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High Noon

Posted : 3 years, 1 month ago on 13 October 2016 03:52

A tough, lean 85 minutes marks High Noon as a study in economy. There’s no fat in any of the stories, the characters feel authentic and lived-in, the pace never wavers, and the tension slowly increases until the nail-biter of a climatic shootout. High Noon uses all of the pieces of a typical western tale, but utilizes them in off-center ways to create a unique, intelligent melodrama wearing spurs and cowboy hats.

 

While the running time is brief, High Noon spends much of it indulging in talk-heavy scenes of characters moralizing and questioning the motives of each other. It’s a film of ideas and characters, not big action spectacles and chases. This quieter, somber tone is the perfect way to tell the story of a man’s crisis of conscience. Large-scale panoramas and gangs of marauding Indian tribes would prove distracting and out-of-place here.

 

Is this something of a civics lesson? You bet your ass it is, and that never bothered me. It’s a parable or a morality play, a deeply political allegory about the era it was made. Whether the encroaching band of outlaws represents the Korean War, HUAC, or the Cold War is up for debate, and each reading has some merit depending on how you look at it. High Noon could also be read as something of a deconstruction of the typical western hero – a stoic, taciturn marshal on the brink of retirement, and duty bound to protect his sleepy hamlet.

 

His cries for help lead to persistent rejection for a variety of reasons, and he’s left alone against the barbaric remnants of the old frontier. This pursuit of help, and constant stream of rejection, makes up a bulk of the film. The reasons for their refusal to help vary, from illness to cowardice to pure self-interest, and by the end, our hero is left embittered and angry towards the townspeople after saving their lives for little thanks or help. Even better is how High Noon allows its hero to break, culminating in a scene of anguish where he breaks down and sobs alone in a bar. You’d never see something like that in a John Wayne film!

 

Wayne, in fact, hated this film, dubbing it un-American, objecting to the liberal political allegory, and teamed-up up with frequent collaborator Howard Hawks to make a response, Rio Bravo. Hawks equally despised this film, objecting to the Quaker wife aiding in the film’s victory. Ironic that piece, as Hawks was such a strong proponent of feisty, independent women, but only if they didn’t help save the day I guess. In fact, the two female leads in High Noon offer a neat proto-feminist element to the proceedings. Not only does the wife engineer the victory, but the former mistress offers one of the few empathetic voices to the proceedings, even encouraging the current wife to stick it out and stand by her man. It doesn’t surprise me that two good ol’ boy types objected to this work.

 

But it isn’t just the strong writing that marks High Noon as one of the greatest westerns, and greatest films, but the strong ensemble aids the film immeasurably, well, the strong ensemble barring one performer. Led by Gary Cooper, firmly in his element here as a strong, quiet man; High Noon is a brilliant example of movie star acting. Cooper was a western legend, but his weathered face and emotionally gaunt appearance here immediately brings a weight and presence to the drama at play. Despite it being Gary Cooper, his physically ravaged appearance carries with it the passage of time, the encroaching end of an era he represents, and there’s no guarantee he’ll make it to the end. High Noon rests nearly entirely upon his shoulders, with almost every scene containing him, and he’s up to the task. Cooper begins the film operating under his usual star persona, then he breakdowns, and finally becomes bitter and leaves the town to its own devices. It’s a wonder of a role, and Cooper brings a gravitas to it that is essential and life-giving.

 

Character actors like Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Ian MacDonald, Lee Van Cleef, Lon Chaney Jr., and Katy Jurado aid his Oscar winning leading work. Jurado and Chaney Jr. earn highest marks among the many supporting players. Jurado is a former lover and owner of the saloon. Her pragmatism and still-burning love for Cooper enliven their moments together, and Jurado gives her character a steely resolve that moves it past any notions of a stereotype. Points also go to bringing in a Mexican woman as a former love interest and not killing her off in the third act. Chaney Jr. is shockingly soulful as a former marshal, left with nothing but scorn for his previous job. The revelation that he’s arthritic is done quietly, and Chaney plays it all in a wonderful minor key.

 

The lone player to make a negative impression is Grace Kelly. Alfred Hitchcock accurately described her major here by calling her performance mousy and distinctly lacking in her exact star quality. Kelly is the (much younger) Quaker wife, and this film helped launch her into stardom thanks to the lovely close-ups of her delicate face. Her performance is awkward though, with that ridiculous faux-British accent in full effect and still overly mannered in delivering her lines. In two years, these issues would be sorted by Hitchcock’s guiding hand in some of her better vehicles.

 

But this one stilted major performance cannot undo or even hinder the rest of High Noon’s many strengths. The score by Dimitri Tiomkin is highly pleasing, successfully cranking up the tension and judiciously employed for maximum impact. There’s also the film’s title song, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’,” which is mournfully sung over the opening credits by Tex Ritter. There’s the tightly controlled editing by Elmo Williams and Harry W. Gerstad, transforming the clock face into a nightmarish reminder of approaching doom. Then there’s Floyd Crosby’s austere cinematography, a master class in stark images and tightly-constructed space to reflect the characters emotions and mental states. I think that’s more than enough reasons to rightly declare High Noon an immortal piece of American cinema.



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A great classic

Posted : 6 years, 2 months ago on 8 September 2013 09:04

Since it is a huge classic, I was really eager to check it out. To be honest, I usually have a hard time to care about those old classic Westerns. Indeed, even though I enjoyed such movies like 'Rio Bravo' or 'Shane', they didn't really blow me away. Fortunately, I liked this one a lot. The point is that it is not only a Western, it is also actually a nail-bitting thriller and, during the whole thing, you wonder how it will end up. Furthermore, it was also a very interesting character study. Indeed, Fred Zinnemann, a director I start to like more and more, took his time to develop all the people in this town, not only Will Kane, who is basically your typical righteous sheriff. All the reactions of this common people felt really genuine and their reactions, even though it might seem cowardise, were actually rather understandable. As a result, you get a rather dark Western which clearly stands out from the other movies in this genre. I have to admit, I was at first a little bit disappointed by the end (great, another shoot-out during which the hero kills all the bad guys and saves the day...) but the way he throws his star to the ground, looks disgusted towards his fellow citizens and leaves the town right away with this wife was just priceless. To conclude, it is easily one of the best Westerns I have ever seen, it is a great classic and it is definitely worth a look, especially if you like the genre.


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High Noon (1952) review

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 8 October 2012 02:11

This Fred Zinnemann classic has the courage to call itself a Western, but doesn't really have the heart to display it, which is a compliment from me because it is a unique film. Unlike the other Westerns, it is too nicey-nice, with very little shooting and absolutely no bloodshed whatsoever. The reason why High Noon is such an awesome film is because of its simplicity. No trains, no chase sequences, none of the usual characteristics of the genre; instead, the main focus is on the main character Will Kane, arguably the greatest, and coolest, hero to hit the screen, and his attempt at bringing together a posse to defend the town from a notorious outlaw Frank Miller. The whole film, bar the last 5 minutes, show nothing but Will Kane going around the town trying to convince the people to help him. The heroic and likable nature of Will Kane not only makes him stand out like a sore thumb from the town's irrational, fear-driven folks, but also makes him the number one best Western film hero I've ever seen. The reasons are little, but they're enough, and I have already outlined them above.

The characters are realistic, their different natures and personalities are accurate to their character and the dialogues are natural. Like I said before, High Noon is a painfully simple film that will make you love the genre all over again - even if you already do. What I liked best is how they wrote Will Kane for the screen; He laughs, he smiles, he breakdowns, he fights, he considers leaving - all emotions perfectly displayed. The simple-to-the-point character is so well-written, it very well could be the greatest written character for the screen ever.

Changing tracks, even though Gary Cooper received the Oscar for his role as Will Kane, it was the second best performance. The first has to be Katy Jurado as Helen Ramirez, the hot flame of the film. You see, you see, the film belongs to Katy and her only. No-one else. She was amazing in her role. True, it may seem outdated to the modern eye but it certainly will win you over, of that I have no doubt. Her had movements, quite stiff I admit, were something I enjoyed the best. She breathed life into her words and a believable personality in her character. Great performance indeed. Now let's try to tackle Gary Cooper. The face of hero is either very handsome, rugged, stern, normal, or ugly et al. Cooper was a combination of all and then some. He may very well be the most realistic face of a sheriff ever. His performance was good, out-shadowed each & every one except Katy Jurado, a painful confession I must sheepishly admit. Hey, once you watch the film, and try to pay attention to her performance and not just her looks, I think you will come to agree with me!

In conclusion, High Noon is a classic film and probably the simplest in its genre. Awesome films like these don't come around nowadays, a shame really.

10/10


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high noon

Posted : 8 years ago on 28 November 2011 04:11

HIGH NOON, Paramount, 1952.
Dir. Fred Zinnemann. Perf. Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly and Lloyd Bridges.
Review by Dominic

Note: First-time viewers are advised that the following makes details of the film’s plot explicit.

Much reviled by John Wayne, who felt its focus on a man’s abandonment by the community around him was a metaphor for McCarthyism, Fred Zinnemann’s otherwise celebrated film High Noon sees Marshal Will Kane (Cooper) hanging up his guns as a lawman and leaving town with his new bride, Amy (Kelly), to open a store. As the deal is sealed, however, he hears word that scum-of-the-earth criminal Frank Miller, a man who has sworn vengeance against him, has been pardoned and is due to arrive on the noon train. Once reunited with his gang of three cutthroats at the station, Miller intends to ride into town and gun Kane down.

Retired, and intending to leave anyway, Kane and his wife ride out, only to turn back, at Kane’s insistence, so that he can face his aggressors. Abandoned by his impudent deputy, Harvey (Bridges), however, and unable to deputize the cowardly townsfolk, it looks as if he must face the Millers alone. As if this wasn’t trouble enough, Kane’s decision to stand his ground drives a wedge between him and his Quaker wife. Not wanting to wait an hour to find out whether she’ll be a widow, pacifist Amy threatens to leave Kane if he faces the bandits.

Despite his 1952 best actor win, Cooper’s characterization of Will Kane is beat out in fairly broad strokes. A few serious lines are either paced too bluntly, or delivered with melodramatic breaks in eye-contact and side-to-side glances. This is not all Cooper’s doing though; the actor’s relationship to the camera, generally, does not seem to have been adequately worked out, and the occasional close-up unduly exaggerates his gestures. His character’s initial introduction, prior to news of the Miller gang’s impending arrival, also seems misjudged. Confronted with the same blinky, moist-eyed act he perpetuates throughout the film, we are unsure as to why Kane should seem so visibly discomforted at this point in the story (particularly as he marries a Grace Kelly less than half his age).

High Noon’s narrative unfolds in almost real-time as the fatal hour creeps closer, and the now-iconic shots of the clock seem to expand each moment, investing it with urgency. The film’s editing is for the most part carefully handled and highly effective: a wonderful pulse-thudding montage startles us with the dread of the situation when the hour is finally struck. The opening scenes make good use of energetic and creative cinematography to perpetually reinsert the viewer into the thrust of the narrative. The film is, however, somewhat let down by the intrusive repetition of its theme-tune, which undermines the subtleties of particular scenes by explicitly cataloging basic events in the plot.

The effective use of cross-cutting easily sustains High Noon’s real-time trajectory and helps make us feel this town is a real location with a temporal life of its own. It is at the level of attributing real character to its townsfolk, however, that the film falters and allows us to question its thematic agenda.

The townspeople’s attitudes toward Miller’s gang are so inconsistent it seems implausible that they should, ultimately, behave so uniformly. These people are purposely intended to make life difficult for our hero—rather than acting of their own accord in such a way that would allow this situation to arise naturally. As the gang rides into town, people scurry in fear; one woman sanctifies the space through which they pass with a sign of the cross. Clearly these men are devils incarnate. Later, however, a hotelier admits a fondness for the Millers, whose presence made his business more profitable. The same goes for the bartender, whose patrons also liked having the Millers around—so much so that, prior to Frank Miller’s arrival, his brother rides in to town for a drink with his old friends. Despite this, when Kane attempts to raise a posse in the same bar the reason for the men’s reluctance is inexplicably given as their fear of being outnumbered, rather than that they are unwilling. In this way, the film seems to adjust the characterization of the Millers and the townsfolk’s attitude to them to suit its moral and emotional purpose: ensuring the villains are greatly feared—while having everyone still effectively end up on their side. This episode makes the townspeople’s collective failure to act seem unnaturally unanimous—a device for increasing Cooper’s isolation, inflating his bravery and sustaining this trial of his manhood.

The problem with this is that while High Noon surely purports to demonstrate how a group of people can be murderous through their very passivity, it never convincing portrays group psychology at all. The scenario it presents is a priori contrived to morally endorse a masculine ideal of independence and bravery. At the same time, one suspects the film uses Cooper’s visible moments of self-doubt to assure the viewer that because this isn’t a pretty situation what they are cheering for cannot be mere egotism and pride.

And if it isn’t egotism, it is something odorously close to it. As he famously attempts to raise a posse in the church, Kane is advised to leave town because it is his presence alone that ensures trouble. Anyway, the church-goers argue, when the new Marshal arrives, he will have the community’s full support should trouble eventuate. The film, of course, intends for us to frown on this position, and uses it to reinforce Kane’s pitiful isolation (and thus our sympathy for and identification with him). However, because the story consistently declines to clarify whether leaving would not indeed cancel the threat of violence to Amy and himself (a subject of dispute from early in the film), we cannot see that his insistence on staying is more than a matter of pride. The film’s music also seems to emphasize foremost damage to one’s own ego and reputation, with its fear that the protagonist will “lie a coward, a craven coward—lie a co-ward in [his] grave.” Despite what Kane might do, then, High Noon is insistent that some problems must be solved through violent force and, without due explanation, that this is one of them.

The construction of the bad guys is just as targeted toward testing Kane’s manhood: hardly real characters, they ride into the town as if possessed, accompanied by ominous musical themes to assure us of their inexorable badness. The problem they pose seems speculative—a worst-case scenario—rather than realistic, because the challenge to Cooper’s masculinity they bring about is what the film really wishes to focus on. An interesting variation in their appearance concerns Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley), who observes Amy from a distance as she visits the train station with an approving “Hey, that wasn’t here five years ago.” The handsome Ben shows none of the roiling antagonism and scrunched features of his fellow gang-members, and the pleasure he takes in seeing Amy seems to threaten Kane with cuckoldry more than violence: there is more to this conflict than the basic narrative seems willing to admit.

High Noon’s problematic politics are most immediately enacted through the relationship between Kane and Amy, and one of the film’s more dissatisfying moves is the arrogant dismissal of the latter’s position on the conflict in which she and her husband are embroiled (that they should leave town as originally planned and avoid the confrontation). At one point in the film, Amy gets it into her head that Kane refuses to leave because of some lingering devotion to his past love, Helen (Katy Jurado). She visits the older woman, requesting she allow her husband to go. This otherwise unnecessary plot point allows the film to use Helen to morally silence Amy with the reason her husband must stay (because he is a man who stands up for himself), enforcing the film’s dominant politics of masculinity from an apparently objective point of view.

The specific language Helen uses to do this is even more interesting. To Amy’s question of why her husband won’t leave, Helen responds: “If you don’t know, I can’t explain it to you.” This is a direct echo of Kane’s response to Harvey’s question about why he cannot be made Sheriff on a whim. In this way, Amy (the “child bride”) is associated with the explicitly childish Harvey, and her pacifism denounced as a product of her immaturity rather than treated as a legitimate philosophical viewpoint.

To be fair, the film does allow us a degree of moral ambiguity when Amy responds to Helen by recalling the death of her family through gun-violence, giving us a real sense of the trauma it may inflict. However, this ambiguity serves as a kind of rhetorical holding-bay. The film temporarily abstains from clearing up our moral ambivalence until it can do so with the kind of dramatic absolutism afforded by its finale, in which Amy rejects her pacifism by killing one of her husband’s attackers.

Prior to the climax of this ideologically questionable character-arc, Amy urgently proceeds to the scene of the showdown where she encounters the dead body of one of her husband’s assailants. This spectacle, given to us from her perspective, viscerally recalls the horror of violence she experienced as a child and led her to pacifism. Now that she has decided to do the “right thing” and stick by her husband, the corpse occurs as a faintly sadistic test of her courage. However, in a move that is surely intended to disappoint or frustrate the viewer, she fails this test: traumatized, she locks herself in the Marshal’s office alone. The viewer counts her out; in fact, her turn-around here might even render her more treacherous than before—for she decided to help her husband only to wimp out once our expectations were up. Through this, the character is maneuvered to such a point that only a violent act can redeem her in the viewer’s eyes. Not only must her passive ideology be abandoned, but she must bring herself to commit real violence in order to legitimize her devotion to her husband.

In one scene of Zimmermann’s film, Harvey overhears the bartender admit that, while he doesn’t like Kane, the man has guts. Turning to Harvey, he claims that his own decision to abandon Kane showed brains. Harvey, of course, tired of being considered but a boy, doesn’t want brains. In the world of High Noon, guts and brains are oppositional: guts are what really make the man, and the specific logic of Kane’s predicament is secondary.

This focus on the ethos of masculinity is High Noon’s real interest, and the dilemma at the narrative’s center is geared to provide a morally approved pretext for its demonstration. When questioned as to why he will not allow himself to run, Kane responds: “I don’t know.” His need to stay is something ideologically ingrained and normalized rather than ethically argued-for or justified.

Whatever High Noon’s politics, though, the film is more than a straightforward male fantasy; it takes us on a fascinating emotional and intellectual journey, lingering at a number of psychic places that we would probably prefer not to visit. If we are to share in Kane’s triumph, the film still asks we share in his doubt and, at times, piercing vulnerability. The narrative manages the passing of diegetic time and its significance masterfully, and there isn’t a moment that it fails to engage the viewer. Combined with this stylistic energy, High Noon’s controversial politics and its enduring cultural impact make it essential and discussion-provoking viewing.


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High Noon (1952) review

Posted : 8 years, 4 months ago on 30 July 2011 12:34

A unique little western film. It clocks in at under an hour and a half and the majority of that is Marshal Will Kane failing to rally the town to defend from the devious Frank Miller who's been released from prison to enact his vengeance.

The time leading up to the final battle is interesting with the passage of time (all leading up to the noon hour) on clocks being a big visual motif. Gary Cooper puts in a pretty good turn as a marshal who refuses to abandon a town that won't stand by him. As he repeatedly fails to get a posse together you can see the desperation and fear of mortality creep into his performance. He's almost an unlikely movie hero. He does the right thing but he's not the "Man With No Name" - he can't gun down 4 super villains at once. This makes the final showdown the most interesting yet least satisfying part of the film.

The box art and inflated expectations lead one to believe that the final showdown will be a classic one on one duel. It isn't. It's interesting in its own way but the conclusion of the showdown is quite sudden and unexpected. Realistic perhaps, but it lacks the high drama I was expecting.

Still, Cooper is great and this is as fine an examination of a man facing his mortality while his loved ones turn their backs as you will see in any film, let alone a Western.


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High Noon (1952) review

Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 12 March 2011 10:42

A fun movie with a great song accompanying it. Also, very macho, Will Kane goes it alone because the rest of the town has some excuse to get out of the fight.

I was a little bothered by the preacher's comment. The preacher states, "The commandment is 'Thou shalt not kill,' but we hire men to go do it for us." In reality, the commandment is "Thou shalt not murder," which breaks down the entire argument of the preacher. Both Christians and members of society have a right to defend their lives should an unjust force try to take it from this. The preacher should have known this, instead he becomes indecisive and ineffective. He could have rallied the people to the aid of Kane and defended the town.


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