'Shane' western celebrates 50 years

— Of the millions of tourists who visit this mountain resort each year for the granite peaks of Grand Teton National Park and bubbling geysers of Yellowstone, a few hundred come for something else.

They come to see where the Starrett's homestead cabin sat or where a wounded Shane rode off into the sunset.

photo

AP File Photo

This is a 1953 file photo of a fight scene from the motion picture "Shane." The Western classic premiered 50 years ago this week.

"Shane," the cherished Western with Alan Ladd in the title role, premiered 50 years ago this week and still holds a special place in many film buffs' hearts.

One man recently came from Japan to snap pictures of areas featured in the film. He brought along a "Shane" movie poster in Japanese.

For Walt Farmer, a retired Air Force officer who gives tours of the movie sites, and for other devotees, the film's continued draw comes as little surprise.

"It's just the underlying story," Farmer said. "Good versus evil and all that other stuff."

It's been called the quintessential Western, although Alan Ladd Jr., son of the film's star, said it went against the grain of many Westerns up to that point -- cowboys and soldiers were not fighting Indians, and the movie's hero was a disillusioned gunfighter.

And that initially made "Shane" a hard sell.

"In my opinion, it's probably the best Western ever made," Ladd said. "But after it was made, Paramount didn't want to release it because they thought it was a very unconventional Western. They tried a couple years to sell it to other companies, but no one wanted to buy it."

Two years after filming wrapped, Paramount finally premiered "Shane" on April 24, 1953. It went into general release over a five-month period, its audiences continuing to grow. It drew solid reviews and garnered six Oscar nominations, including best picture, but won only for cinematography (Loyal Griggs).

Based on a 1949 book by Jack Schaefer, "Shane" portrayed a disillusioned gunfighter who becomes an unwilling participant in a feud between an old ranching family and new homesteaders. It's told through the eyes of young Joey Starrett (Brandon de Wilde), the son of a family that takes Shane in.

The film famously ends with Shane riding off after he's been shot in the climactic gunfight and Joey hollering "Shane ... Shane ... come back!"

Co-starring Jean Arthur, Van Heflin and Emile Meyer, the movie offered Jack Palance one his first big roles, as a psychopathic gunslinger. He received a supporting-actor Oscar nomination, as did de Wilde.

It also was a boon to Alan Ladd's career, which had stagnated after such 1940s hits as "The Blue Dahlia."

"'Shane' sort of revitalized his whole career," Ladd Jr. said. "It made him a No. 1 star again."

The movie also gave dozens of Teton Valley ranchers and other locals the chance to work on a movie set. They earned up to $50 a day as caterers, drivers and extras.

Retired rancher Roy Chambers, 79, used his truck and tractor to help crew members divert an irrigation ditch for the Starrett's homestead garden. He also hauled in hay, manure and props. Several cabins on his acreage were featured in the movie.

Other residents rented their homes to actors and their families. Jackson had just one hotel at the time.

The film was one of four shot in Wyoming that year.

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