High Noon (1952)
Release Date: July 30th, 1952 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Fred Zinnemann Actors: Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Lee Van Cleef
t approximately 10:30 in the morning, Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) of Hadleyville marries pacifist Quaker Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly). At the same time, the murderous Miller gang rides into town, led by Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley) and backed by gunfighters Pierce (Robert Wilke) and Colby (a particularly young Lee Van Cleef), who all wait anxiously at the train depot. Kane intends to leave town with his new wife and hang up his gun to run a store. For one day, the town will be without a formidable law figure. Just then, a letter arrives stating that feared killer Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has been released from prison – and will be arriving on the noon train, hell-bent on revenge.
Miller was sent up five years ago by Kane and was supposed to be hanged – but was instead pardoned. “They’re making me run. I’ve never run from anything before,” Will insists to Amy, immediately feeling guilty about riding away when the town needs him most. The Justice of the Peace Percy Mettrick (Otto Kruger) fears the unavoidable confrontation and leaves before he gets in the middle of it. When Kane rounds up his friends to deputize them for the coming showdown, he learns that cowardice and betrayal are stronger than loyalty. His deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), now seeing Kane’s ex-girlfriend Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado), resigns because the marshal didn’t recommend him as his replacement – hoping the timing might extort him into using his clout to have authorities reconsider. With less than an hour to go, tensions run high, and Amy insists on leaving, with or without her prideful, stubborn husband.
With a simple premise, based on the magazine story “The Tin Star,” the poignant themes of responsibility, cowardice, self-preservation, and heroism are masterfully examined. Complexly, fearfulness is viewed as secure, while courage becomes suicide. Friends become less dependable and cloaked allegiances are revealed in the face of danger. Miller isn’t exactly despised, despite his reckless, lawless behavior in the past that prevented the town from growing into a decent family place. And Kane has burned a few bridges during his time as peace officer. The fact that Miller’s return is a matter of misplaced personal vengeance (he’s in a paid position doing a job) overshadows the realization that politics, taxpaying, answerability, religion, and blame muddle the minds and acceptance of liability for the townsfolk who, regardless of the outcome, must still deal with the presence of a persuasive outlaw. Understandably, Amy refuses to wait around to determine whether she’ll be a wife or a fresh widow, futilely hoping Kane will revise his decision.
One of the most notable and unique elements of “High Noon” is the transpiring of events in what is essentially real time. Clocks appear in almost every location, ticking away the minutes until the dreaded arrival of Miller, creating a nerve-wracking suspense that can’t be thwarted by additional scenes of character development or dialogue. Inevitability and the possibility of death are electrifying, as the odds and quantity of reliable allies (with their diminishing devotion) are stacked against Kane. In the end, notwithstanding alternately convincing, caring, and discouraging conversations that keep the townspeople fickle, Kane must stand alone to defend a community that has abandoned him. Whether it’s egotism, self-respect, bravery, or an indescribable moral obligation, Will is an outstanding cinematic force. Paired with a stirringly poignant ballad by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, sung by Tex Ritter, “High Noon” is an unforgettable, powerful Western of unequaled quality (unable to shake the obligatory fistfight but packing unexpectedly riveting editing and meritorious principles) that boasts one of the greatest of all movie endings.
– Mike Massie