Movie: High Noon
My Rating: 3 stars
This movie is apparently a favorite of most of the modern U.S. presidents. Something about the story of a lone hero with the courage to stand up to a gang of thugs really appeals to the kind of narcissist who seeks high office. In this story, the news is going ‘round that notorious outlaw Frank Miller is coming to town on the noon train to get revenge on the man who put him in prison. When all the other men in town chicken out and decide to flee town, the sheriff (Gary Cooper), is the only tough guy in town with the mettle to face Miller and his gang. How’s that for a macho male fantasy? But seriously, this movie is a classic. And, even though the story is a bit simple, it accomplishes some interesting things cinematically.
This movie is your classic, ticking clock thriller. And, it really takes advantage of the disappearing minutes to ratchet up the tension. Frank Miller is an ever-looming, ominous cloud over the whole town, even though he doesn’t show up until the last few minutes of the film. The closer we get to noon, the more frazzled Gary Cooper gets. His energy then turns to weariness as he realizes that none of the friends who said they’d back him up in the confrontation are actually going to follow through. (Of course, there is one old man, and one young kid who offer their help genuinely, but these sincere, yet useless offers just make the sheriff all the sadder). Eventually, his emotional fatigue turns to resignation as he acknowledges the inevitability that he’ll be facing Miller alone.
This movie is all about Gary Cooper. But there are a few other notable performances in there too. Grace Kelly plays his religious, pacifist fiancé, and her character seems about as much fun as a bowl of porridge. Kelly does a good job of playing a dull, pretty thing—an ultra-feminine, helpless stick in the mud. It’s a good thing she’s got that pretty face, because the sheriff’s ex-girlfriend, played by Katy Jurado, has got the real goods—an independent disposition, an irrepressible spirit, and a figure that won’t quit. That chick is sharp. But, maybe she was a bit too much woman for the sheriff. He seems like the kind of guy who wants to feel in control. And, that kind of lady is nothing if not unpredictable.
I think this movie is edited very well. It doesn’t play out in real time, but it’s pretty close. The audience can feel the minutes ticking away. And, it gives us a great glimpse into human nature. Some people panic, some flee, some lie. The brave ones stand up to the threat, whether it’s advisable or not. Humans don’t seem to be all that great at assessing the odds of their survival. In the end, most people make foolish choices. And, I guess there’s some comfort in knowing that a lot of us are in the same boat. I think it’s all of these elements that make this movie a classic. There are a lot of different lessons a person can take away from the movie, and it’s interesting to see who leaves with what.