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T H O M A S W. F O R D University ofHouston A. B. Guthrie’sAdditions toShane Although A. B. Guthrie has received recognition for his screenplay of the movie, Shane, I do not think that the magnitude of his specific contributions to the success of the film has been sufficiently stressed and put into proper focus. As he explains in his autobiography, The Blue Hen’s Chick (McGraw-Hill, 1965), when he went to Hollywood in 1951 to write the screenplay, he had never even seen one on paper, much less written one. Guthrie was contacted because director George Stevens had asked Howard Hawks, who had just obtained the screen rights to Guthrie’s The Big Sky, if he knew someone who could write effective western dialogue, and Hawks recommended Guthrie. That Stevens made the right choice is clear from the commercial and critical success that this now classic Western has received. Just how much of a motion picture’s success can be attributed to the screenplay is, of course, a matter for debate. Clearly a film is a collaborative effort, and scenes may undergo changes from the original script at the discretion of the direc­ tor. However that may be, there can be little question as to the impor­ tance of the screenwriter’s contribution to this collaborative undertak­ ing. And the fact is, I believe, that Guthrie and Stevens saw eye to eye on most things, and that Stevens’ interpretation of the script was close to Guthrie’s intention. In a letter to me datedJuly 1, 1988, Guthrie wrote: I consulted three or four times with Stevens. We found ourselves in great harmony. Nearly always he agreed with my suggestions, and, though I don’t remember any, I agreed with his. Stevens had a sort of assistant in the person of Ivan Moffat who more or less outlined Stevens’ideas, but I found nothing burdensome, or vexing or out of line with my own thinking in what he relayed. Guthrie, not surprisingly, was highly pleased with the film, which was nominated for five Academy awards, his own screenplay being one. (As 300 WesternAmerican Literature it turned out, Loyal Griggs’ cinematography was the only one of the nominations actually to receive an award.) Guthrie thought the film was, ifnot the best, then among the best, of all the Westerns that he had seen, and his opinion was supported by most of the reviews it received. He graciously added: “I speak with modesty, for it was the genius of Stevens that made the film what it was. Under a grade-B director it would have been a grade-B picture” {The BlueHen’s Chick, 219). I agree with Guthrie’s opinion of Stevens, but I also believe that much of the film’s success was a direct result of specific additions made by Guthrie that were not inJack Schaefer’s novel. In Shane: The CriticalEdition (University of Nebraska Press, 1984), Guthrie wrote: “Shane was short for a screenplay and hence called for additions. I made them carefully, mindful of the merits of the book, fearful that I might do violence to it. I hope nothing I did has bothered Schaefer” (358). What makes his additions especially noteworthy is that by and large the film faithfully follows the events in Schaefer’s novel and, I think, captures the overall intention and spirit of the novel. Yet, curiously and significantly, it is the scenes added by Guthrie that are, to many viewers, the most memorable. Robert Mayer, discussing Jack Schaefer and Shane in Gentleman’s Quarterly, April 1985, tellingly and effectively supports this view: Ifyou want... to stump triviafans, ask them to recite a line from the book. “Shane! Come back, Shane!” they’re almost certain to re­ spond, recalling Brandon de Wilde watching Alan Ladd ride off into the sunset. But they’ll be wrong. The line that is one of the most quoted in all of moviedom—right up there with “Play it, Sam,” and “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”—does not appear in the novel. Except in one edition. Jack Schaefer smiles. “I thought it worked pretty well in the movie,”he says...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 299-304
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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