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The Critics' Corner on HIGH NOON

"A basic western formula has been combined with good characterization in High Noon, making it more of a Western drama than the usual outdoor action feature," reported Variety. "With the name of Gary Cooper to help it along, and on the basis of the adult-appealing dramatic content, the business outlook is favorable." Eventually, the film DID become a box office hit but only after it had garnered a number of Academy Award® nominations.

"A Western of stark, classical lineaments: Cooper, still mysteriously beautiful in ravaged middle age, plays a small town marshal who lays life and wife on the line to confront a killer set free by liberal abolitionists from the North...Writer Carl Foreman, who fetched up on the HUAC blacklist, leaves it open whether the marshal is making a gesture of sublime, arrogant futility - as his bride (Kelly), a Quaker opposed to violence, believes - or simply doing what a man must. High Noon won a fistful of Oscars but in these days of pasteboard screen machismo, it's worth seeing simply as the anatomy of what it took to make a man before the myth turned sour." - Sheila Johnston, TimeOut Film Guide.

"It's a beautifully composed film - courtesy of Floyd Crosby's picturesque sunlight and shadow compositions - which achieves the difficult task of being about morality while avoiding tart sermonizing and hollow admonitions. A film about what it means to be a man that manages to avoid the musk of machismo, "High Noon" is truly a film that improves with each and every viewing." - David Wood, BBCi.

"Not a frame is wasted in this taut, superbly directed, masterfully acted film, the first so-called "adult Western," in which the traditional and predictable elements of action, song and minimal romance give way to a swift, intense unraveling of a situation and complex character development...A landmark Western in every sense, High Noon was shot by cinematographer Floyd Crosby in high contrast, an approach director Fred Zinnemann used to bring documentary-like authenticity to the film. Zinnemann's outstanding economical direction is in full force here, every minute pertinent and packed with suspense. Significantly, the film takes almost as much time to unreel as Will Kane takes in the story to prepare for the gun battle. For Cooper, this was a tour de force, a film wherein his mere presence overwhelms the viewer and carries a story that is believable only through his actions. He utters no long speeches, yet his expressions and movements are those of a man resolute in his lonely duty and resigned to his own doom." - TV Guide Online (Cinebooks).

"The Western form is used for a sneak civics lesson...Much has been made of the film's structure (it runs from 10:40 a.m. to high noon, coinciding with the running time of the film); of the stark settings and the long shadows; of the screenwriter Carl Foreman's psychological insight and his buildup of suspense. When the film came out, there were actually people who said it was a poem of force comparable to The Iliad. But its insights are primer sociology, and the demonstration of the town's cowardice is Q.E.D. It's a tight piece of work, though - well directed by Fred Zinnemann." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

Perhaps the most outspoken critic of High Noon was John Wayne, the same actor who wondered why he was not offered the part when accepting the Best Actor Oscar® on Gary Cooper's behalf. Wayne said years later of High Noon: "I'll tell you about Carl Foreman and his rotten old High Noon. Everybody says it was a great picture because Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly were in it. It's the most un-American thing I've seen in my whole life! The last thing in the picture is ol' Coop putting the U.S. marshal's badge under his foot and stepping on it. I'll never regret having helped run Foreman out of this country!" (With all due respect to the Duke, his memory of the ending is inaccurate. At the climax of High Noon, Kane does indeed drop the badge in the dust, but he does not step on it.)

Director Howard Hawks did not think too highly of High Noon either. He made Rio Bravo (1959) as a response to the film that he dismissed as unrealistic: no competent marshal should require assistance from the townspeople.


High Noon was a main challenger at the Academy Awards® showdown in 1953, and walked away a winner. Gary Cooper won his second Best Actor Oscar, the first one being for Sergeant York (1941). The film also won for Best Editing (Elmo Williams, Harry Gerstad), Best Score (Dimitri Tiomkin) and Best Song (Dimitri Tiomkin, music; Ned Washington, lyrics). High Noon also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

High Noon won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Film and Best Direction. It also won the Writers Guild of America award for screenwriter Carl Foreman in 1953 as well as four Golden Globe awards including Best Picture and Best Actor (Cooper).

In 1989, High Noon was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.

The city of Reno, Nevada, honored High Noon with their Silver Spurs award for the best Western of the year. Montgomery Clift stood in for Gary Cooper, while the master of ceremonies was some dude named Ronald Reagan.

Compiled by Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford