Over the years, I have found that the more movies you see, the more theories form in your imagination.
Many have emerged in my mind, dealing with subjects ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Adam Sandler. With recent superhero films (mainly those in the MCU), I began thinking of what movies they would see in their daily lives (provided they had the time). One that kept coming to mind was High Noon, considered by many to be one of the best westerns ever made.
The film is rather a simple one. On the day of his retirement, the town marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is also set to marry Amy (Grace Kelly, in one of her first starring roles), a quaker. However, in comes the news that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), one of the convicts he set to hang years prior, has been sent free and is due to arrive in town on the noon train (his fellow gang members are waiting for him at the station). With only a little over an hour, and the new marshall not arriving till the next day, Kane is set to prepare for the inevitable gun fight.
Leading up to the eventual climax (which director Fred Zinneman made feel so much so in real time), Kane is going around town asking old friends to help him, only to discover how people truly feel about facing evil. Nearly all are cowardly in their own right. His deputy marshall Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges, real life father of Jeff “The Dude” Bridges) will only help if he is allowed to be the new marshall. The mayor (character actor Thomas Mitchell) is too worried about the town. The Judge (Otto Kruger) who originally sentenced Miller is one of the first to leave town. Even the previous retired Marshall (Lon Chaney Jr.) is against helping. The one character who is clearly not a coward is Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado). Her reason is more of spite, as Kane used to be in a romance with Ramirez (she also was with Miller before that). Still, like the audience, she has the utmost respect for Kane.
What makes Will Kane such a memorable character are many things, but I will focus on two of the main components. The first is obvious: The role is immortalized by Gary Cooper (who won an Oscar in the process). It is such a natural performance that there is hardly any indication that there is acting on the screen. The second component is Kane’s inner character. Unlike many modern action films where the characters seem to be fearless, Kane is visibly afraid. He could easily high tail it out of town with his new wife (which nearly everyone in town says he should), but his conscience is too strong to do so. Like all of the great film heroes, he does not wish to be known as one (“I’m not trying to be a hero!”, he yells).
Parents, if you ever wondered what movie you could use to introduce your childrent to the classic western, this may be your best canidate. There is nothing here to worry about (since the film was made in the early fifties, the violence and language is very mild).
At the time of its release, the screenwriter Carl Foreman was one of many in Hollywood accused of communism by McCarthey, and the parrallel is evident in the script. While some things in the film have aged, the ideals that are brought by Cooper (as he did in all his films) are able to speak to all generations. Life has struggles that cannot be avoided, and must sometimes be faced head on, regardless of who is by your side.
3 replies on “High Noon (1952)”
Thank you for this reflection on one of my favourite Westerns. Larry Kreitzer included a discussion of it in his Gospel Images in Fiction and Film. He noted several parallels between the movie and the life of Jesus, not least of which was Christ’s tension with the world. He also commented on the similarity between the townspeople’s abandonment of Kane and the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus as he faced his particular “high noon” confrontation. I definitely think film buffs could use this movie apologetically.
Agreed. That is also a book I will need to seek out.
[…] There have been a lot of comparisons of this film to 2018’s Roma, another film based off the childhood of the filmmaker (Alfonso Cuarón), and also in black and white. While that is indeed justified, there is another film I am surprised to find few people comparing it to, and that is the classic Cinema Paradiso (1988). In that film, the main character (“Toto”) is shown growing up with his main form of escapism being the cinema. The same is true for Buddy (albeit not as much as “Toto”.) With the exception of old school Star Trek episodes, Buddy is seen watching a truckload of classics, both in the theater (one of the few times the film is in color) and at home. These include the likes of the Raquel Welch 1968 flick One Million Years B.C. (“Now I see why you picked this movie.”, Ma says to Pa), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), The Man who shot Liberty Valance (1962), and (most notably) the classic 1952 western High Noon. […]