Marshal Will Kane finds out on his wedding day that a man he put behind bars has been pardoned and is on his way back to town seeking revenge.
High Noon tells the story of a bad guy named Frank Miller, who just received a pardon, returning to the town where he was arrested and convicted. The lawman who arrested him, Will Kane (Gary Cooper), decides he needs to put off his honeymoon and face off against Miller. Along the way, everyone turns their back on him and he finds himself standing up against the bad guys by himself. His new wife walks away from him, the town’s justice packs up and runs, his own deputy walks out on him and quits.
A very unique trait of this western is the fact it takes place in real time, and the director continuously shows the ticking clock as the time nears noon. There is very little action until the final battle at the end and we are left with a solid, powerful drama about a man who is waiting for his destiny to arrive. You see more clocks in this movie than you will see in your own home. The ticking clock is used here to great effect, keeping the movie moving at a solid pace until the climactic battle.
Unlike westerns by pioneer John Ford, this one doesn’t care about the landscapes and other genre staples. The skyline is often ignored as well. The movie is more concerned with creating a slow burn drama. Screenwriter Carl Foreman was blacklisted during the rise of McCarthyism. Thanks to the controversy, many noticed the allegories evident in the movie towards the idea of McCarthy era hypocrisy. There is a powerful scene in a church where people are willing to help Will, but thanks to debate, no one is willing to stand up and do the right thing. Even the people who see that it is wrong refuse to stand up and do what is right. If it is not their battle, they won’t help their friends who are being wronged.
Even if you forget about the allegories, the movie remains a great tension filled movie. Gary Cooper at the age of 50 carries off the role as the town’s marshal better than anyone half his age. The performance he can give with just the look of his eyes is amazing and he proves to be the best hero you could ever hope for. With all the characters around him showing fear and cowardice, he might be the most heroic character in western history. The look on Will’s face when his own role model wouldn’t even help him is heart breaking. John Wayne has said he hated this movie because of its “Un-American stance,” but I dare you to find one movie in which Wayne ever reached this level of heroism.
The direction is awe inspiring, using the motif of clocks to raise the tension and the motif of railroad tracks stretching into the distance to signify the danger coming. The movie is also beautiful, shot in crisp black and white. From the look of the picture, to the memorable soundtrack, to the fantastic acting, High Noon stands the test of time as one of the greatest genre pictures ever made. Recent westerns such as Unforgiven owe a debt of gratitude to this picture and I would put it up against anything John Ford ever made.
There is an audio commentary with Maria Cooper-Janis, Jonathan Foreman, Tim Zinnemann and John Ritter. Cooper-Janis is Gary Cooper’s daughter, Foreman is the son of blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and Zinnemann is the son of director Fred Zinnemann. Also included on the commentary is John Ritter (Jack Tripper from Three’s Company), whose father Tex Ritter performed the title song “High Noon” and would go on to win an Oscar for the piece. This is a nice, unique commentary track with the second generation talking about their parents work.
The second disc starts with a 50-minute documentary called Inside High Noon. It is a 2003 documentary narrated by Frank Langella. It talks to people such as Bill Clinton as it discusses the legacy of the movie today. Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all claim High Noon as their favorite movie. Behind High Noon is a short 10-minute feature featuring the kids who provided the commentary track, minus the late John Ritter. The Making of High Noon is a 22-minute feature from 1992 hosted by Leonard Maltin. Maltin discusses how the movie came to be and the legacy it left behind.
Tex Ritter: A Visit to Carthage Texas is a 6-minute feature that looks at the history of Tex Ritter through items in his museum. There is also a performance by Tex Ritter of the Oscar winning song from The Jimmy Dean Show. Finally, there is a radio broadcast with Tex Ritter from the Ralph Emery Show.