I love westerns. It’s probably because I watched so many of them growing up that now they make me feel like a little kid again. Whatever the reason, I’m always glad when they show up on the list of best picture nominees. However, High Noon isn’t exactly a western. It’s a thriller that just happens to take place in the Old West. It’s about relationships and small towns and above all, people. I’ve seen it before, but it’s always exciting to watch.
So what’s the story? Will Kane has just married his Quaker sweetheart and given up his marshal’s badge when he gets a telegram that Frank Miller, a murderer that he arrested, has been let out of prison. He’s set to arrive on the noon train and hell-bent on getting revenge on the man who sent him to prison. Miller’s old gang is already waiting for him at the platform. Realizing that a true man faces his problems, Will refuses to run, but can he get the help he needs from the townspeople he’s protected in the past?
The Good: High Noon happens in real time. It’s about 10:40 when Marshal Kane gets his telegram, and an hour and twenty minutes later in real life, the train comes in. This adds to the tension in a way that very few things could have. I’m not sure if High Noon was the first movie to use this tactic, but it’s very effective.
The editing is fantastic. I love really good editing, but sometimes I feel like good editing can be hard to spot. Every once in a while, though, I’m blown away by it. That’s what happened in High Noon. After all the tension has built up and the train is finally coming into town, there are shots of all the different groups waiting for the train to stop. The editing makes that part of the movie so stressful. It’s awesome.
Once again, the acting is superb (can a movie be nominated for best picture without having at least some good acting?). Gary Cooper plays Will Kane, a man committed to his path even though it may cost him the woman he loves. Grace Kelly plays his bride, Amy, who is understandably frightened at the prospect of losing her new husband. Bitter deputy marshal Harvey is played wonderfully by Lloyd Bridges. Even Henry Morgan (aka Colonel Potter in M*A*S*H) has a small role. But the standout actress in High Noon is Katy Jurado as Helen Ramirez. She is ridiculously good in her rather complicated role.
Helen Ramirez is actually another wonderful thing about this movie. Minorities in westerns generally only have tiny roles, and they are usually horrifically stereotypical. However, while Helen is a scarlet woman, she is smart, strong, passionate, and fair. She isn’t scared of anything and she doesn’t take anything from anyone. I love her. She’s a great character.
The cinematography is great. It manages to highlight Will’s forced solitude and the attitudes of the people surrounding him. It does what good cinematography should do.
The Bad: There is nothing bad about High Noon. Everything about this movie is either on fabulous or horrifically bad. I suppose I could say that it’s not fun to watch Thomas Mitchell, one of my favorite character actors, not be awesome. That’s just how the story goes, though.
The Ugly: The title song is awful. I think I could have rationalized it as a 1950s cowboy song if it weren’t for the fact of these two lines:
He made a vow while in state prison
Vowed it would be my life or his’n.
I think it should be a crime against the arts (is that a thing? Can we make it one?) to use “his’n” as a rhyme for “prison”. Bad, bad, bad. Even then, I might have been able to make my peace with it if bits of the song (including that line) didn’t keep playing throughout the movie and reminding me of its existence. The musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin itself is very good, but this song… So bad.
Oscars Won: Best actor in a leading role (Gary Cooper); best film editing; best music, original song (“High Noon [Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’]”); best music, scoring of a dramatic or comedy picture.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best director; best writing, screenplay.