HIGH NOON (1952)
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Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is looking forward to his honeymoon with his new bride Amy (Grace Kelly). But as he and his wife prepare to leave town, Kane is informed that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), his former nemesis, is out of jail and on the way to Hadleyville for a showdown with him. Not one to back down from a confrontation, Kane decides to postpone his honeymoon and face the murderous outlaw and his gang. However, as the lone sheriff attempts to enlist some of the townspeople to help him, he quickly discovers that no one is willing to risk their life beside him. As the minutes tick away toward the final showdown, Kane prepares to meet his fate alone.
Producer: Stanley Kramer, Carl Foreman
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Carl Foreman, based on the story "The Tin Star" by John W. Cunningham
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Editing: Elmo Williams
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Art Direction: Ben Hayne
Cast: Gary Cooper (Marshal Will Kane), Grace Kelly (Amy Kane), Thomas Mitchell (Jonas Henderson), Lloyd Bridges (Harvey Pell), Katy Jurado (Helen Ramirez), Otto Kruger (Judge Percy Mettrick), Lon Chaney, Jr. (Martin Howe), Harry Morgan (Sam Fuller), Ian MacDonald (Frank Miller), Lee Van Cleef (Jack Colby), Sheb Wooley (Ben Miller).
BW-85m. Closed captioning.
Why High Noon is Essential
Among the many themes inherent in the Western genre, the division between civilization and lawlessness has always been a major issue. Usually, a representative from civilized society (a sheriff, a rancher, an army officer) is called upon to battle the forces of lawlessness, whether they are outlaws, greedy landowners, or Indians. The outcome usually results in a return to normalcy for the community with the antagonists vanquished and the hero riding off into the sunset, his mission accomplished. Alan Ladd's mysterious title character in Shane (1953), directed by George Stevens, is a classic example of the archetypal Western hero, one who upholds and protects the morality and laws of a civilized community against those who threaten its existence in the vast Western landscape.
But in High Noon, we are presented with something quite different. On the surface, Hadleyville is a long-established community with a vibrant commerce, an active church, and a history of stable law enforcement. But beneath the facade of respectability are major flaws in the infrastructure. The town, which was once terrorized by Frank Miller, is now faced with his return from prison (his death sentence was commuted to life but he was paroled early for good behavior). Yet, except for the marshal, the townspeople seem unconcerned about the effect this will have on their community. They refuse to get involved, take a stand or rally to the side of the man who is responsible for their safe and comfortable existence. Even the marshal's good friend, William Fuller (Harry Morgan), hides inside his house with his wife and refuses to come to the door when Kane pays a visit. As the couple watch the marshal walk away, Fuller stands next to his ashamed wife and asks her if she would rather have him alive or dead in the street. Yet, his cowardice is not unusual; the entire town is reluctant to defend their freedom against an obvious threat to it. This issue of moral responsibility is what makes High Noon unique among Westerns and raises the question, is civilization really worth fighting for?
In his biography, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood, Stanley Kramer had this to say about High Noon: "From the start, many of the people around me felt I was bent on a bootless project. I hired Gary Cooper to play the marshal because he was still a star, even though he was no longer at the height of his popularity. I thought he would give the picture the stature and attention it needed. It is, after all, a difficult story to define. It's a story filled with tense anticipation but very little action. Since all those who read it thought of it as a Western, they expected to see guns blazing and horses galloping everywhere. In our minds, though, it wasn't an action picture. We didn't even think of it as a Western."
Director Fred Zinnemann also voiced his own opinions about High Noon in his biography, A Life in the Movies: "The story seems to mean different things to different people. (Some speculate that it is an allegory on the Korean War!) Kramer, who had worked closely with (Carl) Foreman on the script, said it was about 'a town that died because no one there had the guts to defend it.' Somehow this seemed to be an incomplete explanation. Foreman saw it as an allegory on his own experience of political persecution in the McCarthy era. With due respect I felt this to be a narrow point of view. First of all I saw it simply as a great movie yarn, full of enormously interesting people. I vaguely sensed deeper meanings in it; but only later did it dawn on me that this was not a regular Western myth....To me it was the story of a man who must make a decision according to his conscience. His town - symbol of a democracy gone soft - faces a horrendous threat to its people's way of life....It is a story that still happens everywhere, every day....The entire action was designed by Foreman and Kramer to take place in the exact screening time of the film - less than ninety minutes."
High Noon proved to be a huge critical and popular success when released and garnered seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture prior to the 1953 Academy Awards® ceremony that year (It won statues for Gary Cooper (Best Actor), Best Film Editing, Best Music Score and Best Song ("Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'"), which was performed in the film by Tex Ritter; it also became a hit for Western balladeer Frankie Laine). Kramer noted in his previously mentioned biography "that High Noon's defeat in the Oscar® race by Cecil B. DeMille's circus picture, The Greatest Show on Earth, had to be largely political, and I'm not referring to the unspoken old-boy politics of Hollywood's inner circle. I still believe High Noon was the best picture of 1952, but the political climate of the nation and the right-wing campaigns after High Noon had enough effect to relegate it to an also-ran status. Popular as it was, it could not overcome the climate in which it was released. Carl Foreman, who wrote it, had by then taken off for England under a cloud of accusations as a result of his political beliefs. Between the time he turned in the script and the time the Academy voted, we all learned that he had been a member of the Communist Party, but anyone who has seen the picture knows that he put no Communist propaganda into the story. If he had tried to do so, I would have taken it out."
By Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford