In one of my favorite 90s action movies, The Negotiator, there's a scene in which Kevin Spacey and Sam Jackson debate the ending of Shane. The latter says Alan Ladd is alive, despite the gunshot wound he took. The former insists he's actually dead as he rides off on his horse. They never settle the matter definitively.
Maybe it was my TV, which is pretty old and starting to show signs of wear. Maybe it was TCM's print. I don't know, but the ending looked so dark it was really tough to even make Ladd out! Most of the night scenes in Shane were like this, in fact. I'm not sure if this was director George Stevens' intent or not. All I know is the movie looked darker than I had remembered.
Okay, I'm just gonna put this out there and damn the consequences: the kid in this movie was totally in love with Shane. I can't be the only one to pick up on this, am I? I mean, he was crushing hard on Shane from the moment he appeared. I think at one point, he even tells Jean Arthur he loves Shane. I know, I know, it wasn't meant to be interpreted as romantic love, but it's hard to ignore the subtext in the scene where Shane teaches him to shoot a gun... I wouldn't even mention it, except the movie plays up the kid's hero worship of Shane almost to the point of comedy. It wasn't exactly subtle.
The mountains of Wyoming frame many of the outdoor scenes. They're magnificent. Shane was shot in Wyoming's Jackson Hole Valley, an area which encompasses, among other things, the Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge. I believe the animal the kid watches in the beginning of the film was an elk. They're bigger than deer but smaller than moose. The Shawnee and Cree Indians call them "wapiti," meaning "white rump."
Ladd was good, but I wanna show some love for Van Heflin. The more I see of him, the more I like. Between this, the original 3:10 to Yuma, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, he did some quality work. He wasn't flashy; that usually wasn't his role. He provided stability while all the crazy stuff's going on around him. Here, he and Ladd get into a great barroom brawl scene, going up against a bunch of bad guys together, and you can tell the experience bonds them. Plus, he gives a good rally-the-troops type speech in the second half of the film.
Despite the presence of the kid, this isn't an overly sentimental movie, which I appreciate. Like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, one gets the impression Shane was trying to put his violent ways behind for good, but circumstances wouldn't allow that to happen. That's probably why he leaves at the end - he knows he can't be around decent people for too long. It's a good movie. I can see why it's so beloved.