Gary Wants Coop-eration
John Wayne is reported to say that "High Noon" was "un-American" as it was an allegory about people in Hollywood failing to make a stand against the House of Un-American Activities Committee. And whilst for those who are aware of the "Red-baiting" era will be able to see that deeper context it doesn't mean that "High Noon" doesn't work for those unaware of the era. In fact "High Noon" with its story of one man facing up to a group of outlaws when the town's people he protected turn their backs on him works brilliantly as just a western. Well I say just a western but in truth "High Noon" is one of the best westerns ever made with a simple but brilliant storyline, exceptional direction and camera work, unforgettable performances and it oozes atmosphere from start to finish.
On the day that he not only retires as Marshal but also marries Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly - High Society), Will Kane (Gary Cooper - Distant Drums) learns that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a man he put inside a while back has been pardoned and is heading to town on the noon train. Whilst the town's folk make Will and Amy leave before Frank's arrival Will feels he cannot run from Frank or leave the town with out a Marshal. But on his return he is surprised to find a lack of support from the men and women he helped protect and as time ticks away he finds himself a man alone with no support and the likelihood of death when Frank arrives with his small group of outlaws.
I am not going to go into detail about "High Noon" being an allegory about the "Red-baiting" era, I don't know enough to speak with authority other than to say I can see how it would come across as such. But as already mentioned "High Noon" also comes across as a normal western with this interesting storyline of one man making a stand for what he feels is right and finds himself without assistance as those he helped turn their backs on him. It is a simple storyline but one heck of a powerful one as we witness the various people turn their back on him from the judge and the deputy to those who hope he dies so that the town will prosper with more outlaws spending their money.
It is in fact hard to put into words why that is so powerful but much is to do with Gary Cooper's portrayal of Will Kane and he changes as the clock ticks down towards noon. We watch him going from the upright citizen who thinks he has friends to one who realises that so few of those he helped are willing to stand by him making up a variety of excuses not to help. You also see how the impact of the trains whistle as it arrives affects him, the beads of sweat and a look of destiny coming across his face as he prepares for the likelihood of being killed. There are a lot of other good performances in "High Noon" from Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado through to Lloyd Bridges and Thomas Mitchell but it is a convincing characterisation from Gary Cooper which draws you in to the situation.
What also draws you in is some exceptional direction and camera work with I am told the movie actually running in real time. It certainly feels that way as every now and then we see a clock and we are another 10 or 15 minutes closer to noon and the arrival of Frank Miller on the train. It is part of the reason why there is so much atmosphere because we are living Will's desperate search for assistance in real time but it is also that brilliant camera work from close ups to a brilliant pull away shot which elevates us above the town. As a fan of westerns I have seen westerns which have delivered brilliant action or stunning close-ups but "High Noon" delivers exceptional from start to finish.
What this all boils down to is that "High Noon" is known as a great western and I won't disagree because it is one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to watch. Yes back in 1952 it may have caused a stir with its allegory over Hollywood's failure to stand up against the House of Un-American Activities Committee but it works brilliantly as purely a western, a very special western at that.