Thursday, April 12, 2012

#605. High Noon (1952)

Directed By: Fred Zinnemann

Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell

Tag line: "When these hands point straight up...the excitement starts!"

Trivia:  In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #27 Greatest Movie of All Time

Of every ballad that ever opened a western film, none is more memorable than High Noon’s Do Not Forsake Me O My Darlin, a somber tune in which a man asks his new bride to understand why he cannot run from someone who wants him dead. It's a theme that resonates throughout High Noon, and this song sets the perfect mood for all that follows.

Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who, for years, served as Marshal of a small town, hangs up his guns the day he marries Amy (Grace Kelly), a beautiful young Quaker. But shortly after turning in his badge, Kane's informed Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a savage criminal he sent away for murder 5 years ago, is returning on the noon train. Miller vowed to get his revenge by shooting Kane dead, and everyone in town is telling the former Marshal to get out while he can. But Kane refuses to run, deciding instead to stay and fight it out. When his hot-headed deputy, Harvey (Lloyd Bridges), abruptly quits, Kane tries to put together a posse of townsfolk to help with the upcoming showdown, yet can't find anyone willing to assist him. Alone and confused, Kane can only sit and watch as the clock's hands draw ever closer to noon, and his date with a killer.

In a bit of casting brilliance, the part of Will Kane went to veteran actor Gary Cooper, who, at the time, was old enough to play the aging marshal, yet still agile enough to handle the physical demands of the role. More than this, Cooper's mannerisms were flawless, exuding at all times an air of dignity even as his character went around asking others for help. There’s never a moment in High Noon where we don’t sympathize with Kane, where we don’t share his feelings of betrayal as, one after another, his supposed friends turn their backs on him. When Sam Fuller (Harry Morgan), who stood beside Kane at his wedding only moments earlier, won't even meet with him, it was the equivalent of plunging a knife into Kane’s heart. Abandoned by the community he faithfully served for years, Will Kane wonders if his entire life’s work had been for nothing.

There were those in Hollywood who reacted strongly to High Noon, including legendary director, Howard Hawks. “It’s phony”, Hawks said of the film, questioning the logic of having a hero who walked through town begging like a “wet chicken”. But then, I don’t think High Noon was ever meant to be a typical western. Its screenwriter, Carl Foreman, a former Communist, had been targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and just before the release of High Noon, was forced to flee the country. Watching as old friends sold out other old friends, Foreman sought to address this new way of thinking in America, where personal liberties were being sacrificed for the “greater good”. High Noon was designed to hold a mirror up to Hollywood, and judging from the reactions it drew, a lot of people didn't like what they saw peering back at them.


jan-festival-of-films-com said...

Great review; I know I've seen this movie in the past but never knew its history and parallels with the blacklisting of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Also fascinating to know it won an Oscar for the opening song. When I saw your tweet I had other guesses in mind ...

I keep popping back to your website because I like your take on a lot of my old favorites.

Dave B. said...

@jan-festival-of-films: Thanks very much! I'm glad you're enjoying the blog.

And HIGH NOON struck a cord with many back in the day, with some people flat-out hating it John Wayne and Howard Hawks included), but I think it's an absolute classic!

I appreciate the kind words, and you continuing to check out my reviews!