BBC Radio 4, 30 March 2013
Beloved of fans of the western ever since the famous
1953 film starring Alan Ladd, Shane tells the story of the eponymous hero (Joshua Stamberg), all dressed in black
and carrying a six-shooter, who starts to work at an isolated farm in Wyoming. Initially the farmer Joe Starrett (Jeff
Mash) is suspicious of Shane's motives - especially when Joe's wife Marian (Jennifer Westfeldt) takes a shine to the mysterious
stranger - but as the drama unfolds, Shane turns out to be a thoroughly decent person. Through a combination of cunning, strength
and skill Shane repels the threat posed by acquisitive cattle baron Fletcher, who wants to buy the Starretts' farm and
throw them off their land.
Kate McAll's production conceived
the story as one in which virtue is rewarded and vice expelled. Shane might appear somewhat mysterious (no one
ever finds out much about him), but will never let anyone down. Fernando Macias-Jimenez's music recalled the classic
westerns of the past, while emphasizing the novel's elemental aspects. In a lonely Wyoming setting, the
characters would have to entertain themselves with an harmonica.
The production also emphasized the importance of masculinity: Shane's primary duty consisted
of protecting the weak while vanquishing those who would try to destroy the farmer's traditional way of life. At the
same time Shane forged a close personal relationship with Marian's son Bobby (Finley Jacobsen). While Bobby certainly
respected his father (in this kind of environment, family values mattered), Shane provided the kind of role-model that
the little boy could readily identify with.
When the film version of Shaefer's novel appeared in the early Fifties, it was readily identified
by critics as a Cold War allegory, with Fletcher's men posing a Soviet-style threat to the American way of life. Six
decades the political aspect of the tale might not seem so significant; but we can still admire the way in which the
protagonist deals with potentially life-changing situations.