Shane (1952)

In this iconic Western film, a lone gunslinger known only as Shane (Alan Ladd) drifts into a conflict between a Wyoming Territory rancher family headed by Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and a cattle baron named Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), who along with his henchmen wants to force them off their land.

Ladd was not director George Stevens’ first choice for the title role; when he couldn’t get Montgomery Clift, he quickly chose Ladd from a list of available Paramount contract performers. SHANE was shot in the then-normal Academy ratio (1.37:1), but ultimately became one of the first-ever widescreen films when the studio decided to blow up and crop the image, as the cinematography mostly comprises long and medium shots. The result really enhances the landscape panoramas, which won cinematographer Loyal Griggs an Academy Award®.

Set against these breathtaking backdrops is a well-chosen cast and excitingly dramatic adaptation of Jack Schaefer’s eponymous novel by A. B. Guthrie Jr., which embody the emotion and passion of a feud (inspired by the 1892 Johnson County War) that often resorts to a level of violent then-unprecedented on the screen.

It’s no wonder, then, that SHANE has become highly influential not only in the Western genre, but also elsewhere in film as well, with everything from the Clint Eastwood-helmed PALE RIDER (1985) to the X-Men film installment LOGAN (2017) taking inspiration from it. And overall, this film is absolutely a candidate for being the epitome of what a Western film should be.