A Gun is as Good or as Bad as the Man using it

English: Lesson 145

“Compare and contrast the attitude of each movie regarding guns.”

Shane (1953) and High Noon (1952) are two of the best western movies ever created. Until this last week, westerns to me were just fun movies filled with drama, gun fighting, and simple sets and characters with not a lot of detail or thought put into them. I still liked watching them, but it seemed to me that they were all cookie cutter made and something to watch when you wanted to relax and not think much. But not Shane or High Noon. The quality of these two movies astounded me and gave me a new appreciation for westerns. Of the two, Shane is my particular favourite, and that is because the main character, Shane, has a different attitude toward guns.

Starring Alan Ladd, Shane is a movie focused on a retiring gunslinger. The story starts with Shane crossing a valley and coming across newly built homesteads and people who just settled there. He stops at the Starrett homestead, where he meets Joe, Marian, and young Joey Starrett. What I like about Shane is that he made the decision to retire from gun-slinging on his own and he gives a new life a real shot. He hides his gun, gets a job on a farm, and helps a small community of farmers on their homesteads. When he gets into a fight with the Ryker gang he doesn’t resort back to his gun. He fights like a man, not intending to kill anyone. He gave up his gun and is sticking to it. The farmers rally around Shane. Even though they know little about him and what he’s done, they support him and fight the Ryker gang with him. They all know it is a losing battle, fighting the whole Ryker gang and their many guns when they have such few people, but they still support Shane and one another. They take responsibility and fight for their lively hoods and farms.

High Noon, starring Gary Cooper, is a different story about guns. Marshal Will Kane is retiring and hanging up his guns at his wife’s bidding. He gives them up reluctantly, and the town tells him to go with his wife and start a new life. They are counting on a new marshal to come the next day. But, like all good westerns, a gang comes back that very day intending to kill marshal Kane for sending their leader to jail. Kane, being a proud marshal, wants to stay and go back to his guns and wait until the new marshal arrives. Not run away for danger like a coward. He delivered the town from gunslingers and gangs once before, and he will die protecting it. Like Shane, I figured that the town would take responsibility and rally around Kane. But no. They do not rally around Kane and protect their town that Kane previously delivered from outlaws and gunslingers. They want no responsibility. They paid the government for a marshal and guns and that means they have given up the responsibility of protecting themselves. It is now the governments job to protect the town.

Both movies are about guns and men giving them up, but it is also about how people view guns. In Shane, guns are a tool, just like an axe or a shovel. As Shane says “A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it.” In High Noon, guns are not tools. They are a service provided by the government which the people pay for. The town does not want to use guns in defending themselves because they sold that responsibility to the government. Kane tries to tell the people what Shane explains to the homesteaders, but they no longer want that responsibility. In the end, it turns out alright, but the town will never survive unless they are protected by someone else with a gun.

2 thoughts on “A Gun is as Good or as Bad as the Man using it

  1. Great insights into great films! But now you need to see 1992’s Unforgiven, directed by Clint Eastwood. It’s the apptheosis, imo, of what these two films started.


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