I found a book published in 2004 on Google Books that is a compilation of interviews with the director of “Shane,” George Stevens. He believes that the importance of death illustrated through chaotic, nonsensical violence in Westerns is lost on the audience. When Shane, played by Alan Ladd, is in the bar for the big fist fight, I couldn’t believe that no one drew a fast and easy gun. Since Stevens wanted to convey that the gun was the last option for violence, Jack Palance’s one shot that kills the innocent farmer represents all the violence behind the greedy, bad guys. This single shot was much more powerful than some crazy gun battle.
Here is an excerpt from the interview with George Stevens and his ideas about how violence was thought of in the “Shane” script.
“In most Westerns, everybody shoots and nobody gets hurt. One thing we tried to do in “Shane” was reorient the audience to the horror of a pistol…There’s no shooting in ‘Shane’ except to define a gun shot, which for our purposes is a holocaust. It’s not a gesture of bravado, it’s death. When guns are used, they’re deadly. Our characters have an abhorrence of violence and a knowledge of the responsibility of taking a life that doesn’t exist in most Westerns.”
He goes on to say, “In ‘Shane,’ a right-hand punch hurts. It can knock a man down, and a bullet destroys.”
On writing the script, Steven says, “We carefully reappraised it and put forth what we considered to be the embodiment of the Western legend, which is incidentally much the same legend as British knighthood, in which a single horseman rides to do battle against tremendous odds.”
The craziness and senselessness of gun battle is also portrayed in “Unforgiven.” Every gun shot seemed to count in that movie, too.
Here is a link to the book online:http://books.google.com/books/about/George_Stevens.html?id=HQNi-4Mkxu8C