"High Noon" is one of the best Western films ever
made, but it is really about character: doing what
you believe is right, even if nobody supports you,
even if it means risking your life. Gary Cooper's
Will Kane is the very definition of 'character' and
Cooper is retiring as the sheriff of a small town,
to run a store in a distant town with young bride
Grace Kelly (in her first significant role). He is
about to leave town when a telegram arrives: four
ex-convict gunmen are coming to town at Noon to kill
him, since he was the man who sent them 'up the river.'
Cooper is unable to get anyone to stand with him
against the gunmen. His friends tell him to leave
town, his enemies simply want him dead. Cooper
must face the gunmen alone.
Will Kane's character keeps him from getting help.
He turns down help from several people who are too
young or too incompetent to face the gunmen. He
refuses to strike a deal with immature deputy Lloyd
Bridges, because it would not be the right thing to
do. He asks, but does not demand or cajole, others
to stand with him. His new bride threatens to leave
him if he stays, but Kane won't turn from duty.
During the climatic gun battle, he takes the time to
free horses from a burning barn, and he steps in
front of a gun to prevent his wife from being taken
hostage. All of this for an undeserving, ungrateful
This example of exemplary character reminds me
of "A Man For All Seasons", which had Sir Thomas More
refusing to sanction the divorce of King Henry VIII.
Kane, and More, value their integrity more than their
lives, even more than their family's welfare. They
will do what they feel is right, despite friends and
family telling them to do otherwise. But while More
fought his lost cause with words, Kane is not a man
of words. He spends much of the film in stunned silence,
disbelieving that no one will stand by him. Without
complex arguments to support himself, Kane is even
more alone than More was. Both films were directed
by Fred Zinnemann.
The film's tension is ever present and increasing.
There are frequent shots of various clocks, with the
hands approaching Noon. Like "Rope", the movie was
filmed in real-time. There is only one comic relief
from the tension: when the children are herded from
the church, they shout in delight at their unexpected
"High Noon" has only three obvious flaws. The theme,
sung by Tex Ritter in a baleful drone, is reprised
again and again. (It did win the Oscar for Best Song).
There is also a fight scene between Cooper and Bridges
that doesn't quite fit. The four gunmen are
interchangeable bad guy stereotypes, but admittedly
their characters are not important to the story.
Cooper won Best Actor, and Katy Jurado won Best
Supporting Actress. Her character somehow manages to
be the former girlfriend of Cooper, Bridges and
Ian MacDonald, who plays the lead bad guy.
Zinnemann was nominated for Best Director, and the
film was nominated for Best Picture and for the
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller