Western RoundUp: High Noon

High Noon (1952)

I’ve seen High Noon (1952) multiple times over the years, including a memorable theatrical screening at the FilmEx festival when I was in my teens. The FilmEx screening, which took place in Century City, California, was part of a 50-hour movie marathon honoring the 50th anniversary of the Oscars!

High Noon Poster

That said, despite my love for Westerns and its vaunted reputation, High Noon has never been a favorite of mine and consequently I hadn’t seen it for roughly two decades. I was thus very interested to take a fresh look at the film via the new Special Edition Blu-ray just released by Kino Lorber. I find that sometimes seeing a film in a new context, including having viewed many more movies in the intervening years, provides an interesting new perspective.

As many will already be aware, High Noon tells the tale of Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who has just married a young bride, Amy (Grace Kelly), and retired as the marshal of Hadleyville, New Mexico.

Will and Amy are on the point of leaving town when Will learns that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), who Will sent to prison, has been inexplicably pardoned and is on his way to town to exact his revenge on Will. Members of Frank’s gang (Robert J. Wilke, Lee van Cleef, and Sheb Wooley) are already waiting for Frank at the train station.

High Noon Gary Coope, Grace rKelly 2
Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly

The town judge (Otto Kruger) immediately hightails it out of town, and Will initially agrees to leave with Amy as planned. However, he feels that dealing with Frank is his responsibility and heads back to town, despite Amy threatening to leave him. Will’s concern that they would forever be looking over their shoulders for Frank to show up in their new town also fails to move Amy.

Amy, we learn, became a Quaker pacifist after her father and brother were gunned down, but she eventually has second thoughts about abandoning her new husband after a heartfelt discussion with Will’s former lover, Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado).

Meanwhile Will is shocked when no one in town will help him, as the clock ticks ever closer to noon…

High Noon Gary Cooper

High Noon received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director (Fred Zinnemann). Cooper won the Best Actor trophy, and the film also won its Editing nomination, with Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad taking home Oscars.

As implied by its Oscar nominations and wins, the film is nicely crafted, running a well-paced 85 minutes; a running time under an hour and a half is always a plus for me. I’ve enjoyed the film enough to go back to it every now and then — always hoping that this time I’ll end up loving it, yet it never quite happens. I wouldn’t precisely say I dislike it, as it has a few positive aspects, but my issues with it if anything have become more strongly felt with the passage of time.

It’s been said in many quarters that High Noon is a film for people who don’t like Westerns; being a Western fan I can’t say if that’s true, but I did feel that, other than the actors, it may have been made by people who don’t like Westerns.

High Noon. Grace Kelly

The film is curiously lacking in joy, with a sour, negative tone. I revisited this film exactly a week after seeing the new restoration of John Ford’s masterpiece, The Searchers (1956), and was struck that although the Ford film is about a very, shall we say, complicated man and the film goes to some very dark places, it’s also awe-inspiring; The Searchers deeply moves the viewer with its powerful story and great beauty.

I never get those feelings from High Noon, despite being prepared to love it because of its great cast of familiar faces. As I’ve analyzed it, I feel that it’s actually kind of a self-consciously, deliberately nasty movie, and a key flaw is that not one male character in it is admirable.

I include Will Kane in that assessment. On the one hand I do appreciate his sense of responsibility to the town, but I felt he didn’t simultaneously show enough responsibility and concern for his wife. One might blame his not taking time to hash things out with her at length due to the ticking clock — indeed, “I don’t have time” becomes his somewhat whiny refrain over the course of the film — but he showed far too little concern for his brand-new wife’s feelings.

High Noon Gary Cooper 2

And as the film goes on, Kane’s character begins to seem negative right alongside the townspeople hiding in their homes. It certainly seems that Kane has never actually been a leader, because not one person will follow him, least of all his feckless former deputy, Harvey (Lloyd Bridges).

The movie expands on a theme seen in at least one film on Wyatt Earp, that once a town has been cleaned up, the citizens begin to resent it, including sometimes the negative financial impacts. That discomfort seems to be part of the explanation here, but it’s not explored in enough depth to help us understand what’s going on, and it becomes tiresome simply watching people turn down helping their former marshal.

The ladies are a different story and part of what makes the movie worthwhile, despite its deficiencies. Although the movie starting at the moment of Will and Amy’s wedding robs us of much background and character development for the relationship of Will and his (much) younger bride, Amy’s reactions are reasonable and understandable, especially after she explains her pacifism to Helen. And after struggling over what to do, I find Amy’s ultimate decisions admirable.

Katy Jurado, I commented on Twitter recently, is a “goddess” in this film, so compelling that I honestly find her the main reason to watch; indeed, I think she deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Whether she’s sharing scenes with Cooper, Kelly, or Bridges, she commands attention.

High Noon Poster Foreign

Though one might question why such a smart woman has been having an affair with Harvey, the overall picture of Helen is of an intelligent, ethical woman. Her discussions with Amy are for my money the best scenes in the film, and I also really love the small, almost throwaway scene in which Helen decides to sell out and leave town, as it illustrates her business savvy.

Left unanswered for the viewer is why Helen and Will broke up, though one might infer she was not the “kind” of woman a man like Will married in that era, whether due to her business or even her ethnicity. Their brief exchange in Spanish — which I was able to understand due to many months of Duolingo — was moving.

Among the female characters, let us also not forget the wonderful character actress Virginia Christine, who has a scene in which she tries but fails to rally fellow churchgoers to Kane’s side.

High Noon Gary Cooper 1

The screenplay by Carl Foreman was based on the story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham. Much has been written over the years analyzing High Noon and its screenplay as political allegory, but I choose not to go there in this piece; that’s a complicated discussion which deserves more words than I have room for here. I find it sufficient to judge High Noon simply as a Western among other Westerns and say that for me it comes up short.

The musical score is Dimitri Tiomkin, with lyrics for the title song by Ned Washington; Tex Ritter is the singer. Days later the music is still reverberating in my head!

The black and white cinematography was by Floyd Crosby. A fun bit of trivia is that he was the father of David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Supporting cast members not already mentioned above include Thomas Mitchell, James Millican, Lon Chaney Jr., Harry Morgan, Eve McVeagh, Ralph Reed, Lee Aaker, Jack Elam, and John Doucette.

High Noon Gary Cooper, Lon Chaney Jr
Lon Chaney Jr. and Gary Cooper

Kino Lorber’s fine print is from a new HD master from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. In addition to the Blu-ray I reviewed, it’s also being released by Kino Lorber in a 4K edition.

This Special Edition Blu-ray release comes with a reversible cover and cardboard slipcase. The nice selection of extras includes not one but two separate commentary tracks, one by Alan K. Rode and the other by Julie Kirgo. Although I haven’t yet listened to these tracks, I’ve heard many other tracks over the years by both Rode and Kirgo so am confident saying they will each be worthwhile.

High Noon KL Bluray

The disc also includes half a dozen featurettes; the trailer; and a gallery of trailers for seven other films available from Kino Lorber. Kino Lorber has done its usual stellar job, and this is an excellent way to see High Noon.

If nothing else, High Noon is a thought-provoking film, and I welcome discussion pro and con in the comments.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

This entry was posted in Films, Posts by Laura Grieve, Western RoundUp and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Western RoundUp: High Noon

  1. Barry Lane says:

    The best commentary on High Noon ever, or more modestly put, that I have ever read. John Wayne disliked the film and while he was never quoted on this, High Noon is a New York Western. Think of that as you may. Abilene Town, a grand Randolph Scott film from 1946 has a similar thrust, but it is anot New York-like.

  2. Jerry Entract says:

    I’ve always loved HIGH NOON and tend to keep it in my mind as a taut, well-made and paced western and ignore political allegories. I cannot for one minute view it as an anti-western or a western for people who don’t like westerns. That particular description I attach to BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. There can be few major Hollywood stars of the day who loved the Western more than Gary Cooper.
    I see Will Kane as an honourable man basically who does not really know how to deal with his new wife’s feelings about the situation but I just can’t see how his character could have reacted any differently really.
    Katy Jurado was a terrific actress in anything she appeared in and never more so than here.
    Strange coincidence, Laura, that I also rewatched the film after a considerable gap.

  3. Lyson says:

    I always find your film assessments thought provoking and the review of High Noon is no exception. I have always found this to be an enjoyable watch since my teen age years. This goes back to the pre-own your media world.
    I clearly like the film more than you – as I have owned at least 6 prior versions including the new 4K from Kino Lorber. This total even eclipses my favorite Western The Searchers which you also mention.
    You make a number of good points – including the lack of joy; at least after the wedding scene at the front of the film. But I like the way we are thrown into the middle of a problem without adequate information as to why Cooper & Kelly are together, what went amiss with Jurado. And I appreciate the ticking clock and tight editing as the suspense continues to rachet up. And the musical score~!
    I accept that it isn’t a typical Western (my favorite genre) but it does have a strong cast. Lastly, it was one of the few “Westerns” my daughters enjoyed watching with me. Right up to and through the ending.

  4. I generally agree with you about movies, Laura, but not here. Like Jerry, I love High Noon.
    Will Kane is for me the quintessence of the loner who must fight the good fight, not because he wants to but because he has to. He swore an oath to uphold the law and he cannot simply walk away from this and run. Too many people in this town already shirk their responsibility, he can’t be one of them.

    I agree that I would have liked a bit more backstory on why the townspeople all refuse to back Kane up. I’m not sure it’s because he failed to be a leader, but of course we don’t know. To me there’s some deep-seated rot in this town, people who just don’t care and I assume must have been cowards for a very long time. Again, we don’t know why Kane didn’t leave there a long time ago.

    I completely understand the roots of Amy’s pacifism, but I never really liked the character much, at least not before the ending. And that comes from Grace Kelly’s biggest fan. She comes off as whiny. She knew what kind of a man she married, what does she expect him to do?

    I agree about Katy Jurado. I find it hard to believe Kane would leave Helen for Amy. Again, unfortunately we don’t get a backstory, why they broke up and why she would waste herself on Harvey, if indeed she even did.

    High Noon is for me the essence of a minimalist Western with only one question that needs answering during its runtime. Will Kane do the right thing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.