‘’You don’t know if he’s a devil or an angel, if he’s real, or not.’’ Those cryptic words from my cousin hooked me good. In the summer of 1954 I was a budding teenager, and as soon as I could, I picked up the 25 cent paperback at the drugstore and read it all the long drive from Illinois to California. Shane’s mythic presence embedded my early adolescence and beyond, and that beautiful fable became one of the seminal books in my life. The story seems primordial, tapping into deep emotions, and is so simply and masterfully written that it has become an indelible part of American literature and culture. I still have that original paperback with its gripping portrait on the cover of a rider in a tattered black suit. When I finally saw the George Stevens film, re-issued almost a decade later at a San Francisco ‘’arts cinema,’’ I was for a moment bothered that the filmmakers hadn’t adhered to the dark images of that cover painting, but the movie’s overwhelming impact quickly neutralized that concern. In fact, the film is the masterpiece of a director with a distinguished list of films that includes ‘’A Place in the Sun,’’ ‘’I Remember Mama’’ and ‘’The Diary of Anne Frank.’’
The poet, Carl Sandburg, perfectly captured the experience of watching ‘’Shane:''
‘’The whole thing seems to be happening at the bottom of a clear deep pool,’’ he remarked.
It’s a case where the movie version of a fine book turns out to be equally fine. Both, deservedly, have become classics.
You can’t pinpoint all the elements that make a classic. There’s an ineffable quality that eludes us, and the author himself, knowing he has entered the realm of legend and myth, sums it up in that last great, breathless, unpunctuated sentence - ‘’He was the man who rode into our little valley out of the heart of the great glowing West and when his work was done rode back whence he had come and he was Shane.’’