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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

They Knew A Classic When They Saw It ...

Shane Sustains Among Western Greats

1959 Trade Ad for First Shane Reissue
Today's post ties in with a special presentation on Friday night, March 3, at the North Carolina Museum Of Art in Raleigh. They are running an archival IB Technicolor print of Shane in 35mm. Greenbriar will introduce the feature and talk about just-published The Art Of Selling Movies, available now from Amazon.

Shane was something like monumental from Day One. Paramount parked it among great ones, knew that reviews would agree, and henceforth stamped "Classic" on whatever revivals Shane later saw. George Stevens' western had the action, vistas, heartthrob --- all to serve widescreens installed too soon for standard-ratio show this was. If any western took the cake for 50's public affection, it was Shane. Others paled beside it, even The Searchers a comparative come-and-go. Rentals were robust, seven million domestic. High Noon had been big, but Shane was bigger. Both would be imitated by westerns more modest. By 1959 and a first reissue, Paramount laid cards on trade table to call Shane "The Greatest Western Of Them All," words ordinarily hyperbolic, but not where this attraction went. Six short years had made votes unanimous --- if Shane wasn't a greatest of outdoor sagas, what was?

Para put revived Shane in a '59 boxoffice season with Last Train From Gun Hill, but no one pretended Gun Hill could sit Shane's saddle. Bookers knew Shane for an evergreen that could come back for each renewed audience, like a Disney feature. Figures bore them out, Shane walloping other '59 reissues with a fresh million in domestic rentals (also-rans Stalag 17 and A Place In The Sun took $399K and $347K, respectively). Only Samson and Delilah, with $2.1 million in new money, did better. A mid-60's pact between Paramount and NBC for primetime movies on Saturday night was notable for not including Shane, it still regarded as viable for theatrical playoff on regular basis. Only DeMille specials shared such heft. 1966 was seven years later and further occasion to sell revival tickets. By this time, the venerable western was tabbed "Classic," and dared anyone to differ. Paramount would do it right with fresh pressbooks, paper, and new 35mm prints on IB Technicolor stock, visuals not at all diminished. Shane could safely play alone or on front end of a double-feature.

North Carolina got Shane in heavy dosage, all except my hometown. I had to make do with ads for venues surrounding. One was Greensboro's National Theatre, always visionary in terms of selling, and lauded at Greenbriar before. The National's management often went quirky ways --- for instance, there's reference in their ad above to the gun duel between Shane and "evil Stick Wilson." Where else, including the film itself, was Jack Palance's character referred to as "Stick"? And yet it fits, which might be reason I haven't forgotten that name since clipping the ad from a Greensboro newspaper in 1966. Note the National's invitation for patrons to attend in "authentic western costumes" --- and "bring your guns." Is it necessary for me to add !!! in parenthesis here? Let's just say this was among last occasion when customers were invited to carry firearms, even play-toy ones, into a crowded theatre. Imagine flap today if anyone ran promotion like this. I came across a number of ads, by the way, with Night Of The Grizzly in '66 support of Shane. A right-thinking combo? It's one I could certainly have enjoyed, then or now. Shane took $838K for 1966 dates. Only other reissue to surpass it was DeMille again with a fantastic $8.8 million for The Ten Commandments, which outclassed every other Paramount release that year, old or new. Maybe the company figured Shane to be finally played out in theatres, because within a year, it would be sold with other Paramount titles to ABC for network broadcast.

ABC-TV, PAR WARNED ON 'SHANE,' said Variety's 2-14-68 headline. Shane was scheduled for network TV premiere on February 18, 1968, and director George Stevens was putting both web and distributor on notice that he'd sue (again) if Shane was altered in any way from its theatrical form. Cutting would be "at their peril," but trims were a likelihood, added the trade, because Shane was set for 9:00-11:15 airtime, two hours and fifteen minutes to contain a 118 minute feature. Shane was at the least a tight fit with "16 blurbs (commercials) on the ad sked," that plus station breaks, in and out-tros, all of which were par for primetime commercial viewing course. Stevens had appealed an earlier court decision involving A Place In The Sun, another of his that took network abuse (in that case, NBC's). The director was passionate on this issue; he'd even testify to being "less employable today" thanks to "blurb breaks" in earlier films being telecast, and fact the industry no longer paid big dollars for his services and types of pics he made (GS referred specifically to the million he got for directing The Greatest Story Ever Told). NBC stood firm, said their contract with Paramount included assent to cut any film where necessary, Stevens' vaunted works no exception. So far as ABC figured it, they'd have as much editorial right with Shane.

The 2-18-68 broadcast was sad for some, exhibitors disappointed to see a wickets reliable tossed to the tube, and no, the grandeur of Grand Teton locations would not look so grand on 20" home sets, even color ones. Sale to TV meant Shane was done and out in theatres. As if to eulogize, Variety columnist Jack Hellman spoke praise to the oldie and recommended all of an industry tune in and "learn how to make the next one better," referring, of course, to downturn in feature quality since days of  "real classic" Shane. Interim meanwhile gave us a TV series based on Shane, "which conked out after 17 segments and hasn't been heard from since in the off-network markets" (Variety, 12-20-67). Did series Shane leave odor that clung to its feature forebear? You might think so for modest ratings ABC had when Shane premiered. Variety season summary for movies on TV (9-11-68) saw Shane ranked #55 in overall feature viewing, behind things like Palm Springs Weekend, The Brass Bottle, and a number of NBC's Made-For-TV flicks. Syndication was announced in March 1968, Shane offered up with 26 other Para titles, including Sunset Boulevard, Hud, and Papa's Delicate Condition. If George Stevens was alarmed over what ABC might do to his masterpiece, perhaps it is as well he didn't monitor local stations and ravage they'd inflict. A 16mm TV print I got in 1975, albeit on IB Technicolor stock, had some of roughest wear imaginable, more cue marks (for commercial breaks), footage taken out, then replaced, dissolves snipped --- a real junk heap. Such was film collecting, so thanks all the more for Blu-Ray we have now, and at fraction of cost (see HERE for two-part Greenbriar going-over of first-run Shane in "Widescreen")


Blogger Michael said...

Shane the TV series might not have been heard from again back then, but...

10:43 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Decades ago, a Cailfornia-based magazine had a long, affable interview with Elisha Cook Jr. All I remember about the timing is that Cook mentioned "Carny", which hadn't been released yet (he had a good feeling about the film).

For Shane, Cook remembered Stevens riding him mercilessly in the days prior to the death scene, evidently to get him properly terrified. He also said that Stevens knew all kinds of tricks and stunts from shooting Laurel and Hardy comedies, and that's where the blown-off-his-feet effect (done with a wire) came from.

10:54 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

About a CO-INCIDENTAL EVENT which happened to ME, also, in 1975!! After finding this treasure I couldn't wait on the trade, so it was major anxiety attack for the 2 weeks-wait in the mail! (Was it ''AIR MAIL'' back then?) In the p.m. on the day it was suppose to arrive, I raced down to the post office and arrogantly insisted that they double-check the packages received and the tall tree of nerves felled at last; for now,finally... in my hands and fingers... I proudly held up a section of the 16MM print that was going to , (pardon the corn)"reel along" with me for awhile; another exciting treasure for preservation -holding... the ONLY PRINT the boy had EVER seen or heard of: an IB TECHNICOLOR first-strike 1956 "MOBY DICK" !!! and it was ALMOST EXACTLY in the SAME, and John, I mean THE SAME... SORRY PRINT CONDITION as you described YOUR IB TECH print in the above write: your amazing insight on George Steven's "SHANE". SLIGHTLY SADLY HILARIOUS, WHAT? 'O-YE OLDER REELERS OF FILMDOM'. GREAT MEMORIES THERE! Thanks!

5:48 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Actually, LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL is by far a better movie than SHANE. Both Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur are miscasts or they were given the wrong costumes and makeup. I have seen it several times and the only time I actually enjoyed this film was the very first time. That first impression was probably why the film got prominently reissued up until it went to television.

There are many films that don't resist the passage of time and SHANE is one of them to the point that other Alan Ladd films, including westerns, are by far better and more memorable. This particular film, is way to cold to be enjoyed more than once.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Not a fan of westerns in general (have sat through The Searchers multiple times, enjoying it well enough, but scratching my head as to what makes it better than any other Ford/Wayne, or any other "A" western for that matter), Shane presented nobody for whom I could cheer. Paraphrasing like mad here, but I recall at some point Heflin's character saying something along the line of, "I slaughtered innocent Indians to build this farm, and no (rancher? railroad? can't even remember who the "enemy" was 'cause I didn't care) is gonna take it away from me!"

Even at 9 years old, I could only root for the "Injuns." If you're unable to pull for Heflin/Arthur/Ladd, there's really not much here aside from pretty scenery.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

from mikecline'

The history of SHANE where I live...

At the end of this landmark feature by George Stevens, young Joey Starrett (played by youngster Brandon De Wilde) runs through the western frontier yelling at his new friend, "Shane, come back!"

The Paramount Pictures western, made on a then-huge three million dollar budget, would go on to gross a then-fortune, largely because SHANE did come back...many times.

SHANE initially played Rowan County in September, 1953, and per little Joey's request, came back seventeen times. Amazing.

September 1 - 5, 1953 - CAPITOL THEATRE
November 18 - 20, 1953 - ROCKWELL THEATRE
December 25 - 29, 1953 - 601 DRIVE-IN THEATRE
February 21 - 22, 1954 - VICTORY THEATRE
April 20, 1954 - VICTORY THEATRE
April 28 - 29, 1954 - 601 DRIVE-IN THEATRE
September 5 - 7, 1954 - HITCHING POST DRIVE-IN THEATRE
July 17 - 21, 1959 - CAPITOL THEATRE
February 12 - 13, 1960 - 601 DRIVE-IN THEATRE
July 16, 1960 - 601 DRIVE-IN THEATRE
February 2 - 3, 1962 - 601 DRIVE-IN THEATRE
March 31 - April 5, 1966 - CAPITOL THEATRE
August 14 - 16, 1966 - SALISBURY DRIVE-IN THEATRE
September 16- 17, 1966 - 601 DRIVE-IN THEATRE
August 18 - 19, 1967 - 601 DRIVE-IN THEATRE

12:07 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Sorry for the naysayers here, but it's opinion in the end (and yours is wrong!).

There is little violence in SHANE, and when it occurs it is meaningful. Wilson's single fatal gunshot was deliberately extra loud to shock theatergoers in its time. Fifteen years later, Warren Beatty wanted the same effect and result for BONNIE AND CLYDE. One less than impressed projectionist opined that B&C's blast was too loud and he had to tone it down. "The only other time I had a problem like that," he said, "was that darned SHANE."

5:06 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

It is is always opinion, and those who celebrate SHANE are wrong. George Stevens was always an overrated filmmaker whose best films are those he made before the fifties. I prefer AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY to his remake, for instance.

SHANE could have worked better with different leads.

Stevens films have always been available, for the most part, but except for home video viewing there are not many cineclub presentations. Not even Fernando Martín Peña has devoted a week to him in his show (which is going to be back on the air and streaming probably in about a month from now) after so many years.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I read the book before I saw the movie, as I did with TRUE GRIT, and didn't think the movie matched the book in enjoyment. I have to say that SHANE the movie was different from most 1950's movie westerns as it attempted to costume people with clothes that really looked like late 19th century clothing styles, instead of people dressed in 1950's rural clothes with men wearing a ringed scarf around their neck. The glaring exception to this in SHANE is Jean Arthur wearing a do that was never worn in the 19th century.

Most kids my age had seen SHANE the movie on TV for when Brandon De Wilde was killed just a few miles from my house, it was a subject of much discussion on the school bus.

The silent comedy incubus is apparent here as George Stevens started with Laurel and Hardy and Jean Arthur started with Monty Banks.

I find it interesting that stills from Shane with Van Heflin and Allan Ladd show Hefln standing in some hole to give Ladd elevation.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

For my money HELL'S HINGES with William S. Hart can't be topped. It anticipates everything including Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. I created a score for it using the music from those. Really lifted the picture out of film buff alley. Good thing I read this post twice as I missed the plug for your latest book which I just now ordered. Keen to look it over.

11:02 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Well, Jean Arthur was working with the likes of Pete Morrison, Wally Wales, Buffalo Bill Jr. and Buddy Roosevelt before she ever worked with Monty Banks, so I don't think doing SHANE would have been that much of a challenge (especially since she had also done THE PLAINSMAN (1936) and ARIZONA (1940) before it). George Stevens unfortunately lost most of his sense of humor after he came back from WW2, and his films post-war all bog down in their ponderous seriousness for me. I admit to never being all that fascinated with SHANE, it's an average western that Stevens sets out to make a classic and never reaches beyond average as far as I'm concerned. Ford, Walsh, and Wellman all did them a lot better.


11:53 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Just got "The Art of Selling Movies" by one John McElwee, which I ordered on the strength of Leonard Maltin's rave review. First quick browse ended up consuming about two hours. Consisting of newspaper advertising produced by front-line exhibitors, it's an essential companion volume to "Showmen Sell It Hot".

Besides a lot of appealing art, there are revealing oddities (including some hilariously misleading ads, such as pictures of pretty, happy girls instead of soldiers for "All Quiet on the Western Front"). I have some volumes of studio posters and lobby cards, many of which are fun to look at but don't have the nervous energy of these local print ads trying to close the deal.

The book ends with the 60s. My memories as a kid in those years was of nearly all newspaper ads being the same exact official art, customization limited to a typeset or felt-penned "BIG CO-HIT". So whatever the virtues of pressbooks and studio-controlled ad campaigns, it's the logical stopping point for this salute to showman creativity.

3:33 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

The comments here reflect a fairly predictable mixed reaction whenever the subject of SHANE is brought up (and probably HIGH NOON.) Don't know whether it began when the damn marketing guy called it 'the Greatest Western of All Time' or maybe the first airing on tiny, fuzzy TV sets of yore, but the backlashing against this particular movie has been pretty constant for years. Folks who love Westerns jump on it for being inflated and self-important and not nearly as fun as the zillion other cowboy movies they grew up with. People who hate Westerns slam it as the number one example of an over-romanticized genre that distorts American history. Film historians are offended at singling out this one, rather than films from people who made Westerns regularly (William K. Everson was a particular non-fan, I believe.) Ladd was too short, Arthur too old, Stevens too solemn and so forth.

Don't want to sound too judgey here myself since, God knows, there are plenty acclaimed classics that I think wore out their welcome decades ago. But in this case it always seemed to me criticism is much more about what was around and/or about the movie, not what is actually on the screen. Yes, there are many other good Westerns, but that's no knock on this one. Westerns in general do mythologize some pretty brutal stuff but this story, at least, is anchored on some historical reality. There are no Native Americans in SHANE, and with all due respect I think the speech Neely OHara sort of remembers is a tirade the self righteous bad guy Ryker delivers, bragging about killing Indians who tried to steal his steers. Heflin as the homesteader actually counters that there were plenty of people on the range before the cattle drivers showed up and there was still room for more. Ladd may have been vertically challenged in real life, but he looks just fine in the movie, almost credible kicking the crap out of Ben Johnson. Arthur was well into her fifties, much older than Ladd, Heflin and Palance and even older than Edgar Buchanan and Emile Meyers. But, again, she looks perfect in the movie, careworn but cute, curly do and all! As to Stevens, well it's true post war films are a pretty straight faced lot compared with his lighthearted early efforts. But taken on its own terms, I'd rank SHANE as his all time best, challenged only by SWING TIME.

As you might guess, I love this film... one of my all time favorites. On a technical level, I think it's outstanding, damn near perfect. Always have a hard time understanding claims that it's run of the mill. Run of WHAT mill? Love how we toggle from the idealized (those prolonged Hollywood-ish fist fights) to abrupt reality (violent gunfights that last mere seconds.) Love the emotional heft of the thing. Seen it many times, always get misty at the end, right up to the final notes of Victor Young's gorgeous score under the Paramount logo!

10:08 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

I'm shocked that there are film lovers who don't like Shane!! I've always considered it to be a perfect film. I never get tired of it.

2:52 PM  

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