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1952’s High Noon is considered by many to be the first “adult” Western. A Western that finally addressed bigger subjects than simple good vs. evil, white vs. black.
Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just married a Quaker named Amy (Fowler) Kane (Grace Kelly) and is giving up his post as Marshall in Hadleyville to appease his pacifist wife. Just as he’s hung up his gun and star, the news comes that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a man the Marshall had sent away 5 years ago, has been paroled and is on his way back on the Noon train to make good on his threat of revenge against Kane.
Kane’s first impulse is to grab Amy and run from the town, but his sense of obligation kicks in and he heads back to Hadleyville with the intention of forming a posse to confront Miller and his gang. Upon getting back to town, Amy informs Will that she will have no part of this and is leaving on the train if he is going to do this. He says he has no choice, and heads out to get the help of the townspeople.
What follows is a tension filled hour where citizen after citizen informs Kane that they would like to help, but….. After years of service to the town, after being told repeatedly how he made the town safe, the town deserts him in his moment of need.
This is an unsettling film in that it shows how the majority of men will talk a good game, but don’t ever ask them to actually do anything. Even Amy is a victim of this as she proclaims her peaceful ways for the entire movie, but in the end, even she has no choice but to go against the game she talks.
Fred Zinnemann crafts as fine an amount of tension as I have ever seen. The lingering shots of clocks, showing Kane’s time ticking away. The silent moments of staring down the straight train tracks, knowing that soon they will bring violence. The gut wrenching moment when the train whistle blows, filling you with a mix of dread and relief that the anticipation has ended. All of these deliver the desired emotional responses, which is not always an easy task for a filmmaker. And the idea that this was shown in close to real time must have been a jaw dropper of an idea back in the 1950’s.
At times this almost feels like a modern day indie film. The use of visuals is in unusual for a movie of this time period. the concept of playing out over real time and the amount of symbolism is astonishing. Pay close attention to how Cooper treats his Marshal badge when he first hangs it up to the end of the film, and you will witness a truly gorgeous example of a nuanced performance.
The DVD itself has two nice little documentaries about the production of the film. If you watch closely, you can also catch Leonard Maltin in an amusing slip of facts. He states that Gary Cooper won his only Oscar for this film…um…Leonard…Cooper won 2 Oscar’s, this was #2. Amusing when you consider what an expert on films he is supposed to be. I would have liked to have seen one or two more extras, but overall, a nice package.
4 out of 5 stars for the film
3 out of 5 stars for the DVD