RARA-AVIS: SHANE and Hardboiled Writing

From: kip.stratton@ni.com
Date: 20 Mar 2000

One aspect of SHANE that I think might be appropriate for this discussion group is the then groundbreaking realistic portrayal of violence. Two scenes generally come to mind: The first is the "Sody Pop" fight scene between Shane
(Alan Ladd) and Chris Calloway (Ben Johnson). After resisting Calloway's taunts, Shane finally is forced to fight him. At one point, Shane knocks Calloway to the floor; when Calloway rises to his feet, we see a close-up of Johnson's face and see blood pouring from his nose in living color. Before in Westerns (and, I guess, basically all American movies) guys could slug it out for several minutes and never get hurt. Here you saw Ben Johnson's character actually injured as the result of a violent act, the implication being that you don't just dust yourself off and walk away -- you hurt. Even more famous is the scene in which Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) kills Frank Torrey (Elisha Cook Jr.). As you recall, this is no breast-clutching noble death. It's dirty, in the mud, and Torrey's body is dragged away in a most disrespectful way. The idea here is that violent death is a dirty business, not at all pleasant to watch, not nearly as easy to watch as earlier movies had made it out to be....All this seems pretty tame compared to what's come in the years since, but SHANE and the way George Stevens depicted violence in it had a big effect on people like Peckinpah a few years later. I'm wondering if it might have been a turning point in the depiction of violence in cinema in general and in crime writing in particular. The only pre-1953 hardboiled writing I've read has been Edward Anderson, Horace McCoy, Hammet, and Chandler (sheesh, there must more...some of the really early John D. Macdonald?). Anyway, I can't remember just how realistic the violence was. It's been a few years.


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