Gary Cooper as Will Kane
From Folsom Prison Blues’ photostream

High Noon (1952) is possibly the all-time best Western film ever made – a successful box-office production by Stanley Kramer and director Fred Zinnemann [who also directed From Here to Eternity (1953) and A Man For All Seasons (1966)]. The Western genre was employed to tell an uncharacteristic social problem tale about civic responsibility, without much of the typical frontier violence, panoramic landscapes, or tribes of marauding Indians.
One of the film posters described the theme of the deserted, lone Marshal who stubbornly insisted on delaying his newly-married life with a pacifist Quaker wife (symbolic of US isolationists) in order to stay and confront his former nemesis and paroled murderer – Frank Miller: The story of a man who was too proud to run.
The dramatic, tightly-compressed, austere black and white film with high-contrast images was shot in a spare 31 days, and the physically-pained, ravaged look etched on 51 year old Gary Cooper’s gaunt face was due to actual illness (a recurring hip problem, bleeding stomach ulcers, and lower back pain), and emotional stress due to his recent breakup with actress Patricia Neal after a three-year, well-publicized affair while separated from his wife. The time span of the film (about 105 minutes) approximates the actual screen length of the film – 85 minutes – accentuated by frequent images of the clock as time rapidly dissipates before the final showdown. Cameraman Floyd Crosby’s years of filming New Deal documentaries are evident in the film’s sparseness, static compositions, and authentic feel.
This simple, stark, low-budget Western classic, with a total budget of $750,000, was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture (won by Cecil B. DeMille’s circus epic The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)), Best Director, and Best Screenplay – it was awarded four awards: Best Song for “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” (sung by Tex Ritter throughout the film, lyrics by Ned Washington, music by Dimitri Tiomkin), Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin), Best Film Editing (Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad), and Best Actor for Gary Cooper’s performance – his second Oscar after a win for Sergeant York (1941). (Cooper’s win was an unusual honor, since Western films (and acting roles) are rare nominees and winners in Academy history! The film’s theme song was made a popular hit by Western singer Frankie Laine.) Presumably, the Academy felt obligated to honor one of filmdom’s greatest directors (DeMille) with the Best Picture Oscar, as his career was coming to an end.
(High Noon (1952) , review by Tim Dirks at
Directed by Fred Zinnemann, High Noon stars Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly as newlyweds Will and Amy Kane. Will has recently decided to retire as the Marshal of Hadleyville, a small town in New Mexico. When Kane learns that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a criminal Kane put behind bars, is about to be released from prison, Kane must postpone his new life with his new wife. After all, Miller has already declared revenge on Kane when the clock hits twelve and Kane destroy the whole town to get to him. To protect the town, Kane sticks around to stand his ground. The town isn’t as courageous as Kane thought, and he has a hard time trying to find people to get his back.
Soon Frank hops on the train headed toward Hadleyville with three of his gang members. Time keeps ticking and everyone has an excuse not to help Kane. Amy, who just wants to leave town, threatens to leave Kane if he doesn’t come with. Unlike her new husband, she doesn’t believe in violence and wants no part of it. As the clock strikes high noon, Kane must face off alone with one of the most dangerous criminals in the west. Cue the slow cowboy music and release the tumbleweeds. This shootout is history in the making.
Written by Carl Foreman, this film does an excellent job of balancing the action. Unlike many westerns (cough cough Once Upon a Time in the West), this film doesn’t dwell on the slow paced aspects of the west commonly portrayed in westerns. They are in there, but certainly do not bore their audience to death. It’s hard to be bored when the anticipation of the inevitable event is very present. Intercutting images of the clock ticking away, adds a great sense of urgency. The script makes us feel just as anxious and worried as Kane does.
(Grace Kelly tries to calm Gary Cooper at ‘High Noon’ by Pamela Miller, at
After fleeing on impulse upon the urging of his friends, Kane decides to turn around and face Frank and his men despite the earnest insistence of his wife, who happens to be a Quaker and is therefore the ultimate pacifist. But nothing can deter him, not even her threat to leave on the noon train if he stays to fight. And why does he want to stay? The film’s tagline is misleading: Kane does not stay because he is too proud to run. There is nothing about pride here, he stays because he feels it his duty to.
As a Marshall, he has sworn an oath to protect the town and its people. We are told that before he came, Frank used to lord it over Hadleyville, harassing women, cowing men into submission, and so on. But Kane put an end to that… until now. The town’s problem is his problem, and even though there is an easy way out for him, he knows very well what Frank return would means to the townsfolk he’s supposed to protect. Never mind that officially he is no longer in charge of their safety: the law does not reside in a badge.
But where does law reside? Very quickly Kane finds out just why Frank was able to terrorize an entire town in the past. Nobody is willing to stand beside him and fight. Everyone has good reasons not to. This one has children, that one’s career ambition has been thwarted; this one is a neglected ex-lover, which one does not want to die; this one is worried about the town’s future, that one has arthritis and cannot shoot. The town is full of cowards, all with persuasive excuses to do nothing. There is no help at the saloon (where some are Frank’s buddies), at the Church (where the Preacher blasts Kane for not attending regularly), at his friend’s house (where the guy has his wife tell a bald-faced lie), or at his mentor’s, the old Marshall (where the cynic advises Kane that people have to think carefully before they act and that deep in their hearts they don’t respect the law).
[‘High Noon (1952)’ by Fred Zinnemann, November 18, 2004 at]

Frank and his followers

As the minutes trickle by, Kane realizes that he has been abandoned. No match for Frank and his men, out-gunned, but with resolve bordering on acceptance of his inevitable fate, he sits down to pen his last will and testament. The ink is not yet dry when the horn announces the arrival of the noon train. One of the most poignant scenes has Kane walk out in the deserted street, clearly afraid of the impending encounter, not knowing what to do with his hands, then slowly marching toward the coming bandits as the wind sweeps the barren landscape.
The film has an enviable reputation but not without attendant controversy. It is Bill Clinton’s favorite (he reportedly saw it 17 times while at the White House, a record for the place even though each President has seen, and liked, it, with Ike even shouting advice to Kane), and it ranks high on National Review’s list of great conservative films. It seems to embody the quintessential American virtue: standing tall and alone for right when everyone else runs for cover. (Parallels with current political situation on the international scene are easy to make.)…..
In the end, Amy’s decision is guided by love (as the title ballad tells it, love shall overcome). It is not a repudiation of her pacifist ways—because one cannot honestly claim that she accepts that sometimes using violence can be moral—and it makes her a very traditional woman indeed: one who is prepared to sacrifice it all for her man.
[‘High Noon (1952)’ by Fred Zinnemann, November 18, 2004 at]

Will and Amy Kane

The final scene in the film has Kane drop his badge in disgust as the townspeople flock around him in disbelief about their miraculous rescue. Having discharged his duty toward people who are not worthy of his life, Kane leaves and no one picks up the star from the dust. One has to wonder whether he has made a difference. After all, there will be other Franks and there may be no other Kane in their future.
[‘High Noon (1952)’ by Fred Zinnemann, November 18, 2004 at]


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