High Noon (1952) Death Comes Walking Through Town

It’s western time again here on Wolfies Cult Film. This review is for one of the big daddy classics of the genre, High Noon. This one centered on bravery and cowardice. A deep look at where your morals would stand as the time ticks away and death comes a knocking.

What’s going down in Western town?
High Noon is set within the small town called Hadleyville. Situated in the New Mexico Territory. A few streets of stores and businesses. The usual saloon bar, hotels, convenience stores, court house and of course, the marshal’s office. It was once a feisty town with plenty of business with gambling and drinking. A vicious gang had run the town. Now Hadleyville was quiet. One lawman had stood up against the leader. He was convicted and jailed. The rest of his henchmen hot footed out of there. One thing the outlaw said before he was sent to prison was he’d return and reap vengeance on his capture. That day had come. When the train arrives at High Noon the killing will start………

Who’s our righteous hero gunslinger?
Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) wears the tin star. A badge he is about to give up. For today he married a Quaker. A devout pacifist who in return for her hand has asked him to step down as the marshal of the town. He’s reluctant but he’s so very much in love. Tomorrow his replacement arrives. Today, not only does he gain a wife, he also learns the Miller gang is on it’s way. Revenge on their mind. Marshal Kane’s friends rally around and persuaded him to flee town. Pride takes over. “They’re making me run!…. I’ve never run from anybody before.” He decides to stay. But what will it cost? At least the town and his friends will stand beside him?……..

Tagline – The story of a man who was too proud to run…

Does he have a trusty side kick?
OH! Umm. That turns out to be one of the problems. If only he had a side kick or two. A few come close but each time a different excuse is found and poor Marshal Will Kane wanders the town in the blistering heat trying to rally up a posse! There is Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges). He’s ready to help, do his job. But he’s a bitter and scorn young man. He wanted the Marshal job and feels wrong done by. He’s also been rejected in love. He hits the bottle and temperatures rise.

Cowgirl love interest?
Our Marshal might be losing friends by the horse cart load but he certainly picked up a smasher, half his age, in the sweet and homely Quaker Amy (Grace Kelly). Dressed with her best leaving town bonnet she is determined for her and Will to jump on a stagecoach and settled down for a sweet life outta town. She has good reason to. “I’ve heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn’t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die!

A collection of low down and dirty bad boy cowboys?
A four gang posse of low down and dirty outlaws are poised to reap revenge. Three members of the Miller gang await for the arrival of their boss Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald). Frank’s brother Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley), Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef) and Jim Pierce (Robert J. Wilke) intimidate the town as they calmly stroll on in. At High Noon Frank’s train is scheduled to arrive. It’s on time….

Sheriff in town?
There’s lots of moments that could be in the “One of the best scenes” section below but I’ll add this one here. As dead man walking Will Kane struts round town desperate to get a gang of guns behind him. Each time you see his face and soul break. None more so when he goes to his good friend and ex Marshal, Martin Howe (Lon Chaney Jr). A once dependable steadfast tough man now just sitting there with pride disappearing around him. He’s done his time, his wife doesn’t want him to fight and his hands are twisted out of shape with arthritis. It’s a sad scene. Two Marshal’s once filled with pride. One almost begging for help the other almost begging for forgiveness.

Injun’s?
No cowboys and Indians in this western. We instead get a strong female Mexican business woman who’s resilient and wise. Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado) owns a few properties within the town. She has good standing in the community with a big history between our protagonist and antagonist. She’d had relationships with both men. She knows their characteristics inside out. She also knows when it’s a good to get out of town but not before giving rational and blunt advice to whomever visits her. “I don’t understand you. No matter what you say. If Kane was my man, I’d never leave him like this. I’d get a gun. I’d fight.

Katy Jurado strikes a contrasting image within High Noon. Dressed in dark elegant clothes with jet black hair. Her stunning features offset with sad puppy dog eyes. Miss Jurado’s full name is the wonderful María Cristina Estela Marcela Jurado García.

A rootin and tootin old fella?
Almost but not quite. I’m gonna go for Jimmy (William Newell) the drunk with an eye patch in this section as it’s all a bit sad for a rootin and tootin old fellow. We don’t really get a back story with One Eyed Jimmy. We get to see him slamming back whiskey in the saloon. He witnesses no one step up to help Kane. Jimmy knocks another back before wobbling off to find the Marshall to say he will be with him. It feels like a chance for Jimmy to redeem himself for some wrong. Kane knows the man has a good heart. “Thanks Jimmy it’s ok, go buy yourself another whiskey

One of best scenes.
The opening intro scene is fantastic. First Jack Colby waiting by what looks like a hanging tree. Then there’s two outlaws. They greet each other and look across the landscape. A third man rides at speed. His horse kicking up dust. Time to walk into town to meet the train. Just their presence together will bring terror to town. All this happens as Dimitri Tiomkin’s song “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling” is played with the vocals of Ned Washington. The song’s opening lines and melody accomplices the sadness of the film.

The quick-draw question shootout round.

  • Shoot-out ratio.
    Just the one. The money shot of a shoot out is left till the end and it doesn’t disappoint.
  • Someone has to have the fastest hands?
    No one is out rightly said to be the fast hands but if I had pick one I’d go for the steely-eyed Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef). He does looks so cool.
  • Saloon fight.
    A disrespectful landlord gets a well deserved bunch of fives. “You carry a badge and a gun Marshall. You had no call to do that!
  • Hang on a minute is that so-in-so?
    There’s a funny scene that features a sleeping prisoner locked up in Kane’s jail house. Completely oblivious to everything that has happened. Waking up from a bellyful of booze Kane lets him go. Charlie looks up with the wonky eye and twisted face of the excellent character actor Jack Elam. Apparently he had a bigger part cut from the film but just this short cameo is a fun touch to the heavy film. “You don’t happen to know if the saloon’s open?” “I said, go home, Charlie.
  • Scalping?
    Lots of full heads of hair on show here.
  • The best little whorehouse in the west?
    No fun-time naughty shenanigans to be had in the hour of impending doom.
  • Bank robbery?
    Nope.
  • Spittoon?
    I’m sure jailbird Charlie would be straight on the chewing tabacco. “Poot-Ting
  • Cactus count?
    Not sure I saw any?
  • Random factoid?
    I just learnt that Katy Jurado was briefly married to Ernest Borgnine. Sounds like all the guys were after her tasty taco’s with Marlon Brando smitten with “her enigmatic eyes, black as hell, pointing at you like fiery arrows
  • Can you squeeze another Random factoid out Wolfie?
    Here’s a fun one. Sheb Wooley who plays Ben Miller is the originator of the classic film scream that has become legend. Check out this short video about the Wilhelm Scream here and it will bring a massive smile to your face if you didn’t already know it.

How’s the look of the land?
Most of the High Noon is set within small town center which was filmed at multiple locations around California with Warner Brothers Burbank Studios Laramie Street taking up the bulk of sets. However it’s the landscape shots that shine out. That amazing opening that I mention above but best of all is the small wooden train station situated with the vastness of desert going as far as the eye can see. With the backdrop of distanced mountain ranges far off in the shot. The camera often returns to this great shot that brings with it a ticking time clock of doom as we wait to see the locomotive steam bellowing out.

Production stuff
High Noon is based on a magazine story originally called Tin Star by writer John W Cunningham. The movie was directed by Fred Zinnemann with the screenplay by Carl Foreman. What is interesting about the film is the implied underlying theme backdrop of an allegory to blacklisting in the film industry during the anti-Communist red scare movement. Carl Foreman had been summons to a committee as a member of the American Communist Party and was demanded to name other members. He refused. There’s a brilliantly written article about it here at Vanity Fair.

Verdict
I’d seen this at my son’s age of 17 and left a real impact. The film resonances still with me since that day. Watching it again for the first time since with my boy Kofi at the same age as I was, was a nice touch. I thought it’s underlying morals fitted in with his A-Levels studies in Ethics. So not only is it like a origin story on a Die Hard narrative, I can say it was educational too. Plus for me, it was interesting to read about the the Hollywood blacklisting and behind the screens trials and tribulations of the movie.

Score
9/10

Feel free to let me know what you thought of this one? I’ve watched two more westerns this month so far and will be reviewing them this week. Plus be sure to know you are welcome to let me know some great action western films which would fit the format.

Thanks as always for popping in for a read. Wishing you well for the weekend.

Keep those eyes square whilst watching great movies.

Mikey Wolf

12 thoughts on “High Noon (1952) Death Comes Walking Through Town

  1. I agree Mikey, this is indeed a great one! It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I seem to remember a scene/line I really liked, where Kane gets in a fight with someone, or is angry with someone, and says something like, “Don’t get me mad.” I really like the way he says it, and I hope it’s this film he says it in! (Let me know if I’m wrong). And I guess I’m not the only one who loves that train station! I also love those shots of the railroad tracks…so ominous.

    And wait just one gosh darn minute…did you just call Grace Kelly HOMELY? (Ah, wait, I just looked it up…the North American and British meanings of the word are completely different! Never mind!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I’m sure he says that. Yeah there’s a few moments were you see a real snap in his mood. You can tell this guy has been through it and age might be tiring him but there’s still fire and bite in him. It’s amazing that a train line and station can bring such a feeling of dread coming. Each time they pan the shot down there you hope not to see the smoke coming. (but of course you do as you want that awesome gun fight to start). Plus the three men sitting waiting. Drinking, smoking and looking menacing, and Lee playing the harmonica with steely eyes is awesome to see to.

      Haha “Homely” well I never knew that “unattractive in appearance.”. I can see why steam started coming out of your ears when you read that about our Grace! Wow that’s a word that can get lost in translation easy.. Yeah over here a homely lady can very much be attractive, ideally with good bristols lol but likes to make cook, bake cakes and do home crafts. I’d like to add to that drink ales and watch tons of excellent films but they are hardier to find lol

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  2. This is such a good one. Perfect casting. Grace outwardly meek but internally strong. Katy is an absolute badass. Never got John Wayne’s bizarre reaction to this film, Kane is clearly far braver than most Western heroes because he’s facing up to the villains on his own and stayed when he could have easily legged it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah John Wayne (however much I love him) does come across as a bit of twit at times.
      Turns down the role and is said to have commented “never regret having helped run Foreman out of the country”.
      Then to accept the Oscar for his pal Gary Cooper and say “I’m glad to see they’re giving this to a man who is not only most deserving, but has conducted himself throughout the years in our business in a manner that we can all be proud of … Now that I’m through being such a good sport … I’m going back and find my business manager and agent … and find out why I didn’t get High Noon instead of Cooper …”
      All very bizarre. But I love reading stuff like this when doing reviews. The learning aspect is my favourite thing doing this blog.
      So cool Grace took on Katy’s advice and stepped up for her guy. Such a great film. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review 🙂 Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of High Noon – this is not to say that I hate it or anything, but it is really only good as opposed to great or even very good. I was always a Rio Bravo guy 🙂 That is the film that director Howard Hawks and it’s lead star John Wayne made as a response to High Noon. I think Wayne hated High Noon’s portrayal of it’s town folk as implicitly cowardly in the face of one guy, who is facing off against an enemy. It makes sense when one takes into account that Gary Cooper’s character is a Marshall as opposed to an outlaw. I can’t confirm this with 100 percent authenticity, but Wayne always seemed like the type of guy, who would want to watch a western where the townsfolk were supportive of the sheriff. Again, this is just speculation. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sorry for the late reply back JC. I hadn’t seen it before so I thought I go and watch it before replying. LOL there I was watching it just now and I thinking to myself “Ummm not sure how you compare this to High Noon! Maybe it change in a bit. But I wasn’t expecting it to be actually very funny.” Ok that was nothing like High Noon! Then face palm moment.. HEHE I’d just watched Rio Grande with John Wayne not Rio Bravo DOH! How many Rio’s had he done! There’s another, Rio Lobo ! Just realised I haven’t seen any of them. Rio Grande was enjoyable.. Next I will get to the film you were talking about, Rio Bravo. It all becomes clear and I apologise for the madness stuff I just wrote LOL… I’ll be back.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Unquestionably a great film, Mikey. One of the most iconic films. That first scene is fantastic. It’s just the way you describe it. Very ominous. Very unsettling.
    I love the quick draw shootout questions…Scalping?…Spittoon?…When I was a kid scalping terrified me, a lot like quicksand did…Spittoons?…Not so much, but the cowboys teeth–especially the one’s that use the spittoon–were down right horrifying. Ha!
    I’m right there with you, Mikey. I’d give it a 9 too, probably a 9.9. Just a tad short of perfect, in my opinion.

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  5. Classic stuff. Great write up and here I was about to ask you…. ‘What? No love for Jack Elam?” LOL. I see John brought up the Rio Bravo connection. Funny how both turned out to be classics. Great entry into movies for Lee Van Cleef and it’s parts like this that remind us Lon Chaney was far more than just a boogeyman.
    And as for Coop, just one of the all time greats. If you haven’t yet, check out his frontier classic, Friendly Persuasion where he is a Quaker and the Civil War is coming. My wife and I love that film and his Anthony Mann western, Man of the West are both worthy of Wolfie’s time. Keep’em Coming.

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