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HIGH NOON (1952)
The murderous and vengeful Miller Gang is on the noon train to Hadleyville in the Territory of New Mexico, where retiring Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) risks certain death when he decides to confront them and protect the town in this western classic. Alas, Hadleyville's residents are self-righteous pacifists, unwilling to defend themselves or help the Marshall. Even his new bride (Grace Kelly) isn't cooperating, and as the clock ticks ever closer to noon the odds against Kane grow ever longer. In the climactic shootout he of course saves the town, and the closing shot by Director Fred Zinnemann, in which the citizens of Hadleyville flood into the street once the danger has passed, remains as piercing a depiction of cowardice as has ever been filmed..
HIGH NOON was nominated for the Best Picture award.
Screenplay by Carl Forman, based on the story, "The Tin Star" by John Cunningham.
Directed by Fred Zinnemann.
"The story of a man who was too proud to run."
"When these hands point straight up...the excitement starts!"
Quote from Martin Howe: "The public doesn't give a damn about integrity. A town that won't defend itself deserves no help."
The story opens showing a mean-looking cowboy, waiting on his horse on a hill outside of the town, soon two more menacing looking characters meet him there, and they ride through town together to the other side and wait for the 12 noon train at the train station.
Meanwhile, in Hadleyville, the soon to be retiring sheriff, Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) marries his Quaker bride, Amy (Grace Kelly) in a ceremony in front of a judge and a group of happy friends. Soon after, Kane gets a phone call that a criminal, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) who originally had been convicted to hang, had just been pardoned from a life sentence by a source in the northern part of the state, and was on his way back down to seek revenge on Kane, the man who had brought him to justice in the first place. A concerned friend, who had seen Miller's gang waiting at the train station, reported this to Kane and friends, who immediately put Kane and his new wife on a wagon to leave town as they had planned, to avoid Miller and his gang who would try to kill Kane.
However, after leaving town, Kane changes his mind and turns the wagon around and goes back to town because he feels responsible to take care of this menace, as the new sheriff won't arrive until the next day and he knows that these men would just hunt them down anyway. Amy is horrified, as she doesn't believe in violence and doesn't understand why he must come back, when he isn't even the sheriff anymore. When she can't get him to change his mind, she makes plans to leave on the noon train.
However, since the Miller gang, a scary bunch of rattlesnake like characters were waiting at the train station, she decides to wait at the town hotel, where she eventually meets Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) an old girl friend of at least 3 men in town and Ken Miller. She plans to leave town to avoid Miller and they plan to leave together, but not before Helen tells Amy an important moral truth to consider.
Despite asking everyone in the saloon to a nearby church, Kane can get no one to help him fight the Miller gang. People who want to join the fight are dissuaded by arguments by those who are afraid of risking their lives, who don't feel this is their battle, who feel the idiots who turned Miller loose should come down and take care of this mess, and those who feel that the investors who plan to put money in the town won't do so if there is a big gun battle there. So, the consensus is that if Kane just leaves, there will be no trouble from the Miller gang. Kane knows better.
So, at 11:55 AM, while Ken Miller is being met by his boys at the station, Kane is in the Sheriff's office, writing out his last will and testament, and then goes outside to wait for the inevitable confrontation. Sure enough at 12 noon sharp, Miller and his sleazy co-horts stroll into the deserted streets, looking for Kane.
Meanwhile, just before the train pulls out, Amy hears a gun shot, and she jumps off the train, and runs toward town, to find not her new husband, but one of Miller's henchmen dead in the street.
A suspenseful cat and mouse game ensues, to the exciting conclusion. Integrity and doing what is right overcomes overwhelming evil and cowardice, but at a price paid by Kane, his wife and the town.
"High Noon" screenplay, by the brilliant Carl Forman was based on a story, "The Tin Star" by John W. Cunningham. This story of morality, integrity and duty was nominated for the Oscar in screen writing, and was considered the summit of his career. Carl was black-listed soon after by the House Committee of Un-American Activities because of his past associations.
Producer Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman, who had worked on previous socially conscious films together, came together to do "High Noon," a timeless film which examines the best and the worst of human nature in society, perhaps mirroring their own times, and ours as well, as human beings haven't changed a bit, having the same weaknesses and strengths.
Director Fred Zinnemann, who received an Oscar nomination, does a terrific job putting the audience in Kane's shoes, telling the story through Kane's point of view, as he is continuously turned down when he asks the people of the town for help in the upcoming battle ahead. The last hour, between 11:00 AM and 12:00 PM is in real time. It seems as if the audience is standing right beside Kane as he experiences one disappointment after another, the events leading up to the climatic shoot-out, and the last gun battle, with its twists, turns, and the surprise help Kane gets from the least likely person, which probably saves his life and future.
Zinnemann's direction and a fine, talented cast of actors and actresses all working together breathes life into this classic western which has inspired many other films, both dramatic and comedic in nature.
Gary Cooper gave a terrific performance as the duty-bound, brave soon-to-be-retired lawman willing to stay and do the right thing, and not succumb to overwhelming pressure to act otherwise. His facial expressions and physical ability to show the audience what he is feeling is very effective. Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar.
Grace Kelly is perfectly cast as the new Quaker bride, Amy Kane who has a big struggle within herself between her strong faith and belief in non-violence and the love and loyalty for "her man."
Katy Jurado gives a strong performance as Helen Ramirez, who is an influential influence with a vital message for Amy.
It was a bit of a shock, but still entertaining to see both Henry Morgan (Sam Fuller) and Lloyd Bridges (Deputy Harvey Pell) play such cowardly, self-centered characters, unwilling to back up Kane despite past friendship with him.
The villains are well-portrayed in non-verbal ways by Lee Van Clef (Jack Colby), Robert Wilke (James Pierce), Ben Miller (Shelby Wooley) and Ian MacDonald, who plays the vengeful king pen Ken Miller.
Lee Van Clef's mostly non-verbal portrayal of Jack Colby was the role that brought him much notice and acclaim, and launched his career in playing "memorably villainous characters" in many films to come.
Robert Wilke's portrayal of the dastardly James Pierce, also was a big catalyst that propelled his career of playing menacing villains into higher quality films and resulted in his prolific work in television.
While "High Noon" is not rated, it is a great film for family viewing, because it explores the timeless conflict human beings must face; the choice of doing what is right, despite how hard or unpopular it is, or choosing what is perceived to be the best thing for oneself, or one's own.