A town Marshal, despite the disagreements of his newlywed bride and the townspeople around him, must face a gang of deadly killers alone at high noon when the gang leader, an outlaw he sent up years ago, arrives on the noon train.
On the day he gets married and hangs up his badge, Marshal 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
The name of the town in the film is Hadleyville, which was likely intended as an indirect reference to Mark Twain's "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," a short story that has some thematic similarities to the film. See more »
When Will Kane goes to visit Martin Howe, the house door has a different arrangement of panels on the outside from the inside. See more »
A wonderful tract on cowardice; not quite so good when showing bravery
Life was going well for Will Kane, Hadleyville's town marshal. He'd cleaned up the city and made it safe. He'd sent the badmen packing or to prison. He'd just hung up his star and married beautiful young Amy Fowler, surrounded by his loving and loyal friends, and he looked forward to a peaceful life with her as a storekeeper. And Then It Happened.
A telegram reaches him to let him know that Frank Miller, an outlaw killer whom Kane thought was to be hanged, has been pardoned and will arrive at the Hadleyville train station at high noon. Three of his old time bandit companions are waiting for Miller there, and they will surely come to kill Kane when Miller arrives.
At first, Kane prepares to run. But he realizes that the killers will come after him and Amy; they have to be faced, and it might as well be here and now with a posse at his back. So Kane pins his badge back on and goes to his friends and neighbors for help in facing the badmen, but most of them turn their backs on Kane.
This movie gives a brilliant examination of the cowardice of Kane's fellow townspeople. The person who remains most mysterious is Kane himself. Courage, as I understand it, is the ability to ignore one's fear in order to do what must be done. Kane is afraid, and he is able to ignore his fear, but why does he think that he must fight? Does he feel a duty to protect Hadleyville, even though it has spurned him? Is he convinced that, no matter where he runs, he will still have to fight the four killers alone? Does he believe that running from any situation, no matter how impossible, is unmanly and dishonorable? Would he have fought ten men? A hundred? A million? Kane himself doesn't seem to be entirely sure. He clearly has very strong morals, but lacks the ability to explain them. Even when a man asks him to cheat the new sheriff out of a job, Kane refuses, but can't explain why, merely saying, "If you don't know, there's no use in me telling you." When someone asks him why he says "I've got to" fight the killers now, he frankly admits that he doesn't know.
Lloyd Bridges is excellent as Harvey Pell, Kane's former deputy and the first man Kane approaches for help. When Pell cravenly abandons Kane to his fate, Bridges is wonderful at showing his guilt. One of the best parts of the movie is where Pell tries to allay his guilt by trying to get Kane to run away; if Kane won't fight, Pell thinks his own cowardice will feel more excusable.
Grace Kelly, in her first major role, is quite good as a woman whose Quaker religion compels her to pacifism, and cannot understand her husband's need to meet violence with violence. Even better is Katy Jurado as the beautiful, tempestuous Helen Ramirez, who understands Kane far better than Amy does. Harry Morgan portrays Sam Fuller, a deputy so gutless that he not only won't face Frank Miller, but won't even face Kane to tell him so. And Thomas Mitchell is great as the town leader who subordinates Kane's life to the economic future of the town.
As an allegory for the Hollywood blacklist, HIGH NOON is pretty weak. Kane is not falsely accused of subverting the town's welfare; the whole emotional power of the plot is based on the fact that the townsmen refuse to help him even though everybody recognizes that he has done nothing but good for Hadleyville. The killers, on the other hand, are openly lawless and evil, not poseurs pretending to protect the townsmen by their persecution of others. Still, whatever its flaws as an allegory, HIGH NOON is one heck of a great western and a great story.
Fred Zinneman did a very good job on directing the movie, with one exception. Throwing out the usual Western orchestra for Dimitri Tiomkin's lonely guitar music was a good idea, but it is used far too much. It doesn't take long to get tired of Tex Ritter's sing-song drawl. But the use of clocks for suspense, particularly in the climactic montage, is a masterstroke.
HIGH NOON ranks as one of the top ten westerns I have ever seen. It is worthwhile renting for just about anyone, regardless of whether they are fans of the genre.
Rating: *** out of ****
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