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Hadleyville lawman Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is about to put the risky business of peace-keeping behind him and settle down to the quiet life on a ranch with Amy (Grace Kelly), his Quaker bride. At 10.30am on his wedding day, his last day as sheriff, Will receives word that a vicious killer Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is about to steam into town on the noon train, seeking vengeance against the man who put him behind bars years before. His duty done, Will is at liberty to head for the hills. He chooses instead to stand his ground but when he tries to rally support from friends in town, they all duck for cover and Amy threatens to leave him. 

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
By the time he reached High Noon, Gary Cooper’s clock was winding down. He had appeared in 16 films since receiving an Oscar nomination nine years before in For Whom The Bell Tolls, but none of those films were noteworthy. His marriage had busted-up after 18 years; he was past 50 and in poor health and he knew that the script for High Noon had first been offered to Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston. Cooper was seriously on the skids until a lettuce tycoon who was a fan of the actor threatened to withdraw financing unless the thin man got the job. 

No-one held out much hope for the deceptively simple little western - a rare one driven more by character than action - when it fared so disastrously at previews. There was nothing more the director could do and Cooper had already done his bit. His face was drawn and haggard, due to some painful stomach ulcers, but the look of misery was perfect for the part. Still, only a judicious recutting could salvage the picture…and that’s when it fell into the miraculous hands of an editor named Elmo Williams (and deputy Harry Gerstad). 

Grace Kelly had been cast as Cooper’s Quaker wife on the back of her tiny bit as a worried bystander in Fourteen Hours (1951). Well, I’m sorry, but she could never act, and in High Noon she was awful. Williams consigned most of her stuff to the cutting room floor and as he kept on whittling away at the excess, he discovered that all of the action could be contained in “real time;” the time it takes, before and after the killer’s arrival on the noon train. And so Williams inserted quick glimpses of a clock as it tick-tocks from 10.30am to twelve, building instant suspense and heightening tension. Floyd Crosby’s crisp, high-contrast photography gave the film a striking edge and Dimitri Tiomkin’s music effectively captured the fretful mood. But when he added a theme song, with a simple melody and got Tex Ritter to sing Do Not Forsake Me (Oh My Darlin,’) everything clicked. In the beginning, the much admired Will Kane has fair weather friends in small town Hadleyville, who wish him well on his wedding day; his last day as sheriff. 

But all that changes when word spreads of Frank Miller’s murderous mission. The snivellers include the deputy (Lloyd Bridges), judge (Otto Kruger) and mayor (Thomas Mitchell). Some urge Kane to hightail it out of town: that’s what they would do, but the stoic lawman refuses to “lie like a coward in his grave.” His pacifist bride threatens to leave, and when Kane asks for help from the townsfolk, they can only quiver…though Katy Jurado, as Kane’s fiery former flame, still has a part to play. 

Who wouldn’t have misgivings, with Miller’s brother (Sheb Wooley) and two evil-looking gunmen (Lee Van Cleef , in his debut, and Robert Wilke), waiting at the station to meet the vengeance-seeking killer. The effect of a distant train whistle, a wisp of smoke and a swinging pendulum is electrifying. Paralysed with fear, the gutless cow-town battens down the hatches and cowers under cover, leaving Kane to walk the streets alone, to what seems like certain doom. 

Carl Foreman wrote his screenplay as Senator McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt gathered full steam. Shunned and abandoned by friends before being blacklisted himself, Foreman’s script was a parable reflecting the bitterness he felt towards Hollywood as it kowtowed to the bully boys. Such Red-ragging didn’t fuss President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Coop’s classic was such a favourite that to this day, no other film has had more screenings at the White House. High Noon won a fistful of Oscars…for Cooper, Tiomkin, Williams, and for Best Song (a bigger hit for Frankie Laine than it was for Ritter). When Kane’s badge bites the dust, it began a whole spate of westerns about loners, doin’ what a man’s gotta do. But it’s never been done any better. 

Reviewed by Louise Keller:
High Noon is arguably THE classic western, incorporating more dramatic elements than the average outdoor cowboy pic. It’s a great script based on a magazine story by John W. Cunningham called The Tin Star. Dimitri Tiomkin’s fabulous score helps greatly in the building of tension, with pulsating rhythms of clocks ticking, and images of the pendulum swinging as we wait for high noon. The haunting ballad sung by Tex Ritter was a great hit of the day, and musical phrases from this are used effectively in different idioms throughout the film. Floyd Crosby’s stark cinematography beautifully captures the feeling of dust, heat and the ambiance.

Gary Cooper as Will Kane is every inch the hero - craggy, rugged, tall, brave and handsome. His performance is superbly understated, and is deserving of his Academy Award in 1952 for Best Actor. Cooper is consummately complemented by the gorgeous but icy Grace Kelly, as Kane’s Quaker bride Amy. There’s a memorable scene where Amy confronts the exotic Ellen (played wonderfully by Katy Jurado), who was previously Kane’s gal. Amy is so cool, and Ellen so passionate…. The relationship between these two women in Kane’s life is sensitively developed, and adds greatly to the emotional tapestry. Watch out too for a young Lloyd Bridges. And so the tension builds as we wait for Will Kane to meet the four killers at High Noon in one of the screen’s most famous showdowns.

This is a tale about honour, pride, courage, loyalty and betrayal.High Noon is high on the recommended list - one of my all time favourites.

Published June 3, 2004

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(US, 1952)

CAST: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Henry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef,Ian MacDonald

DIRECTOR: Fred Zinnemann

SCRIPT: Carl Foreman (magazine story The Tin Star by John W. Cunningham)

RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes

PRESENTATION: Black and white full frame, Dolby digital, English mono

SPECIAL FEATURES: Special Collector's Edition: audio commentary; The Making Of High Noon, hosted by Leonard Maltin; Behind High Noon documentary; radio broadcast with Tex Ritter


DVD RELEASE: April 8, 2004

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