High Noon (1952) was thought to be “un-American” by the most American of actors John Wayne until later in life when time was able to make things clearer. On the surface a town turns against it’s sheriff in its darkest hours. As three men await the arrival of newly released convict Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) who has come to even a score against Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) who five years ago put him behind bars. His past has come back to haunt him. If we look beyond the harsh statement made by the Duke – Un-American, what defines America? It’s a big question to answer which could draw a lot of answers, some good, some bad. I’m not sure what my answer would be. A young country that grew up fast, tamed a country and re-shaped in it the shape of an idea, of dreams. A country that prides itself of self-sufficiency, to better yourself. Whilst on the other hand we have wild gun-play under the guise of the right to bear arms, which recently has seen countless innocent people killed in massacre after massacre. I could go on, when I think the Western would not be half the genre without that six-barreled weapon that helped defend and give birth to a nation. A very flawed and sad statement but still holds some truth.
The freedom of expression is another ideal that was discussed in High Noon as one industry was having a witch-hunt, weeding out creatives just for their political beliefs, if they weren’t a Republican or Democrat they’re seen as Communist. Pressured to admit to things that may even not be true. The town of Hollywood as reflected in the frontier town that was looked down upon by the North who at the time was at war. As a town turns against one of their own for one reason or another. Today we would see these reasons as poor, stand-up and be counted, defend yourself. That’s what it is to be American, either as an individual or a group, to stand up and be counted, and respected.
The towns-people in Wild West terms are cowards, yellow and weak. Even as the Duke says the women want the men to fight, hiding behind words and ideas that they could just out there, part of the Marshall’s posse, what a different film this would be. Then writers such as Carl Foreman were left out in the cold by his colleagues and friends in Hollywood. A powerful reflection of the once respected turn against at the slightest sign of trouble. For a whole town to turn against you in your hour of need, even your newly married Quaker wife (Grace Kelly) is not what you really need.
OK context aside and time to see High Noon as just a film, well that’s not really going to happen, it is the backbone of this tense western where the tension and drama just gets hotter and hotter. There is no real relief as Marshall Kane goes from the saloon to the church in hopes of recruiting his posse. Whilst out of town Millers gang waiting his arrival, switching back and forth as the 80 minutes before his arrival passing by. The short running time adds to that illusion, believed, edited to be real-time, which didn’t work-out this time I viewed the film. This suggest that the passage of time only adds to the drama, it becomes all the more real as not only the town is turning against him, so is the passing of the last hour potentially the last hour of his life. The more times you see a clock you believe time is slipping through you hands like grains of sand, becoming precious things you can’t get back.
You cannot forget Tex Ritter‘s title song that plays throughout, acting as Kane’s conscience is eating away at him. Or the town taunting him as he walks the lonely streets as they all run-away from him. The song is his inner soul torturing him that lingers. Whilst his newly wed wife Amy who would rather run-away than stand by her man as he feels duty and honor bound to see of Frank Miller dead or himself. He’s seen as the only American in the film you can respect. Played by Cooper one of only a few actors who could embody that ideal to the world.
We look into Kane’s past in the town, how he has affected those around him, both good and bad. There are only a few who will standby him and that’s just not enough to fend off Frank Miller. We as an audience find ourselves frustrated at this ludicrous statements as they all turn away from him. He has a supporter in his old flame Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado) still sees him for who he is, even when his wife is ready to leave him at the very sight of a gun. An image she is associated with at the end of the film which makes for one hell of a finale that is really rarely seen today.
So why the return to High Noon you may ask? Well to see where the Un-American idea comes from, the build-up of tension and playing with time in order to do that. Not many films this short really want to show you the time they are on-screen, more interested in the content they can get on there. This is a masterclass in allegory and tension, in a genre that was really starting to hit it’s stride in the 1950’s and what an addition to the genre.