A marshal, personally compelled to face a returning deadly enemy, finds that his own town refuses to help him.
My only prior knowledge of Gary Cooper is from watching ‘The Sopranos’, where Tony would often cite Gary Cooper and the type of characters he played in his sessions with the psychologist Dr. Melfi. He would talk about Cooper’s characters being the ‘strong, silent type’, which equated to Tony’s own expectations for how a real man and a real American should behave, despite the fact Tony himself couldn’t live up to this standard. ‘The Sopranos’ aside, watching ‘High Noon’ was the first time I’ve seen Gary Cooper on screen (to my knowledge) and Marshal Will Kane certainly meets Tony’s expectations. ‘High Noon’ is a simple film at heart, but its success is in the way it tells its story and how the dialogue draws out how each of its characters react to a difficult situation.
The film begins by introducing us to Marshal Will Kane (Cooper), who has just got married (to Grace Kelly’s Amy Fowler) and plans to turn in his badge to live a quieter life in another town. His departure is delayed when he learns that a criminal (Ian MacDonald as Frank Miller) he brought to justice has been released on a technicality and has vowed revenge. As per the film’s title, Miller is due to arrive by train at high noon, where his gang waits to join him on his revenge mission. The film sets up this ticking time bomb early on and this provides a source of tension as Kane, the townsfolk and the audience await Miller’s arrival and the situation coming to a head. In the meantime, we follow Kane as he seeks to recruit people to help defend the town against Miller and his gang.
I found many similarities in the way this plays out to ’12 Angry Men’, perhaps because of the similar time period, but perhaps more because the film focuses on one man’s attempts to convince others to support them. In ’12 Angry Men’, Henry Fonda’s juror seeks to persuade a variety of men to consider the full facts of a challenging legal case, winning them over one by one, whereas in ‘High Noon’ Will Kane’s efforts have the opposite effect as he gradually realises he is all alone. Playing out in almost real time, the film details each of Kane’s conversations and the dialogue outlines different characters rationale for shirking Kane’s request. It poses interesting discussion on where duty lies and what man’s responsibility is and like all great debates, both points of view are understandable. The film doesn’t contain many of the expected features of Western’s at the time, with minimal chases or fights and a focus on moral and ethical dilemmas delivered largely through conversation. As a result, the film was criticised by audiences in some quarters at the time. Like a lot of great films, its stature has grown over time and it’s rightly regarded as the classic it is nowadays.
Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, ‘High Noon’ goes by almost too quickly, but I found it to be a really enjoyable, thought provoking piece of cinema that we see all too rarely these days. A classic to catch up on if you haven’t seen it already.
Directed By: Fred Zinnemann
Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr, Ian MacDonald, Eve McVeagh, Harry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef, Morgan Farley, Harry Shannon, Robert J. Wilke and Sheb Wooley