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High Noon (1952)


Love it or hate it, that poster's golden.
Love it or hate it, that poster's golden.

Genre: Western

Starring: Gary Cooper (Mr. Deeds Goes to TownSergeant York), Grace Kelly (Rear WindowDial M for Murder)

Directed By: Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity • The Day of the Jackal)

Overview: When an ex-convict returns to town to settle a score, the marshal asks his friends and neighbors to help round up a posse. Trouble is, people aren’t quite willing to stick their necks out.

Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is getting married, hanging up his tin star and heading with his Quaker wife Amy (Grace Kelly) to a new life of peace. Troubling news comes shortly thereafter, when townsfolk hear that Frank Miller (Ian McDonald) just got let out of prison and is heading to town. He’s due to arrive in just a couple of hours on the noon train. Though the town convinces him to leave and let the new marshal deal with it, Kane just can’t stay away. He returns to face the enemy that swore revenge all those years ago. Marshal Kane has little time to gather a posse of townsfolk to help him deal with Frank Miller and his boys, but he’s having a tough time getting them to holster up.

I always knew High Noon to be a ‘Great’. A great Western, a great Grace Kelly fame-maker and a great Gary Cooper. I’d even say I knew it to be one of the best Westerns of its genre. I have to admit now, after my first viewing, that High Noon is a little too hyped up to deliver that expected greatness. It’s a little too much of a neat and clean straight-shootin’ three-act tale where most of the action involves gathering old friends who just so happen to be too busy right now to be a force against a quickly arriving imminent threat. Yes it’s well-written and Gary Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Actor, but there’s just a heft of substance missing from the plot of High Noon.

Churches and Westerns - usually awesome
Churches and Westerns - usually awesome

Today there is more to the story, although it may not have been intentional at the time - the big fat allegory for McCarthyism, a topic included in a 50-minute documentary on the DVD re-issue. High Noon’s Writer Carl Foreman was one of many blacklisted by the McCarthy witch-hunt, and it’s very simple to see the parallel here. Though no scene explicitly talks about “naming names”, there is a heavy dollop of the theme of ‘old friends not being around when you need them’.

Overall, I found the acting to be incredible. Grace Kelly at her most puritanical and unfortunately also her least alluring, she plays one Hell of a hard Quaker - I’ll give her that much. Many youthful familiar faces abound in High Noon, like Lloyd Bridges (Airplane!Hot Shots! Part Deux) as Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell, a young Lee van Kleef (the wicked “Bad” of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), and a mustachioed Harry Morgan in the role of Sam Fuller years before he played Colonel Sherman T. Potter in the television series “M*A*S*H”. I also made interesting note that both his characters Fuller and Potter each had wives named Mildred.

Unfortunately, I still found in High Noon some all-too klunky scenes and a story that was all too predictable. One moment that stands out in particular is one where Kane interrupts a church during Sunday service to ask the parishioners for help. This scene was less a plot-developing step towards the climax, and obviously more about showcasing the writer’s talent. When someone stood up at the pulpit and started pointing at people like an auctioneer to hear their arguments for and against helping the marshal form a posse, I looked forward to that scene ending quickly. The theme of time and watching the clock was well maintained - there was a real sense of urgency - but when the climactic moment comes, it's also hurried, rushed to the point of being abrupt. Another five minutes of suspenseful waiting could have done the final act some good.

And this was the role that made her famous.
And this was the role that made her famous.

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 76% (Somewhere In The Middle)

High Noon isn’t a bad movie by any stretch, but when people ask me to name the Top Five Best Westerns, I unfortunately cannot name High Noon among them. This film turned out to be a victim of its own hype to me, and though an average pleasant good time, its predictability didn’t push it much further out of that realm.

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Clunky it may be at times, but I dig it. There's a streak of nihilism running through this film that I really appreciate. It's darker than you'd predict a classic Western to be, and I like that about it, too.

Apparently a bunch of Western actors condemned it, including John Wayne. He did the same with High Plains Drifter, my favourite Western.

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