1 Year, 100 Movies: #27 High Noon (1952)

high noon

For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!

Ah, another Western. In “High Noon” our main character, Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is stuck in his town just as he tries to leave it- trapped by his own sense of duty and the cowardice of the town he tries to protect. At the beginning of the film, Kane marries Amy (Grace Kelly), and turns in his badge as marshal. Kane’s replacement is due the next day, but before they can leave town- even before they leave the wedding ceremony, word comes that the notorious Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has been released from prison, and will arrive to meet up with his band and seek revenge on the noon train. The townspeople in attendance at the wedding encourage the couple to flee. They do- but not far out of town Kane reconsiders and returns. Is it a sense of duty and obligation? Pride of a man  used to being the protector? A stubborn man’s refusal to let go? The question of why Kane returns and what motivates him drives the rest of the film.

Kane attempts to explain his sense of obligation to Amy, and she offers a compelling argument, but he cannot give up the badge- even if it means loosing his new wife. He tries to recruit new deputies, but the townspeople seem to have lost their courage, even talking complacently about the coming showdown between Kane and Miller. Kane holds tight to his responsibility, but is barely controlling a growing internal turmoil. Gary Cooper’s performance is subtle and controlled but has a real sense of depth also. When Kane has tried everywhere for help, yielding nothing, Amy asks him the question we are wondering- why is he going to protect a town that wishes he would leave?

The train finally arrives on time, and because of the cowardice of all those around him, Kane leaves to face four armed men on his own. The anticipation of gunfire that awaits Kane fills the empty street. Miller finally shows up, and Kane works his way through two of Miller’s men, before Kane is pinned down in one of the town buildings. Amy returns and shoots a third gunman to help her husband, but is taken hostage by Miller.

After the scene has settled, we get a fantastic shot in which both Amy’s wedding ring and Kane’s tin star are framed prominently on the screen as they embrace. Now Kane can finally make his choice- and he does so without ceremony, as the town and its people don’t deserve one. He just throws his badge in the dirt, and leaves to begin his life with Amy- the only person who stood by him.

High Noon” does a couple of interesting things. The film itself is about an hour and a half long, and the events of the story take the same amount of time. It is 10:30 am when we first are introduced to the story, and it is just after noon when it concludes. The constant presence of clocks counting down in “real” time gives the viewer an additional level of suspense. A truly modern and complex film, “High Noon” explores what it means to be a leader of men, and a protector of a community. It is no wonder that this film has been the favorite of a number of American presidents from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton.

In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns:

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