On the day of his wedding and last day as the town’s top lawman, Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper, Sergeant York) finds out that a man he helped put in jail five years before is arriving on the noon train. Worried about the criminal’s thirst for revenge, Kane asks townsfolks to assist him in keeping the town peaceful, but people refuse to help.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I’ve got to, that’s the whole thing.”
Alongside George Stevens’s Shane (1953), John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) and Howard Haws’s Rio Bravo (1959), High Noon stands tall as one of the finest westerns of the 1950s. This legendary production is also one of the most influential genre pictures ever made — the film announced that westerns were ready to grow up.
Independently produced by Staley Kramer (Champion), High Noon is a perfect storm of creativity — you really feel like you are watching something truly special. The film’s much-celebrated real-time structure, the song over the opening credits, etc., these are just a few things that have helped make the film such a beloved classic.
High Noon has been interpreted as an allegory for McCarthyism, but that’s just one aspect of the movie. Director Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity)’s astute direction, Elmo Williams’s (Tora! Tora! Tora!) brilliant editing and Carl Foreman’s (The Guns of Navarone) multi-layered script helped create something that has stood the test of time. The film has no fat, so you feel the story is moving faster than normal. And there is something very appealing about a man trying to do something on principle.
I can’t praise Gary Cooper’s performance enough. He plays Kane as a tired, sweaty, anxious mess, an obvious attempt to demythologize the western hero. Cooper has never gotten enough appreciation for his work, I believe. I’ve always found him extremely talented, even versatile. His face is an open book — director Zinnemann effectively uses close-ups of Cooper’s worn out throughout the movie. Cooper earned the Oscar he received for his performance in the film.
Zinnemann also does a great job of manipulating Grace Kelly’s (Rear Window) patrician beauty to suggest religious piousness, and the twenty-one-year-old actress has a strangely strong chemistry with fifty-one-year-old Cooper. Mexican actress Katy Jurado (Broken Lance) is excellent too — she plays Kane’s ex-lover. Jurado’s “no-bullsh*t-attitude” contrasts beautifully with Kelly’s uprightness.
The hand-picked cast includes Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolfman) as a retired lawman, Lloyd Bridges (Airplane!) as an immature deputy and Thomas Mitchell (Stagecoach) as an influential businessman. Otto Kruger (Saboteur) plays Judge Percy Mettrick and Harry Morgan (TV show Dragnet) plays a town resident. Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) makes his film debut as gunfighter Jack Colby.
High Noon contains what is perhaps my all-time favorite movie song. The Oscar-winning song, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’,” music by Dimitri Tiomkin (I Confess) and lyrics by Ned Washington, tells the whole plot and captures the mood of the film with uncanny ability. Tex Ritter (actor John Ritter’s dad) sings the ballad in a low-key manner that complements the film extraordinarily well. I think it is a brilliant tune.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen High Noon, but it never fails to entertain me. Over six decades after it was made, the film still has the power to thrill the audience. High Noon is the definition of “classic cinema.” It’s also one of the best westerns ever made. Highly recommended! B&W, 85 minutes, Not Rated.