March 6, 2015
High Noon (1952)
Grade: 91/100

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Stars: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges

What it's about. How others will see it. One of the most acclaimed westerns of all time, High Noon was not a box office smash. It was critically favored, and won five Oscars, including Best Actor (Cooper). Producer Kramer, director Zinnemann, and writer Foreman were all nominated but lost.

Today, though, the only movie from 1952 with a greater reputation is Singin' in the Rain, the most famous MGM musical of all. At, High Noon has an impressive 68K user votes and a lofty 8.1 user rating. Among viewers over 45, the rating is 8.4. Viewers of this age can see through the Western facade to embrace the moral of standing up for what you believe in, regardless of the potential cost.

How I felt about it. Hollywood insiders, even in 1952, widely perceived that High Noon was an allegory of the blacklist. This infers that the people of Hadleyville are the Hollywood producers, studio executives, and leading actors who desert the hero in his hour of need, or even eagerly await his comeuppance.

Hollywood, then as now, was rent in left and right factions, with the likes of Cecil De Mille and John Wayne in favor of the communist witch hunts led by ambitious Republicans like Joseph McCarthy. The left faction was typically larger, but throughout most of the 1950s, was more interested in self-preservation than standing up for fellow actors, writers, and directors. The situation had reversed by the mid-1960s, when the formerly blacklisted resumed work, while those who named names in Congressional testimony became persona non grata.

But if the citizens of Hadleyville represent Hollywood cynics and cowards, and the gunmen are from the House Un-American Committee, then who is Gary Cooper? The man ready to deep-six career by refusing to testify? Well, maybe there's work in Europe.

Will Kane is too ethical for his own good. He won't stand up for his own deputy, so he returns the favor. He won't accept the aid of a drunk or a youth. He certainly won't leave town. But no need to worry. I've seen the movie several times, and even the shot that Kane takes in the arm only appears to tear his sleeve.

We wonder, though, why the gunmen take the train to town when riding in would give them the element of surprise. That would remove the suspense, I suppose. We also wonder why Amy Kane is 30 years younger than Will, and looks more like a model for Paris magazine covers than an Old West wife. Being gorgeous makes her more sympathetic, I suppose. But she was a capable actress, which almost makes up for her miscasting.

Grace Kelly was unknown at the time, but the rest of the cast was stocked with the best products of the Hollywood studio system (Lee Van Cleef has no lines but opens the film, making his feature debut). The script, the direction, and the editing are superlative. They build up the betrayal of Kane by his own town: would they really prefer to see it controlled by unpredictable gunmen than to have law and order?

But Kane isn't fighting for the town. He's defending his own hide. And if his wife is the only person to take up arms on his side, it's further confirmation that religious dogma is secondary to heroism, at least in the movies. Gary Cooper should know, having made Sergeant York.