McBride Says Stevens Would Be “Appalled” Over 1.66 Shane

Author, former Variety guy and renowned cineaste Joseph McBride has revealed that he’s written George Stevens, Jr., with whom he co-wrote several AFI tribute specials in the ’80s, and told him he’s wrong about having contributed to the presentation of his father’s western classic, Shane, in a 1.66 to 1 aspect ratio on the forthcoming Warner Home Video Bluray.

John McElwee‘s Greenbriar Picture Shows has posted a portion of McBride’s letter, which, I’m told, has appeared on his Facebook page.

“I have written my former writing partner George Stevens, Jr., to share my concern about how the Shane Bluray release is chopping off parts of the film. This obviously must not be done.

Patrick McGilligan and I interviewed Stevens in 1974, [and during that discussion] Stevens talked about the importance of deliberate pacing and editing.

“‘It’s related to music or painting, the arrangement of film, and it has an enormous effect on an audience,” McBride quotes Stevens saying at one point. “They never relate to it as being devised, any more than I presume I’m seduced because Renoir devises the composition of what he shows me in a painting. I know he sweated it out, erased it, but he got it. There’s no question about it, there’s the grand man.

“‘It surprises me how well audiences, also critics, reward a film that has that kind of thing in mind, by design, not because it just happened. Sometimes we find really fine quality in a film by looking at it, looking at it, and then looking back at it — why, this darn thing’s designed as the Bolero is designed!”

McBride concludes that “this was a man who took great pains over every aspect of his work, including composition. I am sure he would be appalled to see Shane cut down to 1:66 again when it could be released in the Academy ratio in which he shot it.”

Portion of actual letter from McBride to Stevens, Jr.: “Since your father composed Shane so painstakingly and beautifully in 1:33 (I remember vividly him telling me how he achieved the great composition of Shane framed within the antlers of the elk in the opening of the film), I would not see any value in changing that original ratio for home viewing, even if your father had to go along with a cropped widescreen version for early theatrical engagements during that first all-encompassing craze for widescreen.

“I have seen your father’s 35mm print projected on theatrical screens three times (once by your father himself in Madison the first time I saw the film at the University of Wisconsin, in 1966), and it was carefully preserved (indeed spectacular-looking) and in the 1:33 ratio.

“I have seen recent frame comparisons between Shane at that ratio and Shane at the 1:66 evidently planned for Bluray, and it seems clear that important visual data would be lost if the film were cropped again to 1:66, no matter how carefully and no matter whether it were to be done frame by frame. Your father’s great compositional sense would be at risk here, in my opinion. This great film would be diminished.

“I would hope at least that you could influence Warners to release both the 1:33 versions and the 1:66 versions on a Bluray set so viewers can choose to watch it either way. There may be some of the usual arguments about the public expecting to have their TV screens filled, but I recall how we went through all that when even the clips for AFI Life Achievement Award shows had to be panned-and-scanned, but later the industry and the more knowledgeable segment of the public (the segment that values and reveres classic films) learned to accept black bars at the side to preserve a film’s original 1:33 ratio.”

  • That sound you hear is the digging in of a scion’s heels. These things like respect for the filmmaker’s original aesthetic choices clearly matter, especially to the core audience for a classic film restoration. Faster they say “Two versions” the better this is for everyone.

  • Eloi Wrath


    Jesus fucking Christ. Not another one. Geriatric motherfuckers love their aspect ratios, alright.

  • Ira Parks


    The Paris premiere of Alan Ladd’s 13 WEST STREET happened fifty years ago today. The aspect ratio? 1:66. So there is some precedent here.

    Wells to Avellino: Apples and oranges.

    • Ira Parks


      Let me STRESS AGAIN that Avellino seems like good people, but 13 WEST STREET? Like, don’t some of you guys get tired of the ‘Why I oughta pound you’ (TM Dana Carvey), AMC before MAD MEN, Sunday morning oat bran commercial vibe?

      “No intensity, Tony.”

    • Trillian

      Time to hang up the routine, Ira.

      • Ira Parks


        Your reputation precedes you, love your work, I’m giving your arrogant comment some thought over coffee with my life counselor, etc., but…hold on. Someone wants to talk to you…


        Trillian. Bubby. I don’t wanna get off on a rant here, but you’re coming across as more bitter than General Yen’s tea. (Shakes head side to side slightly, itches under right eye, giggles) Ya got me wonderin’ whether or not you can prosecute someone for bringin’ a show to a dead halt. (He steps back and turns to the side during applause, puts hands in his pockets, then turns back) So I guess we can assume you’re not in the nice guy business, amirite? Try a little less Sanka, okay? Alright Trilly baby, you gonna stay here, I gotta go do the news. (Walks over to the news monitor, music dies down, he gets the giggles again) Trillian. “Trillian”. I’m arguing with a planet from Star Trek. (High pitch laugh)

        • Marty Melville

          Yeah, Parks, can the joy. And consider yourself lucky, Trillian is just the weekend hall monitor around here. Come Monday, Leydon, Hightower and the rest are back and shit gets real.

          • Ira Parks

            Melville! Good to have you back, man.

            I like Leydon. My beef (And it is very, very, very, very serious Hatfield and McCoy stuff) is with Trilllllllllian. (Raises angry fist to the sky)

            Trillian. Sounds like a villain.

            “Trillian is attacking while our defenses are down!”

            “Trillian you poisonous snake!”

            “You’ll never make it past Trillian’s guards!”

    • Please don’;t open a film museum! would you take a painting and cut off the top and bottom! Many years ago I sat in the MGM film lab. and watched them turn “Gone With the Wind” into 70mm wide screen, it was like witnessing a murder!