High Noon (1952)
The image of the lone Marshall standing alone, awaiting his fate at noon, is one of the most famous in movie history. It was used with great success in the Polish Solidarity movement in 1980.
The film it comes from is brilliantly and deceptively simple, a battle between good and evil, and Gary Cooper is at his best in his Oscar winning role as the embattled Marshall Kane. One of the best Westerns ever made, High Noon was nominated for 8 Academy awards and won 4, including Best Actor for Coooper and Best Song for the hit, "Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling" sung by Tex Ritter. High Noon is rated number 27 best ever movies on the American Film Institute's 2007 list.
Plot SummaryOn a blazing summer morning three members of a criminal gang converge on a small, quiet, arid western town called Hadleyville. They are planning to meet the gang leader, outlaw Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), arriving on the noon train, in order to seek revenge on the town's marshall, Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who was the man responsible for putting him in the penitentiary five years earlier for terrorizing the town. Miller was pardoned a week earlier and paroled and now wants his revenge.
The Marshall is about to hand in his badge after marrying Quaker Amy (Grace Kelly) when he hears the news. He starts to leave town with his new wife but changes his mind out on the prairie and comes back to face the gunmen.
He seeks help from the townsfolk he had previously helped but since they are gripped with fear, he will have to stand alone. ("I've got a wife and kids," says one of the townspeople when opting out.) People pull away from the marshal because they want to live another day.
Chief Deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) covets Will's job and ex-mistress (Katy Jurado) his mentor, former lawman Martin Howe (Lon Chaney Jr.) is now arthritic and unable to wield a gun. Even Amy, who doesn't want to be around for her husband's apparently certain demise, deserts him. Meanwhile, the clocks tick off the minutes to High Noon -- the film is shot in "real time," so that its 85-minute length corresponds to the story's actual timeframe. Utterly alone, Kane walks into the center of town, steeling himself for his showdown with the murderous Millers.
Principal CastGary Cooper ... Marshal Will Kane
Thomas Mitchell ... Mayor Jonas Henderson
Lloyd Bridges ... Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell
Katy Jurado ... Helen Ramírez
Grace Kelly ... Amy Fowler Kane
Otto Kruger ... Judge Percy Mettrick
Lon Chaney Jr. ... Martin Howe
Harry Morgan ... Sam Fuller
Ian MacDonald ... Frank Miller
Eve McVeagh ... Mildred Fuller
Morgan Farley ... Dr. Mahin, minister
Harry Shannon ... Cooper
Lee Van Cleef ... Jack Colby
Robert J. Wilke ... Jim Pierce
A Great MovieThe film cost an astonishingly low $750,000 during a 28 day shoot and resulted in a true movie landmark -- generally regarded as the best western ever filmed, a true work of art.
Cooper stands as the symbol of the independent American man who stands alone against a formidable enemy - a man of few words, but holding fast to a righteous moral code like a true American gentleman.
Foreman almost certainly based movie message on the hysteria of his times and how he and many others would stand alone during the McCarthy hearings (he and a number of others on the project would face black listing), but the story is universal and applies to any case where a person must stand on principle. It is in the conflict between personal responsibility and the needs of the community where High Noon excels.
While it was okay for Kane to put his life on the line for the benefit of the community, the community refuses to return the favor.
The face of Gary Cooper becomes the ideal vehicle for carrying this complex story. He isn't the towering monument which would have been suggested by say, John Wayne. He's more fallible--and thus more human. Will Kane's uncertainty and anxiety could never have been attempted by Wayne (who despised the film and the character of Will Kane). However, with this alternate vision of the Western, High Noon achieves complexities that stayed beyond the reach of conventional Westerns. It is this complexity which makes the film stand out from the crowd. It is what makes it truly great.