On the day he ties the knot with his beloved, the town marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) gives up the badge and is told that a man he jailed, a one Frank Miller, has been turned loose and is coming back to town on the high noon train to get retribution. Having primarily decided to skip town with his newly wedded wife Amy Fowler Kane (Grace Kelly), Will decides he must do the honourable thing, return to face Miller. But when he seeks the help of the public, people he has protected for years, they turn their back on him. It seems Kane will have to face the ruthless and merciless Miller alone, as well as the rest of Miller’s cohort, who are just as cutthroat and just as ruthless as their leader.
Directed by Fred Zinnemann, written by Carl Foreman (based on John W. Cunningham’s The Tin Star) and produced by Stanley Kramer, High Noon is an important film that shows the best and worst of humanity. It is tragedy and romance brought to the Old West in a simple style. Around the time of its release the House Un-American Activities committee were investigating Hollywood writers like Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday) and Arthur Miller (The Crucible). Writer and director Elia Kazan (East of Eden) was also investigated amongst others. High Noon, along with On The Waterfront and others could be donned as works that retaliated against the politics of the time.
Gary Cooper is great as Will Kane, a man of honour and integrity, trapped inside a town of people who are united in their fear of one man and his goons. Despite its plot centring around one of the oldest clichés in the book (scared townspeople), it works well. Kane is surrounded by weak people and those with backbone are scarce. And this is a place where doing the right thing is of less value than “saving one’s skin” as depicted with many characters. And by the end of the film, the town has benefited from Kane standing up for those who wouldn’t. And more so, High Noon is an allegory for humanity’s common tradition to stand by and watch whilst bad things happen to good people.
Notorious throughout the industry for his anti-Communist politics, John Wayne was wrong to call this film “un-American”. America calls itself “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. Doesn’t our lead exhibit this too? He’s fighting for The People’s freedom, even if he’s doing it alone. However, it’s one thing saying that you could take up arms against some gun-slinging psychos but when you’re in the Old West with mouths to feed, would you really risk your life like that? And that’s why I love Kane: he’s a true symbol of dignity, ethics, morality and that really shows the measure of the man. He must uphold the law in order to help others but he must remain true to himself as well.
Gary Cooper got a thoroughly deserved Academy award for this film. His performance was brilliant, he earned it. Kelly is good as his wife but she could have tuned down her 1940s-newsreader-voice a little and I really found her character difficult to get along with. Lloyd Bridges as Kane’s deputy is good too but my favourite of the cast is Katy Jurado as Helen Ramírez, a Latino lady who has a reputation around the town for sleeping around which puts her in a weird place when the shooting begins. Main cast aside, the supporting cast and minor members of the cast did well. Even though I wanted to dislike these characters, I couldn’t do it. If anything at all, I felt indifferent towards them.
Director Fred Zinnemann does a grand job directing this little picture, making each scene fit perfectly into the bigger picture. There are few films where I say the pacing is perfect, and this one makes the list, along with David Lean’s Dr Zhivago, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Casablanca (the perfect film). Watching High Noon with a hawkeye just gives you a bigger respect for cinematography and for pacing. If the pacing is off in a film, it can drawn audiences away from the film, even if everything else is good. However, the pacing here is fantastic, as is the film’s musical score by Dmitri Tomkin which goes hand-in-hand with the photographic aspects of the film.
From the acting to the artistic preferences, I loved every minute of it. As one of my inductions to the western genre and an excellent portrait of the human soul, High Noon really is a keeper.