Director: George Stevens
Screenwriter: A.B. Guthrie Jr. and Jack Sher
Ambiguous endings were commonplace in the New Hollywood films of the 1970s. But in the Golden Age of Hollywood—when George Stevens directed Shane—a happy ending was all but guaranteed. Here? Yeah, not so much.
A mysterious gunslinger named Shane (Alan Ladd) rides into a small town in Wyoming just in time to help homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) save his land—and family—from a ruthless rancher (Emile Meyer) and his band of cronies, including hired hitman Jack Wilson (Jack Palance). The gunfight is aplenty in this legendary western, but is tempered by Shane's tender feelings toward Joe's wife Marian (Jean Arthur, in her final film role) and young son Joey (Brandon De Wilde).
When the rancher arranges to have the elder Starrett executed, Shane arrives in his place and takes all the baddies down. Outside, young Joey is waiting, but Shane knows that it's time to move on. Bleeding but not defeated, Shane assures the young boy that the town is now safe and bids him farewell. But Joey's not above a little whining, shouting "Come back!" as Shane makes his way into the mountains, the extent of his injuries unknown. —JW