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Sunday, 16 January 2011

Top Ten Western Actors No 6 - Alan Ladd

Alan Ladd's reputation as a western actor rests almost on one movie, but what a movie. Shane was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was listed at No. 45 on the American Film Institute's 2007 ranking of "100 Years ... 100 Movies."

True he made other westerns but none would even come close to the sheer excellence of 1953's Shane - Whispering Smith and The Badlanders are pretty good, but it is Shane that was Ladd's signature role. Indeed if not for this movie Ladd's contribution to the western genre would be slight indeed - his quiet manner was far better suited to crime noir and melodramas. Though the fact that Shane regularly turns up on countless best western lists earns him a place in my top ten. That and the fact that I must have seen the movie at least a dozen time - it was even shown once on S4C dubbed into Welsh - that made it unintentionally hilarious.

Shane virtually invented the mythic western and Ladd's performance made Shane perhaps the definitive western anti-hero - it's a complex movie from start to finish and defined the genre for many years to come. The lone drifter coming to the aid of farmers against the ruthless ranchers - it's all about the little man facing big government and it resonates greatly even today.

A strong supporting cast helps the movie and Van Heflin is excellent as is Jack Palance, but if this movie belongs to anyone it is the dour faced Alan Ladd. At the time the movie was shooting there was much criticism of Ladd's casting but it is difficult to think of any other actor of the period who could have done this so well. When Shane is being taunted, Ladd makes his restraint believable in a way John Wayne or Robert Mitchum (both of whom were considered for the role) would not have done. Indeed Montgomery Clift was originally cast as Shane but it would have been a much different movie without Ladd and thus I do not hesitate in placing him in my top ten. It may also be of interest that Willam Holden was cast to play the Van Heflin character alongside Clift but both decided to do other movies.

The ending when Shane rides off wounded, possibly to die somewhere of his own choosing and the young boy shouts, "Come back, Shane." is an effective today as it ever was. The movie truly is a classic and it has been referenced by movies ever since. Clint Eastwood even remade it unofficially with his Pale Rider.
It matters not that Ladd made relatively few westerns, nor is it important that he never made another movie as good as this, for Shane is an undisputed classic that did much to write the grammar of the western movie and it was Ladd who brought the character to such effective life.

Alan Ladd a true western great

1 comment:

Davieboy said...

Shane; the best ever Western IMHO. Acting, dialogue, action, score, scenery, direction.
A couple of years ago I holidayed in Wyoming and spent a wonderful day in the shadow of the Tetons with a dude named Wally Farmer, who arranged tours of movie locations. Well worth a visit. Cheers Wally if you're out there....