Shane [1953]

Consciously crafted by director George Stevens as a piece of American mythmaking, Shane is on nearly everyone's shortlist of great movie Westerns. A buckskin knight, Shane (Alan Ladd) rides into the middle of a range war between farmers and cattlemen, quickly siding with the "sod-busters." While helping a kindly farmer (Van Heflin), Shane falls platonically in love with the man's wife (Jean Arthur, in the last screen performance of a marvelous career). Though the showdowns are exciting, and the story simple but involving, what most people will remember about this movie is the friendship between the stoical Shane and the young son of the farmers. The kid is played by Brandon De Wilde, who gives one of the most amazing child performances in the movies; his parting scene with Shane is guaranteed to draw tears from even the most stonyhearted moviegoer. And speaking of stony hearts, Jack Palance made a sensational impression as the evil gunslinger sent to clean house--he has fewer lines of dialogue than he has lines in his magnificently craggy face, but he makes them count. The photography, highlighting the landscape near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, won an Oscar. --Robert Horton

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