High Noon (1952)

Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Cinematography Floyd Crosby

On the day he gets married and hangs up his badge, lawman Will Kane is told that a man he sent to prison years before, Frank Miller, is returning on the noon train to exact his revenge. Having initially decided to leave with his new spouse, Will decides he must go back and face Miller. However, when he seeks the help of the townspeople he has protected for so long, they turn their backs on him. It seems Kane may have to face Miller alone, as well as the rest of Miller’s gang, who are waiting for him at the station.

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“Oh, To Be Torn Twixt Love And Duty”

22 April 2006 | by bkoganbing (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

On Marshal Gary Cooper’s wedding day to Grace Kelly, Lee Van Cleef, Sheb Woolley, and Robert J. Wilkie wait at the train station for the noon arriving train. It will be carrying their former gang leader, Ian McDonald who Cooper sent to prison and who’s vowing vengeance.

From the gitgo it’s made abundantly clear that these are four nasty dudes who the town ought to deal with expeditiously. But the good elements of the town have grown fat and lazy and content to throw the responsibility of law and order on Cooper’s shoulders. And he’s quitting anyway, going on his honeymoon with his Quaker bride. A new marshal is going to arrive the next day. Why get involved. They want Cooper to just take his problem elsewhere. That view is probably best expressed by Thomas Mitchell in the scene at the church.

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Speaking of the scene in the church my favorite business in High Noon is when preacher Morgan Farley tells Cooper how dare he come into the church because a few hours earlier he didn’t see fit to get married in that church. What a set of priorities.

Grace Kelly had her breakthrough role in High Noon. She’s a Quaker with deeply held pacifist principles. She’s marrying a lawman, but one who’s quitting that life. Her best scene in the film is with Katy Jurado who is Cooper’s former gal pal. Katy explains the facts of life to Grace about marriage and the duty of standing by your man, long before Tammy Wynette ever sung about it. When the time comes, Grace does the right thing.

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Like his rival in western films, John Wayne, Gary Cooper had one of the great faces for movie closeups. Back in the day it used to be a running joke about how Cooper’s dialog used to be just “yep” and “nope.” It was a good deal more than that. But High Noon’s plot is carried quite a bit by the many closeup shots of Cooper. His face tells more than ten pages of speech and it keeps the tension of the film going. Man did not win two Academy Awards for nothing.

Of course the theme of High Noon is also expressed in Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s Academy Award winning song, sung at times during the film by Tex Ritter. However the big hit record of the film was from Frankie Laine. I doubt there has ever been a movie theme song that expressed everything you needed to know about the motivation of the central character in the film. I don’t think High Noon would have attained the classic status it has without that song.

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Another great performance in the film is Lon Chaney, Jr. as the former town marshal, old and cynical, who’d like to help Cooper out, but at his age and health realizes he’d be more of a hindrance. He’s the only one that Cooper understands and forgives.

The final gun battle is choreographed like a ballet, it’s that good. Maybe the best ever filmed. Can’t describe it, you got to see it.

The interaction of the town’s responsibilities for maintaining law and order and Cooper’s personal pride and integrity have been dealt with in various ways in other films. I’d check out Rio Bravo, Warlock, Death of a Gunfighter, Welcome to Hard Times, all of these take a different slant on the same themes.

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But personally I’ve always liked what the townspeople did in a Frank Sinatra film, Johnny Concho. That’s what the people of Hadleyville should have done right at the start.

Remarkably well-organised western in which not one single second is wasted and the tension is built up admirably.

10/10
Author: Jonathon Dabell (barnaby.rudge@hotmail.co.uk) from Todmorden, England
16 April 2006

John Wayne was totally wrong to call this movie un-American. Courage and cowardice are universal emotions, and the attitudes of the characters in High Noon are, I think, incredibly truthful and telling. I know that if I lived in the Wild West, had a job and family, and was asked to stand up and fight against a gang of gun-toting psychos I would probably not be able to do it. That’s why Gary Cooper’s Will Kane is such a remarkable character in terms of self-respect, morality and inner strength. It’s the way he MUST uphold the law even though it will perhaps cost him his wife and his life. It is the various townfolk with whom most of us will identify, even if it makes us feel shame or unworthiness to admit it. No matter how bravely we act, nor how much we want to think heroically of ourselves, 90% of us would cower in the shadows when the time came to do what Will Kane does in this movie.

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On his wedding day, dependable lawman Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just handed in his badge and is preparing to leave town with his bride Amy (Grace Kelly) when he receives devastating news. An old adversary, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), has been pardoned for crimes that he should have hanged for and is on his way to Kane’s town of Hadleyville to get revenge. He is due on the noon train, leaving Kane one hour to either run for his life or make preparations to fight. Kane and Amy set off at full gallop, hoping to put some miles between themselves and danger, but Kane doesn’t get far before he feels compelled to turn back. With the new sheriff not due for a day, he just can’t let go of the extraordinary sense of duty and responsibility he feels towards his town. However when he gets back to town he gets quite a shock – for no-one has the guts (nor, in some instances, the inclination) to fight alongside him against the Miller gang. As time ticks unstoppably towards noon, Kane gradually realises that if he’s going to stop Miller and his boys, he’s going to have to do it alone!

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Cooper’s performance is extremely powerful and he received a thoroughly deserved Oscar for it. Kelly is good as his bride, although many viewers will find her character hard to like. Lloyd Bridges has a brilliant early role as Kane’s deputy, while the very best of the supporting pack is Katy Jurado as a Latino woman whose “history” with most of the men in town puts her in an unenviable position when the shooting starts. Fred Zinnemann directs the film outstandingly, making each scene fit into the grander scheme of things with literate precision. Any aspiring young film-maker wanting to learn how to pace a film correctly should watch High Noon with a close eye, for it is unparallelled as the most perfectly paced film of all-time. The music by Dmitri Tomkin – plus that incredible ballad “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” by Tex Ritter – is just one more element that makes High Noon one of the great masterpieces. There’s nothing else to say – if you haven’t already, go out and see this film NOW!

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