HIGH NOON, 1952
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger
Review by Jarred Thomas
The town marshal (Gary Cooper) must face an old enemy and his gang of gunmen out for revenge.
In 1989, High Noon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being a culturally and historically significant film, and it was well deserved. Fred Zinnemann created a western masterpiece that transcends the traditional classic western films of that time while also honoring the mythology. The acting, storytelling, and aesthetic appeal establishes High Noon as one film for others to aspire to, and if not possible, to at least provide some form of inspiration.
The town’s marshal Will Kane (Cooper) is ready to retire and leave town with his wife, Amy (Kelly). News about Kane’s old enemy, Frank Miller reaches town and his intention is to seek revenge on Kane. The townspeople urge him to leave but Kane decides to stay fearing that Miller will simply hunt him down. In dire need of help, Kane turns to the town for support; however, he soon realizes that he must face this impending threat on his own. Everyone turns their back on him despite their respect for the marshal and his years of service.
Gary Cooper is the quintessential American hero and the epitome of the American cowboy, and his characters are a reflection of that ideal. Kane is brave, selfless and courageous, the traits seen in every classic hero. Despite the gravity of his situation, Kane never leaves. His stubbornness, or maybe his sense of justice, prevents him from abandoning his duty. The choice is between what is right and what is easy.
He can leave anytime, no one would consider him a coward or yellow, but he knows better. That is the easiest choice but not the right one. This is a threat he cannot avoid and must face it alone. Cooper is excellent as Kane, who although concerned for his safety is driven and determined to meet this challenge with or without help.
Grace Kelly gives a quiet and great performance as a wife worried for her husband but frustrated by his conviction. She decides to leave on a train without him, but returns shortly after not wanting him to face his adversaries alone. Amy too is bound by a sense of duty. Her duty as a wife to be loyal no matter the reason, cause, or the unknown outcome is a testament to her character as a strong courageous woman.
There is little action in the film until the final 10 minutes when the gun battles ensures. Prior the climax, a fist fight between Kane and his former deputy occurs but little action takes place. The tension comes from the desperation of Kane which is emphasized by Zinnemann’s brilliant direction and editing.
There is a wonderful shot of Kane standing alone in the town moments before Miller’s arrival. The entire town has left him. That one moment encompasses the desperation and isolation that only Kane understands. The pacing builds the suspense and palpable tension leading to a climax that delivers not just for the solid action sequence but for the resolution. Kane wins in the end, as expected for films in those days, and after the townspeople congratulate him, he throws his badge down and leaves with Amy. He no longer has a reason to stay, and it’s time to move on without looking back.
High Noon is classic good versus evil, a common theme in most western film; however it distinguishes itself by creating a character study rather than an action picture. High Noon is less about gun fights and more about a character study on a man facing a threat alone, no support from friends or allies. The western genre provides the background of the story, but Kane is the story and Cooper does an amazing job portraying a man who stands true to his character. One of the greatest western films in the history of cinema, High Noon is a must see for all those who have a passion for movies and compelling characters.