High NoonAFI Rank: #33
Year Released: 1952
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Actors: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly
In a time when westerns were about good guys banding together and defeating the bad guys, High Noon stands out as a movie with more complex relationships.
Note - this review has spoilers, since the movie is such a classic!
Gary Cooper is a marshal who is marrying a quaker woman, Grace Kelly. She abhors all violence. However, just as they get married and he's about to hang up his star for good, there's news. An old nemesis is coming into town to cause trouble. The townsfolk want Gary just to leave, they figure they'll be fine without him around. Gary actually thinks about it for a moment - but then he turns back. Part of it is that he wants to protect the town. He isn't assured that the town will be safe. But part of it is also pure logic. If the gang of bad guys catch up with him and his wife on the prairie, they'll have to make a stand all alone. At least in town he'll have his friends around to help him.
Or so he thinks.
As the noon train approaches, carrying the lead bad guy, Gary goes around from spot to spot, recruiting his friends. His deputy is jealous. His old friend says he's too old. The tavern guys like the bad guys. The townsfolk just want things to be calm.
In most westerns, the man has to be strong and determined. In this one, Gary feels lonely and deserted. He accepts that the people are turning on him, and he tries to do his best, but he feels the weight on his shoulders. You can see it.
Even his ex girlfriend, who clearly misses him, heads out of town. She whispers to him, in Spanish, "One year without seeing you" - she has felt his absence dearly. He answers, "I know," - he misses her too. He sends her away so she'll be safe.
His Quaker wife - Grace Kelly in her first role, has a reason for not wanting to see violence. She had to watch her father and brother die. She swore after that that there had to be better solutions. She can't hang around and watch her new husband die.
But in the end, it's only Grace who will make a stand, who will watch her husband's back and help him face down the enemy. I love it when Gary throws his star down in the dirt, in front of the townsfolk, showing them that they did not deserve the protection he gave to them.
I love the way the movie was filmed - the focus on the empty tracks where the train will come, the focus on the clocks as the minutes tick down. It feels very "real time" - that you can sense the impending arrival of the train as every second passes by. I love how each defection feels real. These are not made up, fake people. Each one feels they are doing the right thing. It's the cumulative effect that creates the lack of action.
It reminds me of several famous cases where a crowd of people watched something awful happen - a woman get raped, a woman get beaten, and so on. They all figured someone else should take the first step. They were never willing to do it themselves. Even the one loyal deputy, once he realizes it's a suicide mission, decides his wife and children are more important than a lost cause.
So I strongly feel this is a classic. I love the acting, the interactions, and how it veers from the cookie cutter mold of westerns at the time. With all that being said, I just have a few things to mention.
First, when we first saw the "Mexican mistress" come on screen, all three of us were convinced she was supposed to be a Hungarian gypsy. Her accent was extremely heavy and odd. It turns out that the actress, Katy Jurado, is actually Mexican and at the time spoke little English. So she was completely authentic, but for some reason the way she delivered her lines seemed odd.
Another thing which made little sense to me was that Grace, who had been in town long enough to court and marry Gary, had never even met Katy. It wasn't a big town! Surely they both had to buy groceries or such. Maybe they were making the point that ethnic lines couldn't be crossed back then. I find it a bit hard to believe in such a tiny town that they could have segregated this woman off that much.
Still, minor issues. I love the interplays here. How the deputy feels like he should be in charge, but he's clearly not ready. How the ex-lover feels pulled to him. How the one-eyed guy and the kid want to help and he gently turns them away. Highly recommended!
Male vs Female Actors
The two female actors in this are certainly good - but both exist for Gary to play off of. Both are supposed to love him, for different reasons, and they represent pure and impure. It turns out impure is the power powerful, to get the pure to find strength.
The Bechdel Test
While the two female characters certainly have names, and they talk together, they are talking about him :)
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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100