Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Moments of Distinction / Dialogue I Love

The Film – Shane, dir. George Stevens

The Set-Up – The wealthy cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) comes to try to talk Joe Starett (Van Heflin) into selling his ranch to him. He has brought his newest employee, hired gun Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) with him.

Starett returns to his home to find Ryker wating for him.

Shane and Wilson begin to size one another up.

Ryker talks about his past.

“Look, Starett, when I come to this country, you weren’t older than your boy. We had rough times. Me and other men that are mostly dead now. I got a bad shoulder yet from a Cheyenne arrowhead. We made this country. We found it and we made it. Work, blood, and empty bellies."

"Cattle we brought in were hazed off by Indians and rustlers. They don’t bother you much anymore because we handled them. We made a safe range of this. Some of us died doing it, but we made it. And then people move in who never had to rawhide it through the old days. They fence off the range, and fence me off from water. Some of them, like you, plow ditches and take out irrigation water, and so the creek runs dry sometimes, and I’ve got to move my stock because of it. And you say we have no right to the range. The men who did the work and ran the risks have no rights?”

While Ryker is speaking Shane walks right up to Wilson and has a drink of water – Still checking him out.

Wilson gets off his horse and has a drink himself.

You can’t help but notice that there are two stories running concurrently in this great scene. First there is the speech by Ryker. How many times in any film has the villain had an opportunity to tell his side? Not only does Ryker tell his side here, but he actually invokes your sympathy in this great monologue. Shane is a masterpiece, and it’s in large part due to the moral ambiguity it portrays. It wouldn't be a huge stretch to view Ryker as the wronged party, and the stubborn Starett as the villain.

And then there’s the great silent cat-and-mouse game between Shane and Wilson. This is the first time they see each other, and they both know immediately how the game is going to play itself out. I especially love the way Shane gets right in Wilson’s face to get his drink. The message there is subtle, but Wilson gets it, and gives his own back.

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