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Immersed in Movies: Restored 'Shane' Celebrates 60th at TCM Classic Fest, with the Right Aspect Ratio! (TRAILER)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood April 26, 2013 at 3:23PM

If it weren't for a recent aspect ratio brouhaha, "Shane" probably would sneak into the TCM Classic Film Festival on Saturday at the Chinese without much fanfare. Which would've been a shame considering that Technicolor has digitally revived its naturalistic sheen in honor of the 60th anniversary and an upcoming Warner Home Video Blu-ray on June 4. I asked the director's filmmaker son, George Stevens Jr., to clear up the confusion: "There's no controversy about aspect ratio," he replied by email. "We made a 1:37 transfer, color corrected and cleaned up. I also supervised a 1:66 in which we took care with every shot for optimum framing."
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'Shane'
'Shane'
If it weren't for a recent aspect ratio brouhaha, "Shane" probably would sneak into the TCM Classic Film Festival on Saturday at the Chinese without much fanfare. Which would've been a shame considering that Technicolor has digitally revived its naturalistic sheen in honor of the 60th anniversary and an upcoming Warner Home Video Blu-ray on August 13.

But there's definitely more buzz now, thanks to Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells kicking up some dirt about a slightly cropped version of George Stevens' beloved Western superseding its original aspect ratio. Although "Shane" was shot in Technicolor in 1951 at 1.37, it premiered at Radio City Music Hall two years later at 1.66, ushering in the widescreen craze to combat the TV boom. Wells protested, but all's well that ends well. "Shane" will be presented at 1.37 except for 1.66 on cable.

I asked the director's filmmaker son, George Stevens Jr., to clear up the confusion: "There's no controversy about aspect ratio," he replied by email. "We made a 1.37 transfer, color corrected and cleaned up. I also supervised a 1.66 in which we took care with every shot for optimum framing. I want that for the cable stations who 'spread' 'Shane' or crop it top and bottom. I have TiVos of 'Shane' from Direct TV in which it's been manipulated to fit the 1.66 screen and it looks terrible. The 1.66 will be a great improvement in those instances. We were going to put both on the Blu-ray but compression allows for only one version. It will be the 1.37."

Coming after "A Place in the Sun," "Shane" was Stevens' first color movie and shot in three-strip Technicolor by cinematographer Loyal Griggs (who won the Oscar) in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with the heavenly Grand Tetons in the background. With its muted look and deep shadows, it continues a more somber post-World War II journey for Stevens. Alan Ladd plays the lonely gunfighter trying to escape his secret past yet drawn into the Jackson County land war notoriously revisited by Michael Cimino's more epic "Heaven's Gate." The noble yet melancholy "Shane" is like Galahad with a gun in its embrace of family and community. It's best known for its legendary barroom fight, Jack Palance's scene-stealing baddie, Brandon De Wilde's idol worship of the hero, and the explosive gunfire (achieved by shooting howitzers into trashcans). "Shane" has influenced everything from "Bonnie and Clyde" to "Unforgiven," and even Woody Allen has sung its praises and wrote a letter in support of Wells' aspect ratio crusade.

"I was with my father when he scouted locations in the area beneath the Tetons near Jackson Hole, Wyoming," Stevens Jr. continues. "I recall him driving in a jeep across the area, and walking and walking looking for the right spot. He chose a place under the Tetons to build the town with the one-sided street, with a hill in the distance for the graveyard where Torrey is buried. On another hill he asked the production designer [Hal Pereira] to plant three Aspens. That is the hill looking down toward the town -- the entryway past the trees where the homesteaders approach the town, and where Shane passes for the climactic showdown with Wilson. It is a geographical signature that keeps the audience oriented. 

This article is related to: Immersed In Movies


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.