HIGH NOON

(1952)
With Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Harry Morgan, Ian McDonald
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Reviewed by JB

      A low-budget film shot mostly on a studio backlot in less than a month, HIGH NOON would go on to become one of the most iconic and important westerns of all time.  The quintessential "one man standing against evil" movie, HIGH NOON's stark departure from the usual trappings of the western genre garnered it some criticism in its day (John Wayne hated it), but it would nevertheless emerge as one of the classic American westerns. It is almost certain that HIGH NOON was one of the American films that helped Kurosawa redefine the samurai genre in Japan in the fifties and sixties in film like SEVEN SAMURAI and YOJIMBO, with the latter film inspiring Sergio Leone to further redefine the American Western, albeit it in Spain, with his FISTFUL OF DOLLARS trilogy.  In the wake of HIGH NOON, the great John Ford created two of his greatest and deepest films ever in THE SEARCHERS and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERY VALANCE.  Even the DIE HARD films can be seen as modern-day versions of HIGH NOON, with Bruce Willis's wisecracking John McClane standing in for Gary Cooper's stoic, tightlipped Will Kane.

    What director Fred Zinnemann and screenwriter Carl Foreman did with HIGH NOON was to reject everything people had expected in such films - Technicolor, sweeping panoramas, horse chases, the guy in the white hat facing down the guy in the black hat - and instead present a character study in which, except for one short fistfight, the only action occurs in the final ten minutes. Otherwise, the film focuses on Cooper's retired marshall, who struggles in vain to round up any allies to help him face down a recently released outlaw out for revenge.  The film takes place in virtual real time, beginning 90 minutes before "high noon", the scheduled time of the arrival of the train on which the killer will be arriving.  One by one, the citizens of the town let him down, from the mayor to his own wife (Grace Kelly), until he is forced to face the killer and three cohorts alone.  Iconic imagery include the crane shot showing Marshall Kane standing all alone in his dusty town, the static shot of the railroad tracks stretching out to infinity (signifying the threat yet to arrive), and the bad guys standing around at the train station waiting for the arrival of their leader, a shot re-used and expanded upon by Sergio Leone to create the moody opening to the classic ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.  4 - JB

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