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... Written by
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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