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 criminal he put in jail five years ago is arriving on the noon train. Kane tries to find support from the townfolks, but none of them are willing to help.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Alongside the high-regarded classics Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956) and Rio Bravo (1959), High Noon stands tall as one of the finest westerns of the 1950s. The film is also one of the most influential genre pictures ever made — the movie announced that westerns were eager, ready to grow up.
High Noon seems to have been made under a lucky (tin)star. The much-celebrated real-time structure was an afterthought. Cooper’s ragged looks were the product of health problems (the actor was suffering from an ulcer). People fell in love with then-innovative use of a title song over the opening credits. These are only few of the things that have made the film such a beloved classic. You really feel that you are watching something truly special.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen High Noon, but it never fails to entertain me. It has been interpreted as an allegory for McCarthyism, but that’s just one aspect of the movie. It’s shrewdly put together by director Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity), with the help of Elmo Williams’s (Tora! Tora! Tora!) clever (Oscar-winning) editing and Carl Foreman’s (The Guns of Navarone) extra-tight script. The film has no fat, so you feel the story is moving faster than normal. And there is something very human, very appealing, about a man trying to do something on principle.
Cooper adds new layers to his old western persona. 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 — Zinnemann uses close-ups of Cooper’s worn out face often, quite smartly. 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. Katy Jurado (Broken Lance) is excellent too — she plays a Mexican businesswoman. 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.
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 and lyrics by Ned Washington — tells the whole plot and captures the mood of the film with uncanny ability. Tex Ritter (John Ritter’s dad) sings the ballad in a low-key manner that complements the film extraordinary well. I think it is brilliant, simply brilliant.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
High Noon remains a compelling movie over six decades after it was made — a thoroughly enjoyable artistic triumph. B&W, 85 minutes, Not Rated.