SHANE (1953) Classic Western Still Has A Lot to Say


SHANE posterStreaming Video Review:  SHANE (1953)


Michael Arruda

They sure don’t make them like they used to.

SHANE (1953), the classic western from director George Stevens, has “four star” movie written all over it, from its exquisite Oscar-winning cinematography to its larger than life performances, it’s a movie with a grand vision that has as much to say today as it did over 50 years ago, perhaps more so.

It’s the wild west, Wyoming to be exact, in the years following the American Civil War, after the Homestead Act, when a man named Shane (Alan Ladd) arrives at the farm of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), his wife Marian (Jean Arthur) and their young son Joey (Brandon De Wilde).  The family immediately warms up to Shane and invites him to remain on their farm as a worker, and he agrees.  Shane is a gunslinger running from his past, and so he welcomes the opportunity to join the Starrett farm and enjoy a new lifestyle.  Young Joey quickly idolizes the former gunslinger.

But all is not right in their little world.  A rather brazen bully of a man Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) wants to buy Joe’s land, as well as the farms of Joe’s fellow homesteaders. When they all refuse to sell, and Rufus’ bully tactics continue to fail, he hires notorious gunman Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) to take his fight to the next level.

Joe is a stubborn man and a proven leader, and in spite of the presence of a murderer like Jack Wilson, remains steadfast in his determination to keep his farm, and he pleads with his neighbors to remain firm with him as well.  But when blood begins to flow, all bets are off, and it’s at this point that Shane realizes he can’t run from his past any longer, because it’s up to him to protect his friends.

Sure, this plot is nothing we haven’t seen before, but SHANE isn’t only about plot.  It’s also about presentation.

The cinematography by Loyal Griggs, which won an Oscar in 1954, is epic.  The colors, the landscape, the characters, are all captured as larger than life.

SHANE was directed by George Stevens, one of the all-time great movie directors, and many consider SHANE to be his masterpiece.  It’s hard to disagree with this assessment.

The thing that stands out the most for me about SHANE, which I recently caught up with on streaming video the other day, is how strongly this film makes its case for violence as a last resort.  Now, I prefer my westerns dark, and I enjoy violent action movies as much as the next guy, but there was something exceedingly refreshing about this movie’s approach to violence.  Screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr. hammers the point home that fighting is one thing, but bringing a gun into the mix is quite another.

Early on, bully Rufus Ryker makes it a point to say in his defense that he uses fists to settle his disagreements, and will not resort to guns.  He wants no trouble with the law.  Later, when he finally breaks down and hires gunslinger Jack Wilson, he makes sure that witnesses see that it is Wilson who is doing the shooting, and not him.  Also, Wilson baits his victims so they draw first, allowing him to claim he was shooting in self-defense.

When Shane teaches young Joey how to handle a gun, Marian scolds Shane and tells him her son will not grow up in a world of guns.  Shane tells Marian that a gun is a tool, to be used like other tools, and that a gun is no better or worse than the person using it.

SHANE is not an anti-violence movie.  There are plenty of fistfights, and eventually when the guns come out, there is bloodshed.  SHANE simply adds some thinking to the mix, and as such, its approach towards gun violence is a breath of fresh air compared to what we see in the movies today.  Imagine, actually thinking about and realizing that a bullet will end a man’s life forever.  Imagine Sylvester Stallone, or even Clint Eastwood for that matter, preferring not to kill his adversary.  That being said, Shane is not a pacifist.  He’s a murderer, and he’s just as deadly as the next guy, except he’d rather not kill if he could help it.  Trouble is, he lives in a world where turning the other cheek isn’t really an option.

Alan Ladd is perfectly cast as the gunslinger who’d rather be a farmer, and his laid back persona is charming as he provides a steady helping hand for the Starrett family.  While Ladd turns in a decent performance, he doesn’t provide the best performance in the movie.

I actually prefer Van Heflin as Joe Starrett.  The man is a rock, and even when the bullets start to fly, he refuses to back down.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Starrett decides he’s had enough and he’s going to face Jack Wilson.  Shane tries to convince him that he’s no match for Wilson, but Starrett has too much pride and refuses to give in.  In order to stop Starrett from facing Wilson, Shane has to fight the man, and the two friends literally kick the living daylights out of each other in one of the film’s most rousing moments, a hand to hand battle for the right to go up against Jack Wilson.

During this scuffle, director Stevens includes shots of the farm animals going ballistic and freaking out as the two men beat the stuffing out of each other.  There is a general sense that all is wrong with the world at this moment.

Jean Arthur is fine as Marian in her final movie role, and it’s hardly noticeable that at 50, she was considerably older than either Van Heflin or Alan Ladd.

My personal favorite performance in SHANE belongs to Jack Palance as Jack Wilson.  As the gunslinger who wears black, Palance is oh so creepy.  He has very few lines of dialogue, and everything is understated about him, but he has such a commanding deadly presence, he gets under your skin.  And when he does speak, his words cut like a knife slitting a throat.  It’s a deliciously evil performance.

But the actor who steals the movie is young Brandon De Wilde as Joey.  I simply can’t imagine SHANE without De Wilde with his ever so wide eyes crying out “Shane!  Shane!”  Seriously, the kid steals every scene he’s in, and he’s in a lot of scenes.  Tragically, De Wilde was killed in car accident in 1972.  He was 30.

Emile Meyer makes a sufficiently villainous Rufus Ryker.  You just want to kick this guy in the butt.

Also in the cast is Ben Johnson as one of Ryker’s heavies Chris Calloway, who eventually grows weary of his boss’s heavy-handed ways and provides Shane with some valuable information later in the movie.  Johnson made a ton of movies, but I always remember him from one of his early roles as the gorilla-lassoing cowboy Gregg in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949).

John Dierkes plays Rufus’ equally cold-hearted brother Morgan.  Dierkes you might remember had a small but noticeable bit as Dr. Chapman in Howard Hawks’ THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951).

There is a strong sense of sincerity in SHANE that is refreshing. It’s why all the characters work so well, and why the story, just an average one, soars, because everyone in the film is solid and true, and nearly everything they do is believable.

It’s also not predictable.  By the time the film reaches its explosive climax, the fate of its characters remains uncertain.  When Shane rides into town to face Jack Wilson, the movie has done such an admirable job building up character and tension, you really don’t know who is going to come out on top.  Will Shane be gunned down in front of little Joey’s eyes?  Or does he have enough left in him to be that much faster than the swift and deadly Jack Wilson?  For a film that plays it light with the violence, it lays it on heavy with the suspense.  I wish more films today would follow this formula.

While SHANE won the Oscar for best Cinematography in 1954, it was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Jack Palance, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for young Brandon De Wilde.  Either one of these actors could easily have won.  Who did win Best Supporting Actor that year?  The nod went to Frank Sinatra for his work in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) which also won Best Picture and Best Director (Fred Zinnemann) that year.

SHANE is a classic western that entertains from start to finish, and what it has to say about guns and violence is more apropos today than ever before.

Yup, they just don’t make them like they used to.



Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula.



Michael Arruda



Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES. Today we look at some memorable lines from the classic horror movie, DRACULA (1931).

DRACULA is so full of quotable lines, especially from Bela Lugosi, practically the entire movie is a collection of famous quotes.  While Lugosi does have the bulk of the celebrated lines in DRACULA, and really, until you’ve heard the power and beauty of Lugosi’s voice on film, you’re missing out on one of the great joys of horror cinema, co-stars Dwight Frye as Renfield and Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing also enjoy some memorable moments of dialogue.

Let’s get started.

We begin with Dracula’s entrance and opening moments in DRACULA.  As Renfield (Dwight Frye) tentatively makes his way through decrepit Castle Dracula, Dracula (Bela Lugosi) appears at the top of the cobweb filled staircase to announce:

DRACULA:  I am— Dracula.

RENFIELD:  It’s really good to see you.  I don’t know what happened to the driver and my luggage and— well, and with all this, I thought I was in the wrong place.

DRACULA:  I bid you welcome.

(Wolves howl in the distance.)

DRACULA:  Listen to them.  Children of the night.  What music they make!

(As they climb the stairs, Dracula seems to pass through a huge spider web without disturbing it.  Renfield has to use his walking stick to break through, causing a rather large spider to scurry up the web.  Dracula comments:

DRACULA:  The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly.  The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.

Later, as Dracula serves Renfield some wine.

DRACULA:  This is very old wine. I hope you will like it.

RENFIELD:  Aren’t you drinking?

DRACULA:  I never drink— wine.

When Dracula is first introduced to Dr. Seward, Mina, John Harker, and Lucy at the theater in London, he finishes the conversation with one of my favorite lines from the movie:

DRACULA:  To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious!

MINA:  Why, Count Dracula!

DRACULA:  There are far worse things awaiting man than death.

Dwight Frye as Renfield enjoys many fine scene-stealing moments in DRACULA, like when he describes an encounter with Dracula to Van Helsing:

RENFIELD:  He came and stood below my window in the moonlight.  And he promised me things.  Not in words, but by doing them.

VAN HELSING: Doing them?

RENFIELD:  By making them happen.  A red mist spread over the lawn, coming on like a flame of fire.  And then he parted it.  And I could see that there were thousands of rats with eyes blazing red, like his, only smaller.  And then he held up his hand, and then they all stopped, and I thought he seemed to be saying:  Rats.  Rats.  Rats!  Thousands!  Millions of them!  All red blood!  All these will I give to you if you will obey me!

When Van Helsing is making his case that vampires exist, he utters a line which describes the strategy of the modern day vampire:

VAN HELSING:  The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him.

And we finish with Dracula’s remark when he realizes that Van Helsing has figured out the truth of his existence.

DRACULA:  For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you’re a wise man, Van Helsing!

There are plenty more notable lines from DRACULA, but that’ll have to be another column.  Hope you enjoyed this look back at this classic horror movie.

Thanks for reading!


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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.


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the-mummys-tomb-lon-chaney-john-everettHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Lon Chaney Jr. Mummy movie THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), appearing now in the July issue of the HWA NEWSLETTER.





With apologies to Michael Myers, Kharis the Mummy just might be the scariest monster who can’t outrun a turtle ever to lumber across a movie screen!  And he’s never been more frightening than in today’s SPOOKLIGHT feature, THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942).

THE MUMMY’S TOMB has always been my favorite Kharis MUMMY movie.  The make-up here on Kharis by Jack Pierce, the man who created most of the iconic Universal monsters, including Boris Karloff’s Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), is by far the best MUMMY make-up of the Kharis series.

It’s also my favorite due to nostalgic reasons, as I owned an 8mm Castle Films copy of it when I was a kid.  The film also boasts the most exciting ending of any MUMMY movie, period.

Kharis the Mummy was featured in four Universal Mummy movies, and in the Hammer Films remake THE MUMMY (1959) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as Kharis, but it was Lon Chaney Jr. who played the definitive Kharis, appearing in three Universal Mummy movies, the first being THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB opens with a comprehensive synopsis of the previous film in the series, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), so if you’ve missed this first movie, no need to worry!  The initial ten minutes of THE MUMMY’S TOMB brings you up to speed on previous events quite nicely.  You can almost hear the voice-over narration, “Previously on THE MUMMY’S HAND.”

Stephen Banning (Dick Foran) the main character from THE MUMMY’S HAND recounts his adventures in that first movie to his son John (John Hubbard) and his future daughter-in-law Isobel (Elyse Knox), and his story is shown via flashbacks.  Little does Stephen know that over in Egypt the high priest he thought he killed, Andoheb (George Zucco) still lives, albeit he’s now an old man, as thirty years have passed since the events of THE MUMMY’S HAND.  Hmm.  With this timeline, shouldn’t THE MUMMY’S TOMB be taking place in 1970?  Where are all the hippies?

Andoheb now turns over the Mummy-caring duties to his young protégé, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) because Kharis the Mummy didn’t die either.  Not only is Kharis still alive, but he’s put on some weight!   Has he been eating too many tanna leaves?  No, he’s just being played here by the husky Lon Chaney Jr. rather than Tom Tyler, who played him in THE MUMMY’S HAND.

Chaney has been criticized over the years for being too big and thick to look like an authentic Mummy, but I’ve always liked this look, as it made him scarier.  I mean, Chaney isn’t flabby and overweight.  He’s solid and huge, like he could crush a man with his fists.

Mehemet Bey brings Kharis to the United States, to Massachusetts to be exact, to hunt down and kill the members of the Banning family.

And that’s pretty much it in terms of plot.  The screenplay by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher is pretty standard.

The strength of THE MUMMY’S TOMB is not its plot but its visuals.  The movie contains some really neat scenes, and Kharis has never looked creepier.  Shots of Kharis closing in on his victims still make me shudder, and some of the murder scenes in this one are downright brutal.  Director Harold Young, not known for his genre work, really deserves a lot of credit for making a very chilling monster movie.

Young also makes good use of shadows here.  Many times we see Kharis only through his shadow.  In fact, when Kharis creeps across the countryside at night, he is unseen except for his shadow which falls upon several unsuspecting townsfolk.  The shadow is used so frequently I’ve often wondered if the shooting script was entitled THE SHADOW OF THE MUMMY.

There’s a curious moment in the movie in the scene where Kharis attacks Babe (Wallace Ford), another character from THE MUMMY’S HAND.  After Babe shouts out Kharis’ name, Kharis’ lips move as if he’s saying something in response.  It looks almost as if a scene of dialogue has been cut from the film.  I’ve never read anything to support such a cut, and it wouldn’t make sense in terms of the story anyway, since Kharis had his tongue cut from his mouth in the previous film, and is mute.  But if you watch this scene, you definitely will see Kharis’ mouth move, and a cut does appear to have taken place right at this moment.  Interesting.

The ending is exceedingly memorable.  The torch-wielding villagers, in a chase scene reminiscent of the ending to FRANKENSTEIN (1931)- in fact, some of the footage from FRANKENSTEIN is used here— chase Kharis, who’s carrying an unconscious Isobel, and trap him inside a large house.  John Banning, the sheriff, and another man run inside the house to rescue Isobel.  The climactic battle on the second story porch between John, the sheriff and Kharis, while the villagers fling burning torches from below, is pretty exciting.  I can’t think of another MUMMY movie that has a better ending than this one.

The cast is standard, and other than Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis, no one really jumps out at you.  However the beautiful Elyse Knox who plays Isobel is notable because she’s Mark Harmon’s mother.  Ms. Knox only recently passed away, in 2012 at age 94.

Lon Chaney Jr. actually does a stand up job as Kharis the Mummy.  Chaney played all four main movie monsters:  The Wolf Man, the Mummy, Dracula, and the Frankenstein Monster.  While he’s most famous for his portrayal of Larry Talbot aka the Wolf Man, and rightly so, his three performances as Kharis the Mummy are more effective than his work as either Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.

He makes Kharis damned scary.  His look is such that when he enters a room, he almost paralyzes his victims with fear, which is a good thing for him, because with his limp, he’s not going to catch anybody.  You can outrun Kharis running backwards.  But Kharis always seems to corner his victims, and once he’s blocked the exit, his prey is as good as dead.

Very few of the old Universal monster movies are frightening.  I would argue that THE MUMMY’S TOMB featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis the Mummy is one of the scariest.

I dare you to watch it alone this summer without having nightmares of Kharis the Mummy breaking into your bedroom in the middle of the night.

Over there, by the wall!  Is that the Mummy’s shadow I see?


Did you enjoy this column?  You can read over 100 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT monster movie columns in my horror movie review collection IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, now available as an EBook at, or as a print edition at


Classic horror movies to get you in the mood for summer

Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss in JAWS (1975)

Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss in JAWS (1975)

It’s the Fourth of July Weekend, the holiday where we in the United States celebrate Independence Day.  It’s a time for barbecues, beaches, and fireworks, swimming pools, sun tan lotion, hot dogs, hamburgers, and outdoor concerts.

It’s also a time for great summer movies, especially horror movies.  If you’re like me, who watches horror movies year round, there are a host of classic horror films that fit in quite nicely with the summer season.

The ultimate July 4th horror movie, without question, is JAWS (1975).  Heck, a key sequence in the film take place on the 4th of July weekend.  But there are other horror movies as well that will put you in the summer holiday mood.

Here’s a brief partial list of some classic summer horror movies:

JAWS (1975) – The biggie, the ultimate man vs. fish story.  This one’s so much fun you’ll need a bigger boat to enjoy it.

JAWS 2 (1978) – Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water—.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) – This classic 50s monster flick from Universal Studios about a group of scientists trapped and terrorized in an Amazonian lagoon by the titled Creature who only wants to ask beautiful scientist Julia Adams on a date will have you itching for that next boat trip in no time.  The Gill Man—aka The Creature— remains one of the most iconic movie monsters ever.

REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) – Likable sequel pulls the Creature out of the Amazon and puts him inside a Sea World-like amusement park, where there’s plenty of victims— er, patrons abound.  Hey, it stars John Agar!  Pack up the car and head off to your local aquarium!

THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956) – Yup, there were just too many mad scientists around in the 1950s.  The guys in this flick try to turn the Creature into an air breather.  Settle for a summer haircut instead.

PIRANHA (1978) – Joe Dante’s fun flick from the 70s still has plenty of bite!  Last one in the water still has skin!

THEM! (1954) – Clean up after you eat.  The ants in this one are huge!  One of the scarier films from the 1950s, certainly one of the best “giant bug” movies ever made.

TARANTULA (1955) – Ants don’t scare you?  What about spiders?  How about a tarantula that can sit on your house?  John Agar’s back, this time battling an overgrown spider in this Universal monster classic.  Look fast for Clint Eastwood flying a fighter plane in the film’s conclusion.

THE SPIDER  (aka EARTH VS. THE SPIDER) (1958) – A giant spider again, this time out to eat 1950s teenagers.  Crank up the rock music.

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) –Doug McClure stars in this silly flick about sea monster mutants who kill men and rape women.  Not the best date movie.

THE DEEP (1977) – JAWS author Peter Benchley wrote this tale (both the novel and the screenplay) starring Robert Shaw, Nick Nolte, and Jacqueline Bisset about underwater treasure and a very scary eel.  Beautifully shot but ultimately not all that exciting.  Definitely for those of you who like quiet horror.

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) – Ray Harryhausen special effects are the highlight of this giant octopus tale.

And on and on I could go.  There are so many.  But we’ll save those for another time.

What are some of your favorite summer movies?

Happy Fourth of July everyone!


THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) – Atmospheric Ghost Story Lacks Originality


The-Woman-in-Black-posterBlu-Ray Review:  THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)


Michael Arruda

Welcome back, Hammer Films!

Yep, it’s good to see you again.  Hammer Films, the company which made stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the 1950s and 1960s, and made quality horror movies until the mid-1970s when they went out of business, is back making movies again.  The company has followed up its entertaining vampire movie LET ME IN (2010), a remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) with the ghost story movie THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012), now available on Blu-ray, starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.

In THE WOMAN IN BLACK, Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young London lawyer at the dawn of the 20th century, a single dad who’s still grieving over the death of his wife.  Kipps is sent to the village of Cryphin Gifford to settle the estate of a woman Alice Drabow who had recently passed away.

Once there, he receives the cold shoulder from the villagers, as they pretty much tell him to turn around and go back, but Kipps tells them that he’s there to do a job, and he’s staying until he finishes it.  The estate is on a winding road which gets covered with water when the tide comes in, in one of the film’s more impressive visuals.  So, when Kipps goes to the creepy mansion, once the tide comes in, he’s stranded there until the tide goes out again.

Since this is a ghost story, as you would imagine, Kipps begins to see strange things inside the house, specifically a mysterious woman in black who’s none too friendly.  As Kipps investigates, he learns that the mysterious woman is the ghost of Alice Drabow’s sister, who spent her life mourning the loss of her young son.  Now as an angry ghost, she’s intent on making everyone in the village feel her pain, and she accomplishes this task by targeting their children.  Nice lady!

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a beautifully photographed horror movie, reminiscent of the Hammer Films period pieces of old.  Director James Watkins has made a very impressive looking movie.  It’s also quite creepy, as Watkins imbues the haunted house scenes with lots of unsettling and downright shocking moments.  It’ll make you jump for sure.

And the acting is all very good.  Daniel Radcliffe more than holds his own as the lead character, Arthur Kipps. He easily carries this movie on his shoulders, and is interesting enough to keep the viewer’s interest throughout.  The supporting cast is adequate, especially Ciaran Hinds, who plays Daily, the one man in the village who befriends Kipps.

But where THE WOMAN IN BLACK goes wrong is in its story which just can’t sustain enough interest for its 90 minute running time.  The ghost scenes are eerie, but when it comes time for the story to deliver answers, it’s simply not all that impressive, nor is it anything we haven’t seen before.  I certainly expected more.

This came as a surprise to me, because the screenplay by Jane Goldman is based upon the novel by Susan Hill.  You’d think the story here would be deep and resonating, but it’s shallow and ordinary.  While THE WOMAN IN BLACK is certainly a very atmospheric movie, by far its greatest attribute, its story is about as standard as ghost stories get.

You have an angry vengeful ghost.  In short, she’s pissed off, and she’s letting the world know it.  And that’s it.  There’s nothing more creative here, nothing to lift this particular tale above the rest.  When all is said and done, there just isn’t much that is original about THE WOMAN IN BLACK.

I suppose I should be grateful that there aren’t any silly plot twists at the end.

Screenwriter Jane Goldman worked on the screenplays to two of my favorite films of the past few years, KICK-ASS (2010) and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011).  While her screenplay for THE WOMAN IN BLACK, which she wrote solo, is decent, it’s not as good as KICK-ASS or X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a somber tale, steeped in sadness, and as such it’s something of a downer.  It reminded me a little bit of THE OTHERS (2001) starring Nicole Kidman, although that film had a more creative plot.

If you’re alone at night and in the right kind of mood, THE WOMAN IN BLACK might work for you, but if not, it might leave you empty and wanting more.

Still, it was good to see the Hammer logo at the beginning of the movie, and I hope there are plenty more Hammer Films to come.

Welcome back, Hammer!  You shouldn’t have stayed away so long.