May 29, 2002 at 12:00 am

“Shane, come back, Shane!”

Well, he has come back, and will be showing at the Redford Theatre this Friday and Saturday just in case you want to see one of the best westerns ever made. Shane is a fine-featured, fair-haired stranger who sleeps on his saddle and only speaks (and shoots) when necessary. He’s a free spirit who rides into a tightly wound Wyoming territory on the verge of emotional eruption in the struggle between homesteaders and cattle ranchers claiming the same rights to land.

Made in 1953, and starring Jean Arthur (Marian Starrett), Van Heflin (Joe Starrett) and Alan Ladd as Shane, this isn’t just a western; it’s a masterwork in which every little detail seems to contribute to the intensity in the air. After an initial misunderstanding, Shane and homesteader Starrett bond over chopping down a troublesome stump in the yard without using horses to help. As Starrett puts it, “Sometimes there ain’t nothin’ that’ll do but your own sweat and muscle.”

Wife and son (Brandon de Wilde) immediately fall in love with Shane because he’s a reflection of the man they love in an alternative reality, imbibing the same sense of right and wrong as Starrett. But instead of committing to a wife, family and piece of land, this man’s only tied to a horse, a gun and a sense of self-respect gained by doing what has to be done, which gives him the freedom to do it.

Director George Stevens is no stranger to filming American treasures. This man is responsible for The Diary of Anne Frank, The Greatest Story Ever Told and Giant, among others. As in his nonpareil A Place in the Sun, Stevens utilizes unusual, thematically composed camera shots in Shane. He often shoots through windows as an additional framing device and to create more distance and tension — of both the “who’s top dog” and the sexual variety. Stevens uses meticulous and aesthetically exquisite compositions, such as close-ups of our hero with cattle-ranching thugs heckling in the distance or hired gun Wilson’s (Jack Palance) wicked smirk through a busted, still-swinging saloon door. When combined with delicious rich colors of golden-skinned people before true-blue mountain ranges, it makes the film as artistically timeless as a Remington painting. This is the difficult West, with lots of dust and mud, where things don’t happen too quickly because it takes time getting from one place to another. But on the way keep in mind, “A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.”

Don’t forget to get there a half-hour early for the organ overture.

Showing exclusively at the Redford Theatre (Lahser at Grand River, Detroit), Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. (organ overture at 7:30 p.m.), Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. (organ overture at 1:30 p.m.). Call 313-537-2560.

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].