High Noon, High Drama.
High Noon: 2 Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition -Distributed by Lionsgate
1952 Republic Pictures
Directed by Fred Zinneman
Screenplay by Carl Foreman
Music composed by Dimitri Tiomkin
Carl Zinneman’s High Noon would best be described as an art house film with western trapping. One could easily recreate most of the film on a stage. One can’t walk into High Noon expecting a shoot ‘em up, guns blazing action film; rather it’s an intense character study that maintains a slow burn until the final fifteen minutes.
The premise of High Noon seems simple enough; the lone lawman, Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), on the day of his retirement and marriage to his wife (Grace Kelly), must take up his guns once again to defend his town against resurgent outlaw Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) and his gang.
What seems like a terribly simple scenario becomes an introspective look into the pettiness of human hearts. Far from assisting Kane in his endeavors the town’s people are all decidedly against his decision to stay and fight, fearing that his presence will bring down the wrath of Frank Miller and company upon them. An unoriginal premise takes a turn for the unusual when the frontier community abandons their marshal as unrealistic and cynical. Judge Mettrick (Otto Kruger) takes down the American flag and scales of justice as foreshadowing the woes of Will Kane.
The businessmen resent Kane for stymieing the unscrupulous practices, preferring Miller’s laissez faire regime, the town’s folk see the problem as a rivalry exacerbated by Kane’s presence, and church disapproves of the violent methods that will be employed to dispatch the thugs.
The church scene typifies a political “sound and fury” that goes now where with issues of money, taxes, and emotional reactions that all boil over into turning the matter once again into Kane’s hands. Gary Cooper, as Kane, is barely able to hide his discomfort and anxiety; lending a very human touch to his performance. After so many dead ends, through out the course of the movie, both the audience and Kane are hoping beyond hope that there’ll be a turnaround. Tight head shots allow the play of emotions on the actors’ faces to come through. The tension is drawn out until the damning conclusion where all the emotional sound and fury amounts to another 180 in expectations as the dilemma of Frank Miller is laid squarely upon Kane’s shoulders. Kane and viewers are both stunned and disgusted.
The score and cinematography go a long way in establishing the theme and mood. “Do Not Forsake Me”, sung by Tex Ritter opens the film up providing a sharp contrast with Miller’s unsavory thugs (one of whom was Lee Van Cleef in his first movie debut) and sets the theme for the entire film. The melancholy tune sums up Kane’s personal anguish, and plays in the background during key scenes. One of the most poignant scenes is an over head shot of Kane alone in the middle of town, looking like the last man on earth, and crystallizing his abject loneliness.
The dusty, arid climate typical of westerns adds to the mood of the film as well, subtlety alluding to the spiritual desolation in the town’s people’s hearts. The train tracks stretch far out into the distance, seeming to go on forever, lending a sense of imminent doom to the hour that ekes by before Miller and Kane meet. Important scenes between actors are tightly shot with an attention to what makes them unique. The character of Helen Ramirez has an emphasis placed on her smoky and sultry eyes, where as Gary Cooper’s lanky frame decked out in perfect black cuts a sharp contrast with the muddled shades around him.
The institution of marriage, personified by the wedding scene, and the typical concepts of love take a beating in High Noon. Amy Fowler, aka Mrs. Kane is maddeningly dense in her inability or perhaps refusal to understand Kane’s sense of duty. Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) comes across almost entirely unsympathetic and ultimately coldly selfish. For all her religious tenants she’s not above using feminine means of coercion regarding her husband. In contrast to this Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado), Kane’s old flame seems to understand who Kane is and what he’s trying to do. She boldly claims that had Kane remained her lover she would have fought by his side. The reasons for their breakup are unknown, but it’s implied that she still has feelings for her ex. While Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper have been criticized for having no chemistry (which is strange considering they were both allegedly having an affair with each other), no such critique can made against the scenes Cooper and Jurado have together.
The buildup to the climactic fifteens minutes is a bit of a letdown, there isn’t anything terribly groundbreaking about the gun battle or the way it was staged. The turnaround Kane’s wife makes is perhaps the biggest surprise with Ramirez’s words finally sinking in. The bad guys are dead but the ones who’ve lost the most are Kane and his wife. The final scene in the film is of the former marshal throwing his tin star away in disgust in front of a gathering crowd. It’s a surprise he’s alive but the implication seems to be that Kane and his wife have sacrificed the most for next to nothing. Kane’s lost his faith in the people around him, and while he rides off with his wife it’s a question as to whether or not they will be happy. Mrs. Kane broke a tenant of her religion to aid Kane, killing another man, and it’s likely she’s no longer the person she was before noon that day. Will they remain together? Will Marshal William Kane ever take up the mantle of the law again? High Noon raises a lot of questions but leaves no easy answers in its wake.