A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a serious-minded Western, not one of the charming but silly singing-cowboy fantasies that stampeded by the hundreds out of old Hollywood. Death is a serious thing here, and gunplay is realistic, not cartoonish or gratuitous. There's also a sense of the harshness of frontier life. The possibility of an adulterous love triangle is present but tastefully handled. Some viewers may be more troubled by the hints of Hollywood's longstanding Gone With the Wind sentimental representation of the Confederate South (the movie takes place shortly after the Civil War), or the equating of drinking whiskey with being a "real man."
What's the story?
Shortly after the Civil War, a traveler named Shane (Alan Ladd) lingers with a family of Wyoming homesteaders, the Starretts, who are in the thick of a land feud between settlers and cattle ranch boss Ryker (Emile Meyer) and his posse. Shane is never fully accepted by the suspicious settlers. Still, he stays with the Starretts, partially because of friendship with their little boy Joey (Brandon de Wilde) who idolizes him. There's also a developing love triangle with gun-loathing Mrs. Starrett (Jean Arthur) and a rivalry with her husband Joe Starrett (Van Helfin). Shane is obviously a veteran gunfighter and, to the farmers, no better than the thugs on Ryker's payroll, even as he (reluctantly) straps on his six-guns to defend against the villains. You'd think the settlers would be grateful, but (except for Joey) they aren't. Ryker eventually tries to negotiate a peace with Starrett, and the range boss has got a surprisingly strong argument that suddenly makes the farmers seem slightly less like poor victims and more stubborn and selfish.
Is it any good?
Even though Westerns in general are nowhere near as popular and plentiful as they were in times past, this classic is a must-see. Shane is based on a novel that's widely assigned in schools. This is a morally complex Western (not just white hats and black hats) that can play well for both the action fans and families seeking serious drama.
Shane functions on multiple levels for young viewers and parents, addressing questions of youthful idol-worship, adult redemption, the uses of violence, forbidden attraction, and people forced to live out unpopular roles against their wills.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the characters seem unable to escape their social roles. Though it's not spelled out in detail, Shane is a veteran gunfighter trying to put his violent past behind him, but he winds up pulled back into killing, even if he is supposedly defending innocent people. Even the villains seem to be offering a last-minute compromise solution, which is declined. Did the conflict have to turn out the way it did? What do you think would have happened if Shane stayed with the Starretts?
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