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SHANE – Victor Young


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Director George Stevens of Paramount often relied on his son to screen material for future projects. One night George Jr. brought him the novel “Shane” by Jack Schaefer, which he thought was “a really good story”, and counseled him to read it. Well, the storytelling was indeed exceptional and Stevens resolved to bring it to the big screen. He hired A. B. Guthrie Jr. to write the screenplay based on his familiarity with Western lore, and then set out to recruit his cast. His initial choices for the lead roles of Montgomery Clift, William Holden and Katherine Hepburn did not pan out, and so Alan Ladd was cast in the titular role and joined with a fine supporting cast, which included Jean Arthur as Marian Starrett, Van Heflin as Joe Starrett, Brandon deWilde as Joey Starrett, Emile Meyer as Rufus Ryker, and Jack Palance as Jack Wilson.

The story is set in the Wyoming Territory circa 1889 and offers a classic morality play, which explores the all too familiar narrative that wealth and power make Right. The Starrett family is one of many who have secured 160 acres of land under the Homestead Act of 1862, and come to the verdant and pristine Wyoming valleys to forge a new life. The act was intended to elicit with free land grants, settlement of the under populated West. But this also served to upset the established order that existed under the cattle baron’s who needed the valleys to support the grazing of their herds. A patchwork of farms and fencing would effectively kill their industry. As such Baron Rufus Ryker unleashed a reign of terror and intimidation to compel the homesteaders to either leave, or sell their land rights. His dark knight is Jack Wilson, a truly lethal gunslinger assassin, who kills settlers that do not agree to sell their land to Fetcher. By chance one day a mysterious gunslinger called Shane comes to the valley and bonds with the Starrett family. He eventually assumes the mantle of their champion, which forces a confrontation with Wilson. In a classic shootout for the ages Shane kills Wilson and two bushwhacker backups. Then as mysteriously as he arrived, a clearly wounded Shane departs, despite the pleading cries to stay by little Joey Starrett who idolizes him. The film was a huge commercial success earning seven times its production costs. It was also a critical success, earning six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and two for Best Supporting Actor. It won however only one, for Best Cinematography, no doubt due to Loyal Griggs glorious and transcendent sweeping blue-sky vistas of the Wyoming Grand Teton mountain range. The American Film Institute lists the film as #45 on their 100 greatest Movies list, and also #3 in the Top Ten Western films of all time – high honors indeed.

Victor Young was Paramount’s premier composer and so was a natural choice to take up the project. Upon viewing the film he realized that his music would be tasked to support the grandeur of Loyal Griggs sweeping cinematography of the blue-sky vistas of Wyoming’s Grand Teton mountain range. Young was blessed with a gift for melody and provided a multiplicity of fine themes. Foremost was his iconic Main Theme, “The Call of the Faraway Hills”, which is one for the ages. This long-lined major modal melody fully captured Shane’s quiet nobility and the film’s emotional core. Although Marian and Joe were happily married, we see benign flirtatiousness between Shane and Marian. Young chose to speak to this interpersonal dynamic by interpolating a traditional Polish dance, the Varsovienne. Similar to a waltz with a ¾ meter, it emotes with a graceful gentility. Next we have Joey’s Theme, for the young boy who idolizes Shane. A trio of celeste, oboe and piccolo speak to both his childlike innocence and sense of wonder for his hero. For our assassin we have Wilson’s Theme, which emotes atop French horns minacciose, joined in sinister synergy by kindred low register horns, strings and timpani. Lastly, for our villain we have Rufus’ Theme, a chromatic descending line, which is simple in construct, reflecting his implacable evil. The source song “Dixie” served as a leitmotif for Torrey, a hot-tempered, Alabaman full of southern pride. Lastly, Young chose to infuse his soundscape with traditional songs such as “America,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.” Worth noting is that the film was released with a conventional monaural optical soundtrack. However after it achieved popular success, the studio elected to remix the soundtrack with three track stereophonic sound.

This “Main Title” version presented on the album offers a prelude, Young’s original conception. It provides a wondrous score highlight where we are graced us with a full rendering of his now timeless main theme – The Call of the Faraway Hills, and the Varsovienne Theme. In the film the cue is truncated at 1:14, omitting the Varsovienne Theme. We open with bold fanfare, which supports the display of the Paramount studio logo. We see Shane on horseback descending from the mountain heights to the verdant valley below. The panorama of the Grand Teton mountain range as he descends, carried by the Main Theme achieves a sublime confluence of score and film imagery. In “Starrett’s Plans” Shane visits the Starrett’s and meets the family. Young supports the introduction with a score highlight, a beautiful extended rendering of the gentile Varsovienne Theme, which is later joined with a warm rendering of Shane’s Theme. As Shane prepares to depart the cattle baron Rufus Ryker and his bodyguards arrive at the Starrett homestead. His menacing theme, which is omitted from the cue, carries his progress. He threatens Joe, declaring that they are on his land and must vacate by snowfall. When Shane enters the scene, Ryker is taken aback and accedes to Joe’s demand to leave, trampling their garden in the process.

For the third cue, “The Tree Stump,” we have a third score highlight! Shane has accepted Joe’s invitation to hire on and they join together to uproot a defiant and massive tree stump so they can extend their garden. Young channels 18th century European classicism to pen a vibrant piece, an ode to determination, which culminates with a joyous flourish! In “Pastoral” it is morning and Joey awakes to discover a deer eating their crops. He grabs h is gun and stalks the beast, but is bitter in that he lacks bullets to shoot it. He despondently enters the barn where Shane greets him, and asks if he would teach him to shoot. We see a bond growing between the two and Young supports the scene with interplay of Joey’s playful theme on celeste and a warmer, more intimate rendering of Shane’s Theme on mandolin and accordion. “Off To Town” reveals Shane departing to town in a wagon to purchase some supplies. Bright major modal horn fare declarations of his theme support his departure. At 0:22 we segue into “Grafton’s Store” where we see Shane purchasing supplies. Young juxtaposes a warm and inviting ambiance for the store, which is countered by menacing declarations of Ryker’s Theme as we see his men drinking in the saloon. When he buys a soda for Joey, Calloway, one of Ryker’s men tosses whiskey at him and tries to start a fight. Shane, who is unarmed, takes his leave, but in so doing loses respect from the town’s folk.

In “Beautiful Dreamer / Marching Through Georgia” we see that the valley’s homesteaders have come to meet at Joe’s ranch. They resolve to join together in common cause to defend their land from Ryker’s threats and intimidation. Word is out that Shane is a coward, and he leaves the meeting when the story surfaces. Familiar source music creates a folksy ambiance to support the scene. In “Wyoming Sketches” we come to yet another score highlight, which offers inspired thematic interplay. The homesteaders assemble at the Starrett ranch and ride into town to recruit the support of Fred Lewis. The Main Theme carries the moment graced by a statement of the Varsovienne Theme, which joins as Marian enters the wagon. Set against the magnificence of the snow capped Grand Tetons, the Main Theme swells and soars, for its proudest articulation, filling the full breath of every scene as we see them journey to town. The marriage of scene and music just does not get any better than this! “End Of Fight – Victory And Trouble” reveals Calloway again picking a fight with Shane, who this time does not back down. He prevails until Ryker orders his men to join in. There is no music during the fight, but when Joe comes to his aid the Main Theme sounds proudly and carries them as they gain the upper hand. The owner finally stops the fight and Shane and Joe depart victorious atop Ryker’s Theme, which swells to a crescendo of hate. In the aftermath, Ryker’s menacing Theme supports his order to hire a gunslinger and now resolve future fights with guns.

We now come to a complex, tertiary, multi-scenic cue. In “Tender Moments” Marian has dressed the wounds of Joe and Shane. She is troubled by Joey’s admission of love for Shane and seeks refuge in Joe’s arm to deal with her conflicted feelings. Young speaks to the intersection of these powerful emotions with interplay of a warmly rendered Shane’s Theme and the Varsovienne Theme. At 1:48 we segue darkly in a scene change into “Wilson” where we see Ryker’s hired assassin riding into town. His introduction and progress is carried by his malevolent theme, which is emoted atop French horns minacciose, joined in sinister synergy by kindred low register horns, strings and timpani. This is a masterful introduction. At 3:01 we segue into “Ride And Memories”, which offers a string lament. We see a defeated Ernie Wright packing up to depart after again being terrorized by Ryker’s men. At 3:46 neighbor Stonewall Torrey tries to dissuade him but is stopped cold by a cattle stampede, which tramples and destroys the last of Wright’s crops. Horrific tremolo strings and horns bellicose frightfully empower the stampede scene. At 4:45 we shift scenes to Shane repairing Joe’s barbed wire fence. As Ryker’s men watch in the distance, Ryker’s Theme sustains their ever-present menace. As Shane and Joey return home his theme, warmly rendered on mandolin carry their progress. We conclude with the Varsovienne Theme as Marian selects her wedding dress for the 4th of July celebrations in town.

“The Fourth Of July” reveals everyone enjoying a festive celebration of the 4th of July in town, replete with a gun shots and rodeo. Young channels Sousa by supporting the good times with a classic celebratory march. Menacing strains of Ryker’s Theme entwine with the march as we see him, Wilson and his men eating in the saloon. At 1:39 “Dixie” carries Torrey’s entry into the saloon where he taunts Ryker and his men for driving Wright off his land. At 2:05 we segue into “A Tough Torrey” where we see him depart. Menacing strains of Ryker’s Theme support his departure and portend his doom. In “Trouble Ahead” Ryker and Wilson ride to the Starrett ranch and try once again to buy him off. Joe refuses and the two villain’s ride off. Young supports the scene with a synergy of evil born of Ryker’s and Wilson’s themes. A brief intrusion of Joey’ s Theme, who is watching, is squashed by the might of the villain’s themes. Young also offers nuance with a foreboding statements of “Dixie”, an allusion to the tragedy of next scene. At 4:23 we segue into “Torrey’s Death” and a scene change as we see Torrey and Swede riding into town. Ryker and Wilson seek to provoke the hot-tempered Alabaman by insulting his southern pride. In an exercise of terror, Young entwines “Dixie”, Wilson’s now stalking theme and Ryker’s Theme as Torrey walks to his doom. He is provoked into drawing his gun and shot dead. At 7:14 we segue into “Taking Torrey Home” atop a tragic, funereal rending of “Dixie”, which plays as Swede drags his lifeless body through the mud.

“Cemetery Hill” is a powerful cue where the score reaches its emotional apogee. The settlers gather for Torrey’s burial on Cemetery Hill and Young supports their grief with a very moving mournful elegy by solo English horn, joined by sad statements of “Dixie”. As Lewis and his family prepare to leave the valley, Joe and Shane rise up and offer stirring speeches, exhorting their fellow settlers to stay the course and defend their way of life. Slowly, yet inexorably the music swells, joined with patriotic statements of “Dixie” and “America” as Joe and Shane succeed in keeping the families united. At 2:40 in a scene change to town, unsettling strings usher in dark statements of Ryker’s Theme as we see him and his men angered by the settler’s resolve. At 3:06 we see Lewis’s home burning in the distance. The families rush to try and save the house propelled by an inspired and rousing Main Theme, which crescendos gloriously! We conclude with a warm restatement of the Main Theme, “Dixie” and Ryker’s Theme – an allusion that Torrey’s death will be avenged. Once again, Young’s score empowers the scene and the film’s narrative. “Peace Party” is a tension cue, which sows danger, uncertainty and mistrust. Ryker sends his men to Starrett with a peace offer, saying he is a reasonable man who wishes to negotiate. In reality this is a setup to bring Starrett to Wilson for the slaughter, which would break the back of the settler’s resistance. We open warmly with a brief statement of the Main Theme, but darkness abounds as grim and aggressive statements of Ryker’s Theme inform us of his duplicity.

In “Sad Is The Parting” we are filled with sentimentality. Joe gets his revolver and resolves to kill Ryker and Wilson despite the futility and Marian’s pleading for him not to go. Shane will have none of it and so the two men fight, with Shane knocking Joe out with his pistol. A stunned Joey cries out to Shane that he hates him. Young offers a proud statement of Shane’s Theme to announce his victory in the fight. As a thankful Marian and he say their goodbyes their two themes entwine one last time as she realizes that she will never see him again. The expression of Varsovienne on solo violin is exquisite. We conclude on Shane’s Theme as Joey cries out that he is sorry. What a spot on joining of score and film narrative. There are two versions of “The Ride To Town” on the album. Cue 14 is not the film version, but instead Young’s original conception. This is an escalating tension cue where we shift to and fro from Shane riding forth to his destiny as Joey chases after him, and Ryker and his men waiting in town. Young joins a horn propelled Shane’s Theme, shrill statements of Ryker’s Theme, “Dixie” and a dark pounding ostinato to carry his progress. The cue closes grimly atop pulsatile bass statements. Cue 17 offers the film version of the cue where music from Franz Waxman’s Rope of Sand (1949) is interpolated into the music, joining with Young’s Main Theme and Ryker’s Theme. The film version offers a more kinetic approach to supporting the scene, which I believe works better.

There are two versions of “Apotheosis And End Title” on the album. Cue 15 is not the film version, but instead Young’s original conception. Shane enters the saloon and confronts Ryker. In a shootout for the ages, he out draws Wilson and kills him, and then takes out Ryker. A cry out from Joey alerts him of Ryker’s brother upstairs, and Shane takes him out also, although he suffers a flesh wound. Young scores the aftermath, which involves a long, heartfelt and tearful goodbye between Shane, and Joey who idolizes him. Dark horn statements powerfully express the aftermath of the carnage and usher in a sad rendering of Shane’s Theme with a folksy accordion accent. Slowly, yet inexorably Shane’s Theme brightens and carries his departure as a heartbroken Joey cries out to him. The film concludes with a last heartfelt restatement of Shane’s Theme. For the film version, cue 18, we have a reprise of the solo English horn elegy from cue 11, which is joined by a sad rendering of Shane’s Theme, and Varsovienne Theme. The music is poignant and carries the parting well as we see regret in Shane’s eyes, and loving admiration in Joey’s. We conclude with a final statement of Shane’s Theme, which ends with a wondrous flourish!

I wish to thank Lukas Kendall, MV Gerhard, Matt Verboys, Neil S. Bulk and Chris Malone for the amazing restoration of Victor Young’s iconic Western score Shane. The audio restoration provided by Chris Malone and digital mastering provided by Doug Schwartz was excellent with only one cue, cue 12 demonstrating some audio distortion. Young captured the film’s emotional core with his “Call of the Faraway Hills” theme, which also served as Shane’s identity. The cinematography of this film fully displayed the stunning natural beauty of the Grand Teton Mountain range and Young’s main theme fully matched its grandeur, achieving a magnificent confluence. His use of a traditional Polish dance the Varsovienne to provide a feminine juxtaposition to Shane’s masculine identity was spot on, as was the malicious and malignant synergy born of our villain themes for Ryker and Wilson. The splendid Baroque underpinning of the tree stump scene revealed Young’s creativity and compositional gifts. This is one of the finest scores in Young’s canon and in the Western genre. I consider it an essential classic of the Golden Age and highly recommend it for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a Youtube link to a wonderful 10 minute suite with Richard Kaufman conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iV84LgxBq0A

Buy the Shane soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (Prelude) (2:08)
  • Starrett’s Plans (2:28)
  • The Tree Stump (2:00)
  • Pastoral (2:43)
  • Off to Town/Grafton’s Store (1:38)
  • Wyoming Sketches (2:46)
  • End of Fight/Victory and Trouble (1:42)
  • Tender Moments/Wilson/Ride and Memories (6:10)
  • The Fourth of July/A Tough Torrey (2:17)
  • Trouble Ahead/Torrey’s Death/Taking Torrey Home (8:22)
  • Cemetery Hill (5:09)
  • Peace Party (3:18)
  • Sad is the Parting (3:06)
  • Ride to Town (6:28)
  • Apotheosis and End Title (4:18)
  • Beautiful Dreamer/Marching Through Georgia (Source Music) (2:03) – BONUS
  • Ride to Town (Film Version, music and effects) (Waxman-Young) (4:17) – BONUS
  • Apotheosis and End Title (Film Version, music and effects) (4:15) – BONUS

Running Time: 66 minutes 08 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1224 (1953/2012)

Music composed and conducted by Victor Young. Orchestrations by Sidney Cutner, George Parrish, Leo Shuken and Leonid Raab. Edited by John C. Hammell. Score produced by Victor Young. Album produced by Lukas Kendall, MV Gerhard, Matt Verboys, Neil S. Bulk and Chris Malone.

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