If you haven’t seen it:
High Noon is a classic western, but it is also a taut and intelligent thriller, one that focuses on characters and suspense rather than action.
If you have seen it:
Scroll down past the trailer for more.
SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details which might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is getting married, and he has just quit his job as marshal of the small town of Hadleyville and is planning on leaving town with his new bride, Amy (Grace Kelly). However, just as he is about to head out, he receives news that notorious murderer Frank Miller is heading into town with his gang, and is expected on the noon train. Miller has a grudge against Will and has sworn to kill him.
As Will’s replacement has not arrived yet, the town is without a lawman. Will feels it is his duty to stay and protect the town, and tells Amy the honeymoon will have to wait a short while. Amy, who is a Quaker, and opposed to all forms of violence, reacts angrily and says that if he stays to fight then she will leave him. Will argues that if they run now, Miller will hunt them down, and they will spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders. Amy is still not convinced though.
It is just over an hour till noon, and Will uses the time to go round town trying to round up support. He approaches his old friends to ask them for help (and also one old girlfriend to warn her that she is in danger) but nobody is willing to stand up to Miller gang, and they suggest Will leaves town so as not to be the cause of trouble.
Even the Deputy, Harvey, refuses to stand by Will. He is resentful that he has not been offered the job of replacing him, and when Will confronts him, the pair come to blows.
In the final few minutes before the train arrives, Will prepares his last will and testament, then gets ready for the showdown, alone.
At exactly 12 noon, the train pulls into the station, and within minutes Miller and his gang are heading into town. A shootout follows on the deserted streets, during which Will is wounded, but he does manage to pick off the gang members one at a time. At a crucial moment Amy reappears and saves Will by shooting one of the gang from behind. Eventually there is just Miller and Will left standing, and even though Miller tries to take Amy hostage, Will manages to shoot him. The townsfolk rush out to celebrate, but Will takes off his badge, throws it into the dirt with contempt, and leaves Hadleyville with his wife.
Steve Sunday Says:
I have always had a strong emotional response to Westerns. It is a genre I feel I can trust – it is my rock, a constant in an ever changing universe. I find this to be a comfort. After decades of watching movie after movie, I know my own mind. As I settle down on the sofa with a bowl of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, watching the opening credits, I know with absolute certainty that, no matter what, I am not going to like it. Not at all. I just don’t like westerns, especially old ones – they just aren’t my cup of tea. They are more like my cup of pureed cabbage.
Imagine my surprise then, when, while forcing myself to endure “High Noon” (on your behalf, dear reader) I actually found myself enjoying the damn thing.
So maybe it is just John Wayne films I don’t like? I think that if John Wayne (or, for that matter, Clint Eastwood) had played the part of Will Kane it would have been an entirely different movie. Cooper brings a vulnerability (he was actually suffering from acute back pain and a bleeding ulcer when he filmed it) and humanity to the role. Yes, it is true that in the end, the final shootout is fairly traditional and the good guys win, but up until the final moments I really did not know how it was going to turn out. And by then, I cared so much about the characters that I was on the edge of my seat. With more traditional dashing hero figure in the main role, the ending would have been more predictable.
Apparently John Wayne hated High Noon. As far as I am concerned that has to count in its favour.
I have heard it said that High Noon is the western for people who do not like westerns. Well…I guess I would have to go along with that.
Trivia Trish Says:
- Bill Clinton has said that High Noon is his favourite movie. Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have also expressed their admiration of it.
- John Wayne said that he hated High Noon, because he felt a Marshal should not go asking the townspeople for help. Also, he believed the movie was an analogy for blacklisting, which he approved of. Despite this, Gary Cooper did ask Wayne to collect his Best Actor Oscar on his behalf.
The deputy is played by Lloyd Bridges, father of Jeff and Beau Bridges. You probably recognize him from the Airplane movies, where he played the substance-abusing air traffic controller.
- Actors who turned down the role of Will Kane include Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, and Montgomery Clift.
- Katy Jurado (Helen) was one of the few Mexican actresses to succeed in Hollywood. As well as being an actress, she worked as a newspaper columnist, a radio reporter and a bullfight critic. She also had relationships with John Wayne, Marlon Brando, and Ernest Borgnine.
- One of Miller’s gang is Lee Van Cleef, who would later play “the bad” in The Good The Bad and The Ugly. High Noon is his movie debut.
Chris the Critic says:
High Noon has often been called the first “Adult Western”.
Will Kane provided a template for the great American hero. He is possessed with the sort of honour and courage that many of us aspire to have, but hope we will never be tested for. Resigned to his own doom, he cuts a lonely figure as the townsfolk desert him, but still he is determined to do the right thing, even if it costs him his life.
High Noon is usually regarded as an analogy for Hollywood “blacklisting”, which was the practice of banning anyone who was suspected of being a Communist from the movie industry, including people who’s only crime was to refuse to testify against other accused individuals. High Noon makes the important point that movie folk were just ignoring the problem, and refusing to stand up to the inquisitors.
Top Ten “High Noon” Analogies
Regarding High Noon in the light of 1950’s McCarthyism and blacklisting is not exactly a topical thing to do, is it? If you think about it though, it is actually possible to regard it as an analogy for any threat to society where ordinary folk cower impotently and refuse to stand up to the approaching menace. So, the next time you watch High Noon, instead of imagining that the Miller Gang represent a Communist witch-hunt, imagine that they represent one of these more up-to-date villains instead:
- Global warming
- The salaries of professional football players
- The use of “party” as a verb
- Twitter trolls
- Scripted reality shows
- The woman at work who never stops talking
- Incorrect use of the apostrophe
- Two and a Half Men
- People who insist that the moon landings were faked
- Bankers (and Hadleyville is the economy)
Where is Gary Cooper when you need him?
Main Cast and Crew:
Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane
Grace Kelly as Amy Kane
Thomas Mitchell as Mayor Jonas Henderson
Lloyd Bridges as Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell
Katy Jurado as Helen Ramírez
Ian MacDonald as Frank Miller
Directed by Fred Zinnemann