Inevitability (Shane, 1953)

Shane_posterA quiet stranger rides onto the land of Joe Starrett and his family.  After initially trying to rush him off (believing him to be trouble), the stranger backs him up with a local rancher tries to strong-arm the Starretts off their land. Only giving the name Shane, the stranger starts to work for Joe in exchange for a place to sleep.

Shane finds that the Starretts and several other families are struggling to hold onto their land. Local cattleman Ryker wants all the land for himself and with his employs muscle, is constantly pushing against them. Shane finds himself dealing with Stryker’s men, and after a fist fight, things escalate.

Alan Ladd’s performance is a classic of the western genre.  Shane is polite, but tough.  He is secretive, but still bonds with the Starrett family.  At one point, young Joey Starrett claims to love Shane almost as much as his own father.

Jack Palance, who would become famous for his villainous roles in the years to come, is almost like Shane’s dark mirror.  He does not talk a lot, he is highly skilled with a gun, making him an ominous threat.

Ryker, on the other hand is kind of an interesting bad guy.  He works hard to seem like the good guy in all the proceedings.  He offers Joe good money for his land and a job. He also is impressed by Shane’s fighting skills and offers him a job.  But when he cannot have his way, he resorts to threats, violence and murder.

While the film seems to be a good versus evil tale, there is an undercurrent of cynicism.  Shane is trying to flee from his past as a gunslinger…and we are left with a moral of “You cannot change.”  Shane tries to live a life outside of violence, but it follows him around.

Probably my only real problem with Shane is one that, truthfully, I have with all films of this era.  I feel like the music of films from the fifties is often not that distinctive.  And the music of Shane feels heavily generic…and at times even works against the mood of a given scene.

But, still, Shane has shaped one of the western genre’s most popular and iconic archetypal stories.  The mysterious stranger who helps the down trodden citizens oppressed by a powerful villain (usually a business man or corrupt lawman). It has earned it’s place as a true classic.

Last Laugh (Batman, 1989)

batman-poster1989 saw the release of the most controversial Batman casting until Batfleck.  Michael Keaton, known almost entirely for comedies such as Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously and Gung Ho was cast as Batman…oh the horror and oh the wailing.  A long tradition of freaking out over casting began right here.  People were a bit more open to Jack Nicholson playing the Joker.

As it turned out, Keaton was okay in the role.  His Batman was appropriately serious, while his take on Bruce Wayne was an interesting approach.  His Bruce Wayne seems to be constantly distracted.  After the 1960’s series, Batman’s comics had returned to a darker version of the character.  A dark soul, haunted by his parents’ deaths at the hands of a low level criminal.  People feared Keaton would make this more 60’s Batman, rather than the Dark Knight Returns.

With Tim Burton at the helm, the film was a dark and gothic affair filled with crime bosses and corrupt police officers.  And the fabled Batman haunting the city.  In a attempt to thwart a mob crime, Batman knocks aspiring Crime Boss Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals.  He emerges with a chalk white complexion and a new smile.  He goes off and takes over the Grissom (Carl Grissom, played by Jack Palance) criminal Empire.  This leads to an ongoing battle with Batman.

The film has a great cast, headlined by Keaton, Nicholson and Kim Basinger.  They are supported by a crew of character  actors and well known faces.  You have Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and the glue that held the franchise together?  Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s trusted butler and aide.

While the visuals are grand, the Joker’s motives seem supremely mundane.  He wants to be a mobster.  And woo Vicki Vale.  He may be cruel and ruthless, but so are lots of mob bosses in the movies.  Take away the grin and face-paint? He would not stand out.  Batman’s greatest weakness is not Keaton, but the fact that he cannot even turn his head.  The costumes look good in still shots, but seem goofy when Keaton is having to turn his whole body to look around.

In addition, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent feel more like set decorations than characters.  They are almost entirely inconsequential to the story.  They seem to be there because they have to…it is a Batman movie.  Gough is the bright spot in the film.  His Alfred is kind and wise.  He is not as involved in the day to day support of Batman, he is more there to support Bruce Wayne.

While 1989’s Batman is not terrible, it does not quite stand the test of time.  It is still enjoyable, but it does not live up to the character’s full potential.

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