1952, Paramount. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Grace Kelly, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Henry Morgan, Ian MacDonald.
Decent Films Ratings
|?Teens & Up|
Content advisory: Constant tension and some menace; brief gunplay and violence; romantic complications.
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High Noon (DVD)
From a National Catholic Register review
By Steven D. Greydanus
A mounting sense of dread and inevitability hangs over Fred Zinnemann’s grim, downbeat Western classic High Noon, a black-and-white anti-spectacle about an aging lawman who receives a series of nasty shocks on the day he tries to hang up his gunbelt and begin a new life.
At the film’s center is Gary Cooper’s iconic performance as Will Kane, a popular small-town sheriff whose wedding to a beautiful young Quaker gal (Grace Kelly) on the day of his retirement represents his attempt to leave his old life behind. But then Kane learns that an old enemy, Frank Miller, who has sworn revenge has been released from prison, and that his old gang members are awaiting him on the noon train.
Eschewing panoramic Western landscapes and colorful action sequences, High Noon generates claustrophobic suspense by focusing on three images: Kanes’s increasingly tense, pained expression (reflecting Cooper’s actual physical and emotional state at the time); implacably ticking clocks counting down the minutes toward noon in (almost) real time; and the ominous, empty train tracks that will eventually bring Kane’s archenemy into town.
Like Zinnemann’s later superb A Man for All Seasons, High Noon is a portrait of resolute moral courage in a man who is opposed by his community, his friends, even his wife, and is ultimately willing to die for his principles. What those principles are, though, is not as clear as in the case of Thomas More.
Kane offers more than one rationale for his stubborn insistence on confronting Miller, some pragmatic (if Kane doesn’t confront Miller here and now, Miller may surprise him at some unknown future time and place), but others merely proud (Kane has never run from a fight before).
Lurking somewhere behind Kane’s dogged determination is another question of principle: The film was made during the McCarthy era, when Hollywood filmmakers who refused to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities were blacklisted or informed on by colleagues more interested in self-preservation than in protecting their fellows or standing up to the HUAC. In fact, High Noon screenwriter Carl Foreman was blacklisted shortly after writing this script. (Another classic film of this era, On the Waterfront, was made in part as a principled defense of its director’s cooperation with the HUAC.)