It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Looked at a certain way, the entire story of "Shane" is simply a backdrop against which the hero can play out his own personal repression and remorse. The movie is conventionally seen as the story of farmers standing up to the brutal law of the gun in the Old West, with a lone rider helping a settler hold onto his land in the face of hired thugs.
Look a little more carefully and you find that the rider and the farmer's wife feel an attraction for one another. And that Shane is touched by the admiration of young Joey, the son of the farm couple. Bring Freud into the picture and you uncover all sorts of possibilities, as the newcomer dresses in sissy clothes and absorbs insults and punishment from the goons at the saloon, before strapping on his six-gun and proving himself the better man.
It's not that a greater truth lurks in the depths of George Stevens' "Shane" (1953). It's that all of these levels coexist, making the movie more complex than a simple morality play. Yes, on the surface, Shane is the gunfighter who wants to leave his past behind him, who yearns for the sort of domesticity he finds on Joe Starrett's place in the Grand Tetons. Yes, someone has to stand up to the brutal Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), who wants to tear down the fences and allow his cattle to roam free. Yes, Shane is the man--even though he knows that if he succeeds he'll have to leave the valley. "There's no living with a killing," Shane tells Joey, after shooting three men dead in the saloon. "There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks."
Yes, the picture works on that level, and on that level it was nominated as one of the best films of 1953. But if it only worked on that level, it would have grown dated, like "High Noon" and certain other classic Westerns. There are intriguing mysteries in "Shane," puzzles and challenges, not least in the title character and the way he is played by Alan Ladd.