Please regard this as a postscript to the many fine reviews of this mastepiece.
Alan Ladd was one of those great actors who might have been. Ladd's deadpan persona, which some have criticized as wooden, was the essential element in the suppressed emotion which would serve him so well in his greatest role, that of Shane.
In following Ladd's filmography, it's fascinating to see how the quality of his work is related to the complexity of the character he plays. The more complex, it seems, the better Ladd's performance. And of course, the enigma of Shane, the character's inherent complexity, lends itself perfectly to Ladd's talents.
Sue Carol, Alan Ladd's wife and agent, didn't care for directors, preferring the actor-as-producer rather than director. While this "business approach" contributed to great wealth and influence for the Ladd dynasty, it did not lend itself to the artistic achievements of which Ladd was capable. Whether this was of concern to Alan can only be conjectured.
However, one thing is certain, when Ladd was given a strong director, such as Raoul Walsh, Michael Curtiz, Edward Dmytryk or George Stevens for Shane, the results were dramatic. What may have been his finest performance was also his last, in Dmytryk's The Carpetbaqggers. As the enigmatic Nevada Smith, was Alan Ladd replaying Shane?