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 all the ballads that have opened a western, none is more memorable, more fitting than High Noon’s "Do Not Forsake Me O My Darlin". A somber tune, it tells of a man asking his new bride to understand why he cannot run from a fight. It is a theme that resonates throughout High Noon, and this song sets the perfect tone 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 beautiful young Quaker, Amy (Grace Kelly). But shortly after turning in his badge, Kane is informed that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a savage criminal he sent away for murder five years ago, is returning on the noon train. Miller has vowed revenge, and intends to shoot Kane dead.

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. When his hot-headed deputy, Harvey (Lloyd Bridges), abruptly quits, Kane tries to put together a posse of townsfolk to help him in the inevitable showdown. Yet no one is willing to assist. Alone and afraid, 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 role's physical demands. 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 that 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, refuses to even meet with him, it was like plunging a knife into Kane’s heart. Abandoned by the community he faithfully served for years, Will Kane starts to wonder if his life’s work had been for nothing.

There were those in Hollywood who reacted negatively 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 intended 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 each other out in U.S. Senate chambers, Foreman wanted to shine a light on 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.


Anonymous 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.

DVD Infatuation 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!