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.
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.“
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.