to raise is that on a taxi." He went on to praise the virtues of this film, his favorite of all Westerns..."the town is so real, the entrance of psychopathic Jack Palance is so exciting...the fight between Ladd and Heflin is so well cut...it is all powerful, so dimensional, so much heart...the delicate handling of the attraction between the happily-married Jean Arthur and the mysterious stranger"...ending with a most curious comment by the Woodster: "Certain situations can only be resolved with violence. Not by me, I'm a coward, but by courageous people who can handle it. Take on the energy of the homesteaders and then the conflict with Jack Palance....only in movies is violence an art form. Look how the little town is changed for the better the next morning after the resolution." He ended by saying this is one of the few films in which he wishes it had "a happy Hollywood ending, where the hero rides off into the sunset. Only here the hero rides off wounded, perhaps mortally ." I was struck by a line of dialogue from Shane: "A gun is a tool, Marion, no better or no worse than any other tool, an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or a bad as the man using it. Remember that."
The last line of the movie is Joey plaintfully crying, "Come back, Shane." Well, last night at the Academy he came back....and it was a wonderful return. I strongly suggest you get one of the new Blu-Ray DVD versions of the film and show it to your friends and family. They will be equally thrilled.
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