High Noon (1952) Review

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Genre(s): Drama, Western

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

In 2008, the American Film Institute named High Noon the second greatest American western movie of all time as part of their AFI’s 10 Top 10 retrospective (The Searchers [1956] was named number-one). This is actually my second favorite western of all time at the moment, after The Magnificent Seven (1960) (I do like it a lot more than The Searchers). This film lives up to the hype. The story is about Wild West marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) on his last day as a lawman before retirement and his first day as a married man (his wife being Amy Fowler Kane [Grace Kelly], a pacifist Quaker). However, he must soon organize a posse to help him confront a gang of outlaws planning on killing him at noon.

This is one of cinema’s most famous tales of courage and cowardice. It’s all about integrity, heroism, and standing one’s ground against the forces of darkness and apathy. Gary Cooper’s towering performance (which he won an Oscar for) is what keeps the picture together. He’s greatly aided by Dimitri Tiomkin’s exemplary musical score, which also took home an Academy Award. The feature has two action scenes, a livery stable fist fight and the final shootout, both of which are more realistic than sensationalized. Every bullet fired and punch thrown matters.

If I had to find a fault with this psychological western, it would be the subplot involving Cooper’s character’s ex-lover, Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado), which distracts from the flick’s otherwise laser focus. These scenes don’t add much to the experience, and, in my opinion, probably should’ve been written out of the movie. Sometimes it seems like they were included to pad the film’s (admittedly short) runtime in order to further the picture’s taking-place-in-real-time shtick. I could be wrong, of course.

High Noon is rightfully lauded as a classic, thanks to its performances, thought-provoking subject matter, music, cinematography, action, and generally taut pacing. This is a landmark film because it showed a western hero who was vulnerable and sometimes even scared and because it focused more on drama and escalating tension than on the shoot-’em-up antics and hyper-macho posturing that were common in the genre. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for Lee Van Cleef as Jack Colby, a member of the villainous gang, and Jack Elam as Charlie, the jailed town drunk.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

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