Immersed in Blu-ray: Shane Celebrates its 60th

Shane¬†is a stunning revelation on Blu-ray (Warner Home Ent.), reminding us what a great director George Stevens was. It’s a meta-Western about family and community, trying to reinvent yourself, and fighting fascism for the American Dream.

Coming after A Place in the Sun, in 1953, Shane was Stevens’ first color movie and shot in three-strip Technicolor by Loyal Griggs (who won the Oscar) in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with the majestic Grand Tetons in the background. With its muted look and deep shadows, it continues a more somber post-World War II journey for the director.

Alan Ladd plays the lonely gunfighter trying to escape his secret past yet drawn into the Jackson County land war notoriously revisited by Michael Cimino’s more epic Heaven’s Gate. The noble yet melancholy Shane is like Galahad with a gun. It’s best known for its legendary barroom fight, Jack Palance’s scene-stealing baddie, Brandon De Wilde’s idol worship, and the explosive gunfire (achieved by shooting howitzers into trashcans). Shane has influenced everything from Bonnie and Clyde to Unforgiven, and even Woody Allen has sung its praises.

Technicolor has done right by Shane (the three-strip negatives were scanned at 4K, digitally cleaned and registered correctly with the supervision of George Stevens Jr.): the colors reflect the desired naturalism, you can see every texture in the clothing and gun handles, and the day for night scenes have been improved for that Rembrandt look that Stevens was after.

Stevens was a master of rhythm, whatever the genre, and Shane displays an intensity that doesn’t let up, even during the family scenes that switch from the political to the sexual. It’s all about power and how to use it.

Thank goodness the original aspect ratio of 1.37 is maintained as opposed to the widescreen 1.66 version that premiered at Radio City Music Hall and was the subject of a minor¬†brouhaha with Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeff Wells.

But Stevens Jr. cleared up the confusion for me: “We made a 1.37 transfer, color corrected and cleaned up. I also supervised a 1.66 in which we took care with every shot for optimum framing. I want that for the cable stations who ‘spread’ Shane or crop it top and bottom.”

Stevens fondly remembers being on location with his father, who started as a cameraman and had a superb sense of composition: “What gives Shane it’s visual grandeur comes largely from his using long focal length lenses. Where most directors were using wide angle lenses, he kept the camera away from the actors and used long focal length lenses to draw the Tetons close and high, looming over the action. I noticed in Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino shot some scenes in the area of the Tetons with wider lenses, and the mountains lacked the imposing grandeur of Shane. I don’t believe Shane to be a dark film. It is a story of family and community. There is a good deal of nobility of spirit in the film. “

(Screen captures courtesy of DVDBeaver).

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech

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