Text by: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Regarded one of the most important Westerns in the history of cinema, the plot of High Noon begins when Will Kane (Gary Cooper), sheriff of the little village of Hadleyville, about to be replaced, is getting married to Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly), a quaker girl with deep non violent beliefs that has made Kane renounce to the sheriff badge, due to the pressure from his wife.
But when the married couple is about to get away, a menacing message arrives:
Frank Miller (Ian McDonald), a gunman whom Kane sent to prison, is going to arrive in the village at the high noon train, searching for vengeance, and it is an hour and a half left for it.
And the stress increases even more, when in a scene you can watch the clock of the village barbershop (indicating 10:33). Other three outlaws, comrades of Frank Miller pass by it: his brother Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley), James Pierce (Bob Wilke) and Jack Colby (a very young Lee Van Cleef). They are making their way to the station so as to wait for Frank. All of them are recognized by the barber (William Phillips) and the piece of news runs like the wind.
Kane can´t leave the village, cause the new sheriff won´t arrive till the following day, so against his wife´s will, he decides to stay and face Miller, but when he asks the village inhabitants for help, everybody cowardly turns his back on him, including Percy Mettrick (Otto Kruger) -the judge who sentenced Miller and officiated Kane´s Marriage-, his young assistant Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), the municipal administrator Jonas Henderson (Thomas Mitchell), the old ex sheriff Martin Howe (Lon Chaney Jr), the neighbour Sam Fuller (Henry Morgan), etc, being forced to fight completely alone against a group of dangerous murderers, in a duel ´at highnoon´, around which all the previous action revolves.
It must be also stood out the great playing of the Mexican actress Katy Jurado, in the role of Helen Ramirez, an old Will Kane´s fiancée, who understands and accepts his attitude.
Also relevant are the shots inserted between different scenes in which the train tracks appear in close-up, narrowing towards the horizon, emphasizing the spectator even more the fact that Frank Miller´s arrival through that railroad is imminent.
The film is full of stress, which goes on increasingly raising, a fact enhanced by the frequent shots of different clocks, whose hands are approaching the high noon and the graphic B & W photography by Floyd Crosby is excellent, with intentional harsh contrasts, since he searched for the most favorable light directions and the most accentuated high key and low key areas (differences of up to 8 diaphragms) in order to highlight the scorching sun and the dust reigning over the village of Hadleyville.
High Noon is a unique film, with a dramatic and social character, rather than the customary outdoors shot film, because the direction by Fred Zinneman reflects very well the true disposition of every character appearing in High Noon, moving away from the habitual stereotypes to a large extent.
In this way, Gary Cooper, in a superb playing that deserved him his second Oscar for the Best Main Actor, isn´t the typical all-out bold and brave hero, seeming not to mind any sort of danger.
Actually, he´s fully aware of his few chances against professional killers, facing them alone, resigned, because he has no alternative and he´s almost persuaded he is going to be killed, being his deep ethic convictions on justice and the necessity to maintain the law and order (along with the survival instinct in the last resort) what induces him to fight; and just before the duel, it is manifest that he is frightened, aware of the enormous risk he´s running, his eyes are utterly open looking in all directions, blinks unintentionally, weighs up his revolvers, wipes his sweat from an eyebrow, etc.
And in a powerful and memorable montage of images (beautifully edited, with each individual shot lasting four pendulum oscillations of the clock), the anxiety, the fear and the frustration are reflected on Will Kane´s countenance and the sheriff, with dark circles under his eyes, writes his last will and his testament inside his office, when in the background sounds faintly the tic tac of the clock striking two minutes to twelve, after which you can watch in a close-up of the swinging of the clock gigantic pendulum, quickly happening the scene of sepulcral silence and utter absence of people at the station, in the church, in the canteen, around the village, at the homes of Sam Fuller and the ex sheriff Martin Howe and in the hotel. Everybody is hidden. They do know that the killers are about to arrive and they ´don´t want any problems´, strengthening themselves in their decision on being heard the whistling of the high noon train arriving in the village, emphasizing this recalcitrant stressing calm.
But Will Kane has resolved to accept the duel, though it means his own death. He put his last will into a closed envelope, on which he writes: ´To open in case I die´ and goes to face the wicked gunmen that have come to kill him, getting in the way Helen and Amy, who are marching to the station to flee the village by train. It´s there where Helen sees Frank Miller, who has just arrived. Initially (so as to arouse the curiosity and increase both the tension and the thrill), the camera lens focus him from behind and within some seconds a close-up of his scarred face appears.
The four gunmen are present in the village, with Will Kane as a target and Hadleyville resembles a ghost town, with Gary Cooper as the only man, inexorably forced to face his destiny by himself.
It´s then when we watch the best scene of the movie: the impressive inverse shot from above, in which for seconds, the camera approaches and moves away from the sheriff figure, who is belittled by the buildings on both sides of the dusty street.
Amy hears the first shots (Will Kane has just got rid of Ben Miller) from her train seat and fears the worst. She jumps from the moving train and returns to help her husband, his contribution being decisive, because immediately afterwards Kane kills Colby, but it´s the very Amy who, because of love, takes a revolver and kills Pierce, saving Kane´s life and distracting Frank Miller (that was grabbing her as a hostage) some tenths of a second, enough for Gary Cooper to shoot him twice.
But now there isn´t time for triumphant celebrations. It´s a dramatic victory, in which the most bitter thing for Will Kane has been the shameful and selfish behaviour by the village inhabitants (absolutely ungrateful), who haven´t given him their support at any moment and it almost costs him his life.
Will Kane hugs Amy in the middle of the street and after a few seconds they are surrounded by the village people, who on verifying that danger has gone, appear curious and look at the couple in silence. Will Kane stares at them in contempt and throws his sheriff badge into the ground, abandoning with Amy the village forever, while Hadleyville inhabitants stay crestfallen and silent.
Therefore, High Noon (for a distinguished group of qualified and impartial cinematography experts one of the best Westerns ever shot), unlike other famous West movies, doesn´t take it for granted at all the unquestionable hero condition of the main character, but this shows himself as being ´normal´ enough, facing an experience as hard as the most one, and these so foreseeable and human reactions are precisely the ones conferring great realism, credibility and drama to the plot thread of this celluloid classic and very specially to the character of Will Kane and the outstandingly famous final duel in which he will settle accounts with every killer by means of accurate shots of his revolver, showing character and a remarkable control of the fear invading him, in a situation of clear disadvantage and inferiority, becoming from a propitiatory victim into a forced hero, everything musically framed by the marvellous ballad ´Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin´ sung by Tex Ritter.
© Copyright Text by: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
|Technical Card: High Noon
1952. 84 minutos. US
Dir: Fred Zinnemann.
Prod: Stanley Kramer.
Screenplay: Carl Foreman.
Photography: Floyd Crosby.
Edition: Harry Gerstad, Elmo Williams.
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin.
Art Director: Rudolph Sternad.
Casting: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger.
High Noon won four Oscars: Oscar for Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Oscar for Best Song ("High Noon"), Oscar for Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin) and Oscar for Best Editing (Harry Gerstad and Elmo Williams).
Besides, it received three nominations: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.