The story of a man who was too proud to run.
One of the greatest Westerns ever made…at least that's what I hear. I'm not that well versed with the genre to have a truly informed opinion on the matter so I can't espouse on the full veracity of such a bold statement. After watching High Noon, one of only a small handful of Westerns I've seen in my entire days, I do have an inkling of an opinion on the movie itself…but definitely not enough to rank it in the entire pantheon.
Looking at that tagline I pulled off IMDb, I don't like it because it isn't a fair summation of the film. Is our hero really too "proud" to run? Is this the sentiment that is displayed throughout the film? When I hear the word "proud," my mind takes that word a step further and summons forth the synonym "arrogant." From that point of view, in no way is that what this movie is all about. If you ask me, I think the tagline, albeit a bit unwieldy, would be better stated as:
The story of a man whose duty wouldn't allow him to run.
That to me is the story of High Noon; indeed a truly engrossing and entertaining film set in a Western locale.
Facts of the Case
It's actually a very simple story that comes to life on the screen and is more than just what's on the page:
Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just married his beautiful bride Amy (Grace Kelley) when news arrives that outlaw Ben Miller has been released from prison and is due to arrive in Hadleyville on the noon train. Some of his friends have been spotted at the train station already, and word quickly spreads throughout the entire town.
Being that the wedding marked his official retirement, Kane is quickly encouraged to leave town. Everyone knows that Miller wants Kane dead for sending him to jail, so having Kane leave town should hopefully protect him and his wife from harm's way. Soon after beginning his hurried exodus, Kane realizes that he is bound to return to town. Although he's no longer Marshal, his replacement doesn't arrive until tomorrow. Duty and honor compel him to return to face his foe despite the vehement protestations of Amy, a Quaker.
When Kane returns to town, he has only an hour to prepare himself and gather up some additional special deputies for Miller's impending arrival. Unfortunately, this final hour is nothing short of disastrous for Kane. First, he has an argument with Amy whereby she declares that he must leave town now or she will leave without him. Though pained by the ultimatum, Kane still does not relent in his decision to face his nemesis. Second, he has a quarrel with his deputy, Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), that ends in Pell turning in his badge. Then Kane realizes as his final minutes tick by that no one is voluntarily stepping up to assist him during this upcoming conflict. He realizes he must go out and recruit deputies.
Kane crisscrosses town, visiting "friends," acquaintances, all the townsfolk looking for everyone and anyone to help him. As he goes from person to person, no one will help him. Every single man in town has a reason not to get involved. Though they think highly of Kane and the fine work he's done, everyone in town finds an excuse to believe that the arrival of Miller will not affect them and that the problem is solely Kane's.
As the clock strikes high noon, Kane stands alone. How will he cope with the ensuing clash?
This is an amazingly simple story that belies the compelling nature of the movie itself. Though filled with an excellent ensemble cast, it really all boils down to a superb performance by Gary Cooper. In the waning days of his career, he turned in this Oscar winning performance and reminded the world of the caliber of his talent. I'm not going to go into a thorough analysis of the film, for, frankly, there's not much I can offer. As a newbie to the genre, I've done some research and tried to find an interesting angle to come at for you, Faithful Reader; alas, I've been unsuccessful. Therefore, it's up to the movie to do the talking, and it's quite capable of succeeding in that endeavor. You're just going to get my plain impressions on this fine film.
I don't see this movie as a Western. Of course there are horses, gunfights, fistfights, saloons, and all the typical stuff you'd expect to find in a Western, but this film is more than that. High Noon breaks the bonds of the usual Western in that it's a mature, thought-provoking tale that just happens to be set in a Western town. It's a two-fold story of duty and betrayal and how a man rises to the challenge to uphold the values that he has set for himself. He may be in mortal danger, but he recognizes his duty and will attempt to do what is best for the situation. How all of his "friends" and townsfolk turn their back on their protector is a telling testament to human nature and how anyone can rationalize and twist the facts to suit the needs of a moment. With nary an ounce of shame, Marshal Kane is abandoned in his most dire hour, all the while he's doing work to protect not only himself but just about everyone who refuses to come to his aid.
And in his most desperate hour, you can see the pain, fear, and loneliness etched upon Kane's face. It's watching his progression over the hour before high noon that will captivate you, as it has done to others for decades. How Gary Cooper was able to so eloquently realize and perform the trials of his character is enthralling. The whole movie is perfectly realized in one scene: Just before noon, as he takes a last quick walk through town, Marshal Kane at last realizes that no one will help him; the camera pulls up, out, and away as Kane's eyes quickly scan in every direction. The sadness and fear is clearly evidenced in his face and in the jerkiness of his entire body. You know this man is wondering how he ended up in this situation and if he's making the right decision. It's a perfect movie moment that encapsulates everything that can be right in cinema.
Though I believe that Gary Cooper is the keystone of this film, it is certainly a group effort that makes this film stand the test of time. Grace Kelly, still a newcomer to film, is excellent in her portrayal of the peace-minded Quaker. While I'm not fond of her character, she is convincing in her role and creates a foundation for Cooper to hold on to. Beyond the two leads, the entire supporting cast (except maybe for the Pastor) is diverse and strong creating a thoroughly believable town. Director Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity, Oklahoma!) realized the drama of this film with his subtle and precise vision. Add in plain yet beautiful cinematography, and High Noon is a complete package.
For a movie that is now fifty years old, the DVD presentation is remarkably good but certainly not free from problems. Actually, it's one of the oddest juxtapositions I've stumbled across. On the one hand, the video presentation is marred with almost every conceivable transfer flaw out there. But on the other hand, the flaws do not detract or ruin the film in any way. In fact, again, the film stands up impressively given its age. Presented in its original full frame ratio (1.33:1), this black and white film is replete with drawbacks: overall the transfer is a bit soft, lacking crisp details; the blacks are not as solid and defined as you would want in a black and white film; occasionally you get some additional lack of focus, some shimmering, ghosts, and a halo or two; and, of course, the film has many dirt speckles throughout. But, again, all of these problems are minimal and fleeting and you may not even spot them all depending on your TV. On the whole, I really am pleased with this transfer for it is remarkably clean and vivid despite the aforementioned flaws.
The audio transfer is presented very smartly. While you may not have the true original track, you have two excellent options: the original restored track (Dolby 1.0 mono—everything from the center channel only) and an enhanced original restored track (Dolby 4.0 stereo—utilizing your left, right, center, and subwoofer). Either will treat you well with the main difference is that the four channel stereo conveys a wider field, a more expansive mix. Additionally, the four-channel track feels more powerful with bass in its mix. But that is not to detract from the mono track, which is very pleasing. In both cases, there is some static throughout, which is most prominent during the opening song.
Being a collector's edition DVD, there is a montage of bonus features for
Before moving on, I want to make note of just a few little things that I
didn't like in this presentation:
As you can see, just a few tiny quibbles. Alas, nothing is perfect in life.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You've got this old movie supposedly set in real time that plods along at a snail's pace. Finally, after enduring an eternity of this guy walking back and forth through town, you get to the big gunfight and it's boring. Bang! Bang! A couple of bullets fly and if you blinked, you missed it. All buildup and no payoff. He saves the day for too easily considering the circumstances of the rest of the film.
I've never been partial to Westerns and tonight I tried to take a couple of seconds to try and figure out exactly why. The few Westerns I've seen haven't been all that bad, so why don't I watch more of them? I know I'm partial to sci-fi and its futuristic slants, so perhaps I don't enjoy looking back? No, that can't be right, because I have a fondness for period movies set in the 17th and 18th centuries (and occasionally earlier). Maybe it's the opulence of those times that appeal to me more than your typical dusty Western. Oh well. I'll never know; I've never been good at self-realization.
High Noon is now a member of my DVD collection. Anyone who has seen the film is very aware of its merits and does not need me to tell them why to add it to their collection. Those who haven't seen the film should most certainly give it a chance. This is an excellent movie that should not simply be considered just a Western. Don't let the simple story or the Western category make you otherwise believe that this isn't a distinguished movie that has earned its reputation and should be seen. At the very least, this is most certainly a rental, and I'm certain many of you will find it compelling enough to want to add it to your collection. The bonus features could have been a touch stronger, but that shouldn't get in the way of a solid piece of movie history.
A surprisingly simple yet engrossing movie, all charges are hereby dropped. All parties are free to mosey along.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Maria Cooper-Janis, Jonathan Foreman, Tim Zinneman, and John Ritter
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