#407) High Noon (1952)
OR “Twelve O’Clock Nigh”
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Carl Foreman. Kinda sorta but not really based on the short story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham.
Class of 1989
The Plot: Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is ready to retire and move to another town with his new wife Amy (Grace Kelly). Shortly after the wedding, Kane learns that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a criminal he convicted five years prior, has been released from prison and vows revenge. With less than 85 minutes before Frank’s train arrives, Will opts to stay and face his foe, despite protests from his wife, his Deputy Marshall Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), and his fellow townspeople. Can Kane convince the town to help him, or will he stand alone when Frank comes at…high noon?
Why It Matters: The NFR gives a brief overview, praises Gary Cooper’s “taut” performance, and suggests that the film’s “most unforgettable element” is the title song. Umm…no?
But Does It Really?: I’m afraid this film’s reputation as one of the indisputable classics has built it up too much for me. I liked “High Noon”, but wasn’t blown away by it. It’s a well-crafted Western with an emphasis on brain over brawn, and Cooper is giving the best performance of his career, but overall “High Noon” didn’t connect with me. Perhaps the film’s political subtext is a requirement to fully understand the film. Regardless, “High Noon” has had enough of a cultural impact for me to not question its NFR inclusion, but I’ll be curious to see how well “High Noon” holds up to future film buffs.
Title Track: “The Ballad of High Noon” (aka “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling”) is sung over the opening credits by Tex (father of John) Ritter. The theme appears throughout Dimitri Tiomkin’s score as a motif for Will Kane. It also has to be one of the rare movie title songs that references specific plot points in its lyrics (Frank Miller gets two mentions).
Seriously, Oscars?: In a very packed year for nominees, “High Noon” tied “The Quiet Man” and “Moulin Rouge” (not that one) for most Oscar nominations of the year: seven. “Noon” took home four: Score, Song, Editing, and a second Best Actor prize for Gary Cooper. Perhaps due to the film’s political controversy, Carl Foreman’s screenplay lost to “The Bad and the Beautiful”, while the film lost Best Picture to the more conventional “The Greatest Show on Earth” by Hollywood veteran Cecil B. DeMille.
- The real star of this movie is screenwriter Carl Foreman. First off, after Foreman finished his initial four-page outline, he learned it was very similar to the John Cunningham short story “The Tin Star”. In order to avoid the inevitable cries of plagiarism, Foreman bought the film rights to “Tin Star”. But the main story is Foreman being blacklisted during production. A former member of the Communist party in the late ‘30s, Foreman was summoned to testify in front of HUAC. His refusal to name names led to him being blacklisted from working in Hollywood. As a result, many critics – then and now – view “High Noon” as a parable for standing up against the Red Scare. Ironically, Gary Cooper had been a “friendly witness” for HUAC, though he too did not name names.
- We have a major readout on the Michael Douglas scale. Cooper was 50 during filming, Grace Kelly was 21. Sure that kind of age gap was period appropriate, but still. And while we’re on the subject, rumors of Cooper and Kelly having an affair during filming are unsupported.
- Another victim of the Hollywood blacklist was co-star Lloyd Bridges, who was “graylisted” for being a member of the Communist-adjacent Actors’ Laboratory Theatre. Looks like he picked the wrong week to join a politically progressive theater troupe.
- As I’ve said before, Cooper’s very good in this. Will Kane is the perfect combination of Cooper’s established screen personas: rugged cowboy and heroic everyman. You buy Kane’s convictions immediately. Like Fonda in “12 Angry Men”, this man will stand steadfast for his beliefs even when everyone around him tells him otherwise.
- Shoutout to Katy Jurado, a Mexican-born actor playing a Mexican-born character who is devoid of stereotypes and actually influences the plot of the movie. We won’t see their likes again until “Stand and Deliver”.
- My favorite shot in the entire movie is when the children are asked to leave the church, and they all very excitedly run outside and play in the field. It’s a lovely moment of levity in an otherwise very serious film.
- Speaking of the church scene, I’m pretty sure this is the scene “Blazing Saddles” is riffing on for their “Howard Johnson is right!” sequence.
- When Kane goes to the stable as he considers leaving town, a chicken can be heard clucking in the background. Get it?
- Fun Fact: The fight between Will and Harvey had to be reshot because Lloyd’s son/future actor Beau Bridges was hiding in the hayloft watching the shoot, and couldn’t stop laughing when his father was doused with water.
- If you’ve seen any shot from “High Noon”, it’s the shot of Will Kane standing alone as the camera pans back to reveal a deserted town. It’s still a very powerful moment almost 70 years later.
- No spoilers, but the final shootout (as well as the denouement) does not disappoint. Though now that I think about it, “Dirty Harry” totally rips off this ending.
- Every movie, western or otherwise, that involves a showdown between two characters at high noon is taking their cue from this movie. Now that’s a legacy.
- Everyone’s career benefited from the success of “High Noon”. Fred Zinnemann followed up with “From Here to Eternity”, Gary Cooper’s career got a resurgence, and Grace Kelly became…Grace Kelly. Although Carl Foreman moved to England to avoid the blacklist, he maintained a successful career as a screenwriter/producer, penning a draft of “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.
- “High Noon” received the unnecessary sequel treatment twice! 1966’s “High Noon: The Clock Strikes Noon Again” starred Peter Fonda as Will Kane Jr. and Katy Jurado returning as Helen Ramirez. 1980’s “High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane” ignored the previous sequel’s continuity and featured Lee Majors as Will Kane, but this time better than he was before: better, stronger, faster…
- Adding insult to injury, “High Noon” got the unnecessary remake treatment in 2000 with a TV Movie for TBS starring Tom Skerritt.
- 1981’s “Outland” starring Sean Connery might as well be called “High Noon…In…Spaaaaaace”.
- “Well this time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.” “That’s Gary Cooper, asshole.”
- And finally, 1989 was a good year for “High Noon”. Three months before making the inaugural roster of NFR films, the film’s Polish poster was modified to promote the Solidarity party in Poland’s first partially free elections under Communist rule. Looks like “High Noon” helped fight Communism after all!