Film Review: High Noon
In 1952, Fred Zinnermann released High Noon, which starred Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lon Chaney, Jr., Katy Jurado, and Eve McVeagh. The film grossed $12 million at the box office.
Will Kane is the town marshal, but has planned to retire and live with his new wife, Amy, and throw his gun away forever. However, Frank Miller, a formerly arrested criminal, is arriving on the noon train seeking revenge. Kane heads all over town seeking support, but can’t find any.
Notable for being the most requested film by U.S. Presidents, High Noon is considered one of the best westerns of all time and it does really well in deconstructing some conventions normally found in many western movies. Instead of the situation between Kane and Miller being black and white, with Kane’s path being the undoubtedly the correct choice, Kane has a complex moral situation on his hands. He made a promise to his new wife that come their wedding day, he’d give up his position as Marshall and his guns. At the same time, news of Miller coming to town comes right when they get married and he hadn’t turned in his badge. He has to make the choice of whether or not he honors that promise or lives up to the ideals of his position. Not being able to find anyone to help him take on Miller and his gang complicates matters. There’s also his wife, who must make the choice of leaving her new husband to face the gang alone or stand beside him, which Helen believes she should. In the end, they both make their choice, but only after spending a good chunk of time considering what that choice should be. It’s not easily spelled out for them and the film is improved by it.
All of those choices have consequences too. The town doesn’t help Kane due to their cowardice, making it so that no one takes over once he leaves. Kane chooses to stay and fight, causing Amy to, at first, leave him. Further, Amy breaks her vow of pacifism in order to stand by her man.
Another interesting aspect of this film is that time itself can be considered its own character. Wherever Kane goes in his search for help against Miller, he finds himself faced with a clock that shows how much time he has left until Miller gets into town and the gang starts tracking him down. The characterization of it comes in the presence of those clocks in every seen, which eventually makes getting through a 15 minute span seem like crossing an imposing chasm.The time coming ever closer to noon serves to remind Kane that he needs to not only gather up a posse fast, but when no one comes to help him, that he needs to make his ultimate choice. The film being in real time also helps to illustrate just how long an hour can seem when you’re staring something in the face.
But what really makes the film interesting is that it can be considered a way for screenwriter Carl Foreman to speak out against McCarthyism. The man had been under investigation by the House of Un-American Activities Committee and was eventually blacklisted. The parallels are apparent in that Foreman sees himself as Kane, on the spot and vulnerable as those who want to be rid of him loom ever closer. Yet, despite all he’s done for everyone, no one will stand up and help him for fear of association. The ending is the same way in that once he leaves, there’ll be no one to defend them if someone comes after them with an accusation. It’s an interesting parable that seeks to examine how people will actively refuse to deal with something they don't see as their problem and only intervene when it directly does so.
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bold indicates reception of award/recognition
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Cooper)
- Best Film Editing
- Best Music, Original Song ("High Noon [Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin']")
- Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
- Best Picture
- Best Director
- Best Writing, Screenplay
- Best American Film
Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain
- Best Foreign Film
Directors Guild of America, USA Awards
- Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
DVD Exclusive Awards
- DVD Premiere Award - Best Audio Commentary, Library Release (for the Collector's Edition)
Golden Globe Awards
- Best Actor - Drama (Gary Cooper)
- Best Supporting Actress (Katy Jurado)
- Best Original Score
- Best Cinematography - Black and White
- Best Motion Picture - Drama
- Most Promising Newcomer - Female (Katy Jurado)
- Best Screenplay
National Board of Review, USA
- Top Ten Films
National Film Preservation Board, USA
- National Film Registry
New York Film Critics Circle Awards
- Best Film
- Best Director
Online Film & Television Association Awards
- OFTA Film Hall of Fame - Motion Picture
- Most Popular Male Star (Gary Cooper)
- Best Classic DVD (Two-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition)
- Best DVD Extras (Two-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition)
Writers Guild of America, USA Awards
- Best Written American Drama