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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.
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!
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!
Gary Cooper's greatest role, at 50, as the newly-married sheriff, Will Kane,
left to fend for himself against his returning enemies, abandoned by the
town he remains loyal to, and played out in real time through its 90 minute
Ably supported by Grace Kelly as his pacifist Quaker wife, who discovers love and right triumphs over long-held preconceptions; Katy Jurado as Kane's former mistress, a fiery Latino type; and Lloyd Bridges as the feisty deputy; Cooper runs away with the acting honours. The theme tune by Tex Ritter is also worthy of note.
High Noon' works because of its tightly written script, its cracking pace and crackling tension. I've seen the film many times and always see something different to notice and admire; still, I'd love to see it again for the first time and not know the twists and turns, not know how it ends. A fabulous film one of the best.
High Noon is for me one of the two finest Westerns ever made (the other is Shane). It is an elemental commentary on the best and worst of America, the best and worst of mankind. It is Greek tragedy and Shakespeare brought to the Old West in a grandly simple form. Gary Cooper is superb and the supporting cast is outstanding as well (although I wish Grace Kelley would have spoken without the artificial sounding school-girl accent, something which marred so many of her otherwise fine performances). I do not read into the film a commentary on events of the 1950s, specifically the ongoing investigations by Congress of left-wing activities. High Noon transcends such specifics as this. I know John Wayne called the film un-American but I must disagree. I have great respect for the Duke but think he got this one wrong. Weak, timid people are everywhere and the strong are often few and far between. Goodness and right often prevail because a small minority insure that they do. All benefit from the courage of the lonely hero whether they realize it or not. Hign Noon is a testimony to this truth.
This is the definitive Western. There are other excellent Westerns of course ("The Unforgiven," "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," "The Searchers," "My Darling Clementine," and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" come immediately to mind), but none tops this one. Even though the difference in age between Gary Cooper and Grace Kelley makes the thought of their marriage seem a little kinky, it's easy to buy into the story. Katy Jurado is sexy, Lloyd Bridges is callow, and the townspeople mean well, but when push comes to shove, they reveal their cowardice. (If you remember the scene in "Blazing Saddles" in which Van Johnson says, "Howard Johnson is right," you'll almost certainly laugh at an inappropriate moment in "High Noon." ) "High Noon" is a textbook example of the storyteller's art. The drama begins with the opening credits and doesn't let up until everyone's true character has been laid bare. This one is suspenseful and thrilling, and I find more to admire with every viewing.
I just watched this movie again. I have no idea how many times I have seen this movie over the span of my 52 years (yes I was born the same year the movie was released). Each time I have seen it, of late, I continue to develop a greater appreciation for it. I normally liked to be lightly entertained by a movie. This movie provides a glimps at so many varied characters, showing such a variety of emotions and complex personal issues. This is no-nonsense, un-contrived, straight forward story telling, at its best. I truly enjoy the restrained use of dialogue. It is amazing how much story is told with so few words, in a limited running time. WOW, I love it.
For me, Will Kane embodies the American ideal of a hero: a man who
stands up for what is right, even when nobody else does, even when the
temptation is strong to stick the head in the sand.
Will Kane explains his outlook at the outset: there is no point in running away if that means spending the rest of your life watching your back. His best chance is to face his enemies on his home ground. At this point, he still thinks that honest folk will stand by him. The rest of the movie is a study in character: will he stand his ground when his entire world crumbles around him?
It is puzzling that Howard Hawks, John Wayne, and others thought of High Noon as un-American. I am not sure if this is because of the allegory of the McCarthy era; or the people of an American town collectively sticking their heads in the sand; or the Marshal throwing his badge to the ground in the last scene.
Clearly, the movie does not criticize McCarthyism itself. (It has nothing to say about communism, either.) It appears to criticize the people who did not stand up to McCarthy and the HUAAC, but it can equally well be seen as a comment on the appeasers who did not stand up to fascism or communism.
In any case, not too much must be made of the anti-appeasement angle, because the townsfolk is not the primary focus of the movie: the focus is on Will Kane. When the townsfolk behave like cowards, that gives Will Kane a chance to prove that he is a hero. If the town had stood by the Marshal, we would have seen, at best, an excellent Western like Rio Bravo, but not a masterpiece like High Noon. For Will Kane to be a hero, it is necessary that he stands alone.
No statement can convey the dramatic impact of Will Kane throwing his badge away, but it is worth discussing what this gesture means. For me, it means that the town and the badge were not worth fighting for. Will Kane fought for principle: he fought because he does not run away.
I am puzzled; how can anyone rate this as less than a 10? Can anyone
find a single flaw in this movie? Any way it could have been better?
This is the gold standard by which Westerns should be measured, not to
mention any drama. It simply doesn't get any better than this.
As film, High Noon does an exceptional job of giving depth to characters quickly. The situation defines their character. Katy Jurado' role is one of the exceptions, where there is more talking, but we see unfold an exceptionally interesting person.
How many movies can you watch repeatedly over the years as you grow up and grow old that continue to move you and continue to reveal new depth and meaning? That is the measure of art.
This movie is timeless, and has a lesson for humanity of all eras and all nationalities. It will be watched a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, if civilization survives that long. The message of this film is that this is not at all certain. It is up to us.
I suspect the reason some people down-rate High Noon is not for the quality of the film, but the message. Like John Wayne, they just don't like what it says about America.
Well I've got bad news for you, John, the Frank Millers have killed the sheriff and now run this country. The gang has gotten elected president and vice president. And the townspeople and ministers acquiesced like sheep or even actively supported it as "good for business."
High Noon is one of the most loved films of all times thanks to the elements
that came together to make it the classic that it is. The movie owes a lot
to Fred Zinnemann for his tight account of this story by Carl Foreman. The
film benefits from Dimitri Tiomkin's great score and the great
cinematography by Floyd Crosby.
This is a film that packs a lot of symbolism because of the times when it was done. Those were the days of the communist hysteria where many people in the industry were accused, tried and lost jobs because when they faced the HUAC and Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Gary Cooper plays a man who is decent enough to return to the town where he just has gotten married and has finished his tour of duty. His conscience doesn't let him leave his post as he delays his plans and goes back to defend the town from the bandit who's been freed by Northern judges, and is coming back to seek revenge from Marshal Kane and the town.
Gary Cooper embodied the all Amercian hero. He was an actor who could do no wrong, as he proves in his take of Marshal Kane. We see him as the clock is ticking away toward noon time when the train will arrive in Hadleyville. We see him perspire as he goes around trying to get people help him deal with the problem, to no avail; he will have to do it himself. In the process, he clearly disappoints his new bride, who is horrified at the prospect of losing the man she clearly loves.
Grace Kelly was such an elegant figure that it's hard to imagine she would be in Hadleyville at all! Katy Jurado was also excellent as the jaded Helen Ramirez, the woman who owned a lot of businesses in town. Also effective, Thomas Mitchell, as the mayor of the town and Lloyd Bridges, as Harvey.
This is a film to treasure.
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.
The sombre ballad, the beleaguered marshall, the cold wife who deserts
her man within an hour of marrying him ... "High Noon" is part of everyone's
Will Kane is the veteran lawman of Hadleyville, a small Kansas town that used to be the playground of bad men, notorious among them one Frank Miller. "This is just a dirty little village in the middle of nowhere," but Kane cleaned it up. Five years ago he had Frank Miller committed to a distant federal court on a murder charge. Today, as Kane weds his quaker bride, news arrives that Miller is free and heading for Hadleyville. His henchmen gather at the depot, and it becomes clear that Frank will arrive on the midday train, looking to settle scores with the marshall who arrested him. Should Kane leave town with his bride, thus avoiding trouble for himself and for Hadleyville? Or should he stay and face the Miller gang? Will the citizens rally round their marshall?
John Wayne famously criticised the film for being 'unAmerican', in that (in his view) a frontier community would not desert its lawman so abjectly. Implicit in Wayne's malediction is the notion that mainstream movies should promote wholesome patriotic values - a notion that led in Wayne's case to the debacle of "The Green Berets". Zinneman's acclaimed film probes the ugly side of human nature, "sifting out the hearts of men".
Zinneman and Director of Photography Floyd Crosby devoted a lot of care to the look of the film, effort that paid off handsomely. From our first view of Lee Van Cleef as an ominous shadow on the horizon to the climactic cuts which seem to accelerate the arrival of the fateful train, this is a movie which speaks through images. The arid, flat expanses of Kansas mirror the impassive sky, and the town's rickety structures seem puny against the bleak magnificence of nature. Human wishes are vain in the face of Fate. Rail tracks extend with cruel exactitude into the distance, converging in perspective upon the vanishing point, the symbolic spot whence Frank Miller will materialise. Lurking in the depot's shade, the dark presence which is the Miller Gang bristles with malice.
Zinneman is not afraid of extreme close-ups, which he uses to reinforce moments of emotional power (Kane realising that he has no support, Helen refusing to beg). He shoots Kane predominantly from below waist height, stressing his tall, erect stance as a symbol of moral authority. Compositions are tight and attractive throughout.
Gary Cooper was fifty-one years old and quite ill when "High Noon" was shot. He is, in truth, too old for the part. Gregory Peck had turned it down, and it is fascinating to imagine Peck as Kane. There is no rapport whatsoever between Cooper and Grace Kelly, and they make unconvincing newly-weds. "I won't be there when it's over," says the blushing bride, and though the script tries valiantly to give Amy a motivation (she became a quaker after seeing her menfolk gunned down), the abiding impression is of Kelly's prissy coldness.
"High Noon" is, for an action western, surprisingly strong on character. The judge (Otto Kruger) is clear-headed about running away from the Millers, and argues his position powerfully, yet his authority is punctured by his actions as he speaks - lowering the Old Glory, and concealing the scales of justice. Lloyd Bridges is excellent as Harvey, the deputy whose moral vision is clouded by lust for Helen and immature resentment of Kane. Katy Jurado never looked lovelier than here, playing the fallen woman Helen Ramirez who loved and lost Kane - and loves him still. A young Harry Morgan is Sam Fuller, the self-important coward who cannot face Kane. Marshall Howe (Lon Chaney Jr.) is the retired lawman who is now embittered and counsels Kane against throwing his life away for the sake of these undeserving citizens - "They just don't care!" In a cameo of pivotal importance that must have been great fun to play, Howland Chamberlain is the bitchy hotel desk clerk who hits Amy with a few home truths. James Millican is Herb, the dependable deputy who vacillates when the chips are down, and Jack Elam makes a fleeting appearance as the town drunk who sleeps through the entire drama.
One interesting plot development is the strange alliance which forms between Kane's two women. They meet in Helen's hotel room and decide to leave town together. Significantly, as they ride past Kane in the buggy, it is Helen who looks back, not Amy.
It has been suggested that "High Noon" obeys Aristotle's three unities, especially that of time, the depicted events being capable of fitting into the film's ninety-minute span. Clocks are everywhere in Hadleyville, and the passing of the minutes is constantly emphasised. My only observation is, it remains ten minutes to twelve for an unconscionably long time.
"The day cometh that shall burn like an oven," we are informed, and I for one found the film's climax rather disappointing after the intense build-up. "It's our problem because this is our town," declares a local worthy, but neither he nor anyone does anything about it. Zinneman's great crane shot, about halfway through the film, speaks more eloquently than the hollow words, zooming back to show a silent, friendless street, and one upright man, utterly alone.
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