High Noon: Review
Gary Cooper earned a well deserved Best Actor Oscar (his second) for his portrayal of one of the most iconic American images ever to hit the silver screen - that of the lone sheriff in High Noon facing down the threat to his way of life and upholding a personal definition of manhood.
Often referred to as the Western for people who don’t like Westerns, High Noon is really a film about the individual spirit to stand up for what’s right even when faced against insurmountable odds, without the support of the very people one is trying to protect. Ironically, the film was seen as extremely socialistic when it was in production, only to be embraced as an icon of Americanism upon release and idolized as the representation of democratic values by Eastern European nations as they struggled to escape the grip of cold war communism. And, upon careful viewing, one can see that it is indeed a little bit of all these things and more. But the great thing is that you don’t necessarily know it while watching it.
High Noon is a great film, pure and simple. Well written, well cast, and well executed, it is that rare example of cinema where all of the elements come together and work effortlessly to form a greater sum than its parts - without pushing the point. The best example of this is in the church scene where the townsfolk debate the good and bad points of coming to the aid of the man who has protected them over the years. They are literally standing in the pews of the church “preaching” their different points of view, and yet it doesn’t come across as preachy. The situation begs for the scene to come across heavy handed, and yet it does not. The main character’s wife (played by a very young Grace Kelly in only her second screen role) is a Quaker who “preaches” peace, and yet her pleas never come across as self righteous or moralizing.
The key here is a good basic story that stands the test of time and is populated by real characters supported by the convictions of their beliefs. That is why we believe each person as each makes their various choices and stands by them, whether we personally agree with them or not. Cooper’s Sheriff Kane must do what he is meant to do as much as the towns’ people are meant to do nothing. The powerful story told here is an inevitable unfolding of events. And when a film can do this it doesn’t matter what genre it is, it will be regarded as great classic cinema.