A true classic of the western genre, High Noon is a Fred Zinnemann film starring Gary Cooper in probably one of the best roles he’s been given in a long time. Cooper stars as a town marshal Will Kane who, just upon marrying his Quaker wife and hanging up his badge, learns that one of the meanest criminals he put away has been pardoned and is due in the 12 o’clock train. Taking up the badge one last time, he attempts to go around town to gather a posse to aid him in bringing the man and his friends down, but goes through many a person without much luck. Most of the film details his efforts to gather people in the town together to fight for what’s right and to fight for their town, and it is only in the last ten minutes that the bandit arrives and the shootout begins.
The film plays out pretty much in real-time, which was a rare novelty for a film of the time, and in some ways still is. I liked the constant presence of the clocks to signify the approaching hour; it gave the film a constant stream of suspense that kept up all the way through to the ending, which heightened the experience of the whole film as it played out. The ever pervasive Oscar-winning theme song added to the atmosphere as well, and it was surprisingly delightful to listen to even with the repetition. As for the acting, this is a rare opportunity where I don’t agree with the Academy on their decision to award Gary Cooper the Oscar for Best Actor. I haven’t seen all the other nominees in their respective films, but from what I saw from Cooper, I didn’t feel he had done enough to deserve the award. He creates one of the most upright heroes in all of film, all right, but he is mostly playing the role by rote, mostly acting out the Cooper acting persona, and I’ve always preferred actors who were more chameleonic in their craft.
A lot has been made of High Noon, especially because of the response film Rio Bravo that John Wayne made to answer his criticisms of this film. There is apparently a lot of different layers of allegory to be found in High Noon, especially with the rising McCarthyist ideals infiltrating Hollywood at the time, but I was happily able to enjoy the film without trying to think too hard about what it may or may not have meant. This is different from most westerns; it is a thoughtful, brooding film, concerned with the complicated interactions of people rather than the spectacle of the scenery or the macho ruggedness of its main characters. I wasn’t to sure what to make of the ending, but the rest of the film up to then was mighty well done, and as long as you don’t go into this expecting just another western, I think you’ll like the different palette this has to offer.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10