A mounting sense of anxiety and inevitability hangs over Fred Zinnemann’ s directed film, which was shot almost real time in the grim, downbeat Western classic High Noon. It’s a 1952 action-western classic of all times, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. This nearly real time, the film tells the story of a town marshal forced to face a gang of killers by himself. The screenplay was written by Carl Foreman. The film won four Academy Awards for the best actor, editor, music score, and cinematography category respectively.
At the film’s center is Gary Cooper’s iconic performance as Will Kane, a popular small-town sheriff whose wedding to a beautiful young Quaker gal (Grace Kelly) on the day of his retirement represents his attempt to leave his old life behind. But then Kane learns that an old enemy, Frank Miller, who has sworn revenge has been released from prison, and that his old gang members are awaiting him on the noon train.
Eschewing panoramic Western landscapes and colorful action sequences, High Noon generates claustrophobic suspense by focusing on three images: Kane’s increasingly tense, pained expression (reflecting Cooper’s actual physical and emotional state at the time); implacably ticking clocks counting down the minutes toward noon in (almost) real time; and the ominous, empty train tracks that will eventually bring Kane’s archenemy into town.
Like Zinnemann’s later superb A Man for All Seasons, High Noon is a portrait of resolute moral courage in a man who is opposed by his community, his friends, even his wife, and is ultimately willing to die for his principles. What those principles are, though, is not as clear as in the case of Thomas More.
Kane offers more than one rationale for his stubborn insistence on confronting Miller. Lurking somewhere behind Kane’s dogged determination is another question of principle: The film was made during the McCarthy era, was still a reminder of those overtones and uglier times. Though they have faded from memory of some, younger viewers may even be unaware when Hollywood filmmakers who refused to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities were blacklisted or informed on by colleagues more interested in self-preservation than in protecting their fellows or standing up to the HUAC. In fact, High Noon screenwriter Carl Foreman was blacklisted shortly after writing this script. Such were the times then.
“High Noon” is one of the most beautifully framed and photographed films, brilliantly shot with deep rich blacks. I was truly impressed by the framing of many of the images that could have easily been plucked from the film and work elegantly as black and white still photographs. Dimitri Tiomkin’s music was another highlight with the haunting title song with the word’s “do not forsake me oh my darling”,
Besides- High Noon’s some great character actors including Lee Van Cleef’s first movie appearance as one of the killer’s, Lon Chaney Jr. as the former sheriff, Harry Morgan as a so called friend of Kane’s, Katy Jurado as the saloon owner and former lover to both Will Kane and Frank Miller.
Taking back to the American cinema history, by 1952, movie-goers knew exactly what to expect from a Western: a clean-cut, self-assured hero facing down a good-for-nothing villain in a climactic shoot-out, lots of action, gorgeous scenery, and not much in the way of thematic depth. This was a time when the Western was at the height of its popularity, and when stars of the genre, like John Wayne and Gary Cooper, were revered as heroes of the Old West. Then along came Stanley Kramer and Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, and the Western was never quite the same.
Many fans of the genre regard High Noon as the best Western ever made. There are other contenders for the titles (including, but not limited to The Searchers; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; The Wild Bunch; Unforgiven, Dances With Wolves and many other films), but there’s no debating that High Noon stance a yardstick of an all time classic Western action thriller.
High Noon contains many of the elements of the traditional Western: the gun-toting bad guys, the moral lawman, the pretty girl, and the climactic gunfight. But it’s in the way these elements are blended together, with the slight spin put on them by Zinnemann and screenwriter Carl Foreman, that makes High Noon unlike any other Western. Audiences in the early ’50s were drawn to the theater by the promise of a Gary Cooper film. Many viewers left confused, consternated, or vaguely dissatisfied, because things didn’t play out in the expected way. It is rumored that John Wayne criticized High Noon’s ending as being “un-American.”……… Who cares now after what John Wayne cracked those silly words!!
- Screenplay & Directed by Fred Zinnemann
- Produced by Stanley Kramer (uncredited); Carl Foreman (uncredited)
- Story by John W. Cunningham
- Casting: Gary Cooper & Grace Kelly
- Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
- Cinematography by Floyd Crosby
- Editing by Elmo Williams & Harry W. Gerstad
- Studio: Stanley Kramer Productions
- Distributed by United Artists
- Release dates: July 24, 1952 (New York)
- Running time: 87 minutes
- Country: United States
- Language: English