High Noon

High Noon

High Noon is a classic Western with great suspense and moral impact. The cast includes: Gary Cooper (as Will Kane), Grace Kelly (as Amy Kane), Lloyd Bridges (Harvey Pell), Katy Jurado (Helen Ramirez), Lon Chaney, Jr. (Martin Howe), Thomas Mitchell (Jonas Henderson), Otto Kruger (Judge Percy Mettrick), Henry Morgan (Sam Fuller), Sheb Wooley (Ben Miller), Bob Wilke (Jim Pierce), Lee Van Cleef (Jack Colby), and Ian McDonald (Frank Miller).

The screenplay is by Carl Foreman, based on a magazine story, “The Tin Star,” by John W. Cunningham. The music was composed by Dimitri Timkin. Photography was by Floyd Crosby. The film was produced by Stanley Kramer, and directed by Fred Zinneman.

The film won four Academy Awards: for Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Editing (Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad), Best Score for a Dramatic Film (Dimitri Tiomikin), and Best Song (the High Noon Ballad, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh, My Darlin’,” lyrics by Ned Washington, music by Dimitri Tiomkin, sung by Tex Ritter).

When the story begins, it is Sunday morning in the town of Hadleyville. Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) are getting married. Will is the town sheriff. Amy, his new wife, is a Quaker. She opposes the use of weapons or violence, so Will is giving up his job as sheriff to become a shopkeeper.

Three outlaws have come to town. They are: Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley), Jim Pierce (Bob Wilke), and Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef). They ride their horses to the train depot, where they await the arrival of the noon train. Frank Miller (Ian McDonald), the leader of their gang, is riding the train. He has just been released from prison. He had been sent to prison by Sheriff Will Kane, and has sworn to be revenged against Kane.

The townspeople are eager for Will and Amy to leave town. They do not want the town to become the scene of a violent showdown. But after being advised to depart, Will refuses to leave town. He puts his badge back on, and straps on his gun. Amy begs him to leave town, but when he refuses, she says that she will not wait for him, and that she will leave on the noon train.

Thus, we see the conflict between Amy’s religious principles (her Quaker pacifism) and Will’s concept of himself as a sheriff. He believes that he must fight for what he thinks is right. He knows that he may not be able to avoid using violence.

Will’s deputy, Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) tries to persuade him to leave town. Harvey wants to become sheriff, and blames Will for the fact that he had not been chosen by the leaders of the town to become the new sheriff when Will had decided to resign. Harvey thinks that Will opposed his promotion, because Harvey is having an affair with Helen Ramirez, who was Will’s former girlfriend. Harvey accuses Will of being jealous about his relationship with Helen Ramirez, but Will was not aware of the relationship and has not talked with Helen for the past year. When Will refuses to resign, and to allow Harvey to take his place as Sheriff, Harvey resigns as Deputy.

Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) is a former lover of Frank Miller, but had left Miller to become the lover of Will Kane. She is an attractive and sophisticated woman, who is now a saloon-keeper. She has a tarnished reputation in the town, because of her occupation, and because of her former lovers. She also faces the racial prejudice of the town, because of her Mexican ancestry.

Helen decides to leave town, to avoid the revenge of Frank Miller. She sells her saloon to an elderly man who has been her business-partner, and decides to leave on the noon train.

Will goes to the church to ask the townspeople to help him to fight the gang of outlaws. The gathering of people in the church decides to discuss the situation, but they refuse to help him. They do not want to risk their own safety, even though Will has defended them from outlaws in the past. The hypocrisy of most of the people in the church is exposed by their refusal to fight for justice.

Thus, the focus of the film is not on the threat of the outlaws to the town, but on the failure of the town to help Will when he has to confront Frank Miller. When Will asks for help to fight Frank Miller's gang, he is rejected by the townspeople because of their cowardice and hypocrisy.

Will Kane is abandoned by his friends. He sees that he has no true friends. The people who said that they were his friends are only false friends. He is left to rely on his own courage and integrity. He inwardly struggles with his own doubt and fear, but outwardly keeps his resolve and determination.

As the time draws closer to high noon, Will can find no one to help him in the impending showdown. He feels an increasing sense of desperation. But he knows that he must stand his ground. He sees no other alternative. He cannot run, because this would betray his principles. He has never run from a fight.

His self-interest and self-esteem are also involved in his refusal to run away. Thus, his motives are not completely unselfish. He is defending the safety of the town, but he is also defending his reputation.

The sheriff has a thankless job. He has risked his life for the town, but is now shunned by the people whose safety he has defended. He risks his life because he wears a "tin star," the badge that represents his pledge to enforce the laws of the town.

The clock strikes noon, and Frank Miller arrives on the train. Miller straps on his gun, and the four outlaws walk from the train depot to meet Kane for a showdown. He meets them in the center of town, and engages them in a gunfight. They exchange gunfire in a running battle in the street and inside a barn. Kane kills two of the outlaws.

Amy has returned from the train depot, and is terrified by the sound of the gunshots. She realizes that her husband is in great danger. She watches the street. When she sees that one of the outlaws is moving toward Will, and that the outlaw is about to shoot her husband, she picks up a gun, and shoots the outlaw from behind.

Frank Miller captures Amy, and tries to use her as a shield, while he points his gun at Will, but Amy pushes herself away from his grasp, and Will shoots Miller, who falls dead.

Amy and Will are reunited, and they embrace, as they stand in the street. The showdown is over, and the townspeople gather around them. As the film ends, Will removes his tin star, and drops it on the ground. He no longer owes the town anything.

High Noon is an exciting and suspenseful film, notable for Gary Cooper’s great performance as the determined sheriff, Carl Foreman’s powerful screenplay, and the haunting melody sung by Tex Ritter. The film is also notable for its brilliant editing, photography, and direction. Important symbols in the film include the clock in Will Kane’s office, and the tin star that he wears on his vest.

The clock in Will Kane's office is shown repeatedly as the time draws closer to noon, creating a heightening tension and suspense. The repeated image of the clock also emphasizes the inescapable nature of the showdown. The film attempts to reflect the duration of real-time, i.e. to follow events within the same duration of time as reality. The events of the film occur within the last eighty minutes before noon, as we are watching the eighty or ninety minutes of the film.

High Noon can be interpreted as a metaphor for existence in a hostile or indifferent universe. Confronted by doubt, fear, and uncertainty, each individual must rely on his or her own courage and integrity.

Copywright© 2001 Alex Scott