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High Noon

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: High Noon

Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Rated: NR
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: July 1952
Genres: Western, Action, Classic

*Also starring: Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Katy Jurado, Lon Chaney Jr., Otto Kruger, Harry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef, Robert J. Wilke

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1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

The more I think about classical westerns, the more I come to the strange conclusion that classical westerns actually weren't westerns at all. For most people, western is nothing more than simple action/adventure story set in the Old West. But the films that turned into classical westerns were anything but simple; even when they fulfilled the action/adventure criteria, they actually were multi-layered dramas, with complex characters, subplots and raised issues that could cause some serious head-scratching even for the causal viewers. Such films used mythical setting of Old West in order to ask some hard questions and discover unpleasant answers about dark sides of American history, as well as the state of human civilisation in general. One of such films was HIGH NOON, 1952 film directed by Fred Zinnemann. This film is often regarded as one of the best and most influential films of all time.

The film is set in Hadleyville, small, dusty town in New Mexico. Will Kane (played by Gary Cooper) is its much-respected marshal, who has just retired in order to buy store and live happily ever after with Amy (played by Grace Kelly), beautiful Quaker girl. Two of them have just married, when the terrible news comes from rail station. Frank Miller (played by Ian Macdonald), convicted killer who had been brought to justice by Kane, has just been pardoned, is arriving on the noon train. Miller is being awaited by three of his friends, and their intentions towards ex-marshal are quite clear. After some hesitation, Kane, to the great surprise of everyone, decides to stay in town and face his enemies. But, while the clock is ticking, he finds that good citizens of Hadleyville simply aren't prepared to risk their lives and help Kane in the inevitable conflict.

When people today talk about HIGH NOON, they usually mention it as a first, or at least, best known example of "real time" plot technique. The events depicted in HIGH NOON are set in a time span that corresponds with the running time of the film. Such technique wasn't new, but other filmmakers use it relatively rarely. Mostly it is due to some limitations it puts on the story and characters, which often make those films look like stage plays. But, it wasn't case with HIGH NOON. Its director, Fred Zinnemann, knew how to make a good and very effective movie out of this.

That happened mostly thanks to the great script by Carl Foreman (whose later works would include a masterpiece like THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI). The plot showed its universal value by being used in many later films, including even an interesting science fiction version in OUTLAND by Peter Hyams. Reason for that lies in the fact that it uses the universal theme of world's collective unconscious - a Lone Hero that is about to defend the community/world from Evil. Foreman's script goes further than that and brings another motive - the conflict between idealistic Man As They Should Be and conformist Man As They Are. And, after being exposed to such conflicts and its consequences, viewers are presented with heretical question: Is the community/world really worth saving? Foreman gives an answer, symbolised in gesture that was very controversial in its time and often copied in the films made in later decades.

It was often noted that HIGH NOON could be seen as a metaphor for the dilemmas that faced eminent figures in Hollywood of its time. In the early 1950s, at the zenith of anti-Communist hysteria, many actors, directors and screenwriters were called by Senate Committee in order to testify about alleged Communist influence in Hollywood. Those who came in front of the Committee were often asked questions about their own political convictions or convictions of their colleagues and friends. If they co-operated, they had to name names and they knew that even the most innocent innuendo about someone's leftist leanings could brand such person a Communist and practically end his career in Hollywood. If they didn't, if they stood by their friends or by the principles that personal political convictions per se shouldn't brand anyone a criminal they branded themselves a Communists. Such choice - between going the easy way and betraying noble principles and the sense of duty on one hand, and going the hard way and maintaining this principle at all cost - could be seen in this movie very well. Ironically, such uncompromising depiction of conformism vs. noble ideals, and some other things, brought a negative reputation to Foreman. He was soon blacklisted as alleged Communist and had to write his best screenplays under pseudonym, being rehabilitated only years after his death.

This dramatic conflict, which is in the essence of HIGH NOON, isn't just external confrontation between idealistic marshals and his conformist and hypocritical citizens. This conflict is also inner one; Foreman didn't portray Kane as some kind of perfect, all-conquering hero. He has some doubts, at first he succumbs to better judgement, being blinded by the prospect of better future. But deep down he knows that, even if he escapes the killers, he could never escape his own conscience. This inner struggle is seen through the almost always-painful expression by Gary Cooper, playing one of the best roles of his life. The actor, who had suffering from bleeding ulcer during the shooting, made a splendid job by using his unfortunate health condition in order to enhance the power of his performance.

The other actors are great too, especially those who play supporting characters and provide many different and interesting perspectives on the situation. Lon Chaney Jr. gives short, but memorable speech as Kane's old mentor. Thomas Mitchell is excellent as hypocritical leader of the town. On the other hand, Grace Kelly, in one of her first role, looks more like a plot gimmick, made in order to embody ideals of Old West virtues than as a real and fresh character. Katy Jurado, as no-nonsense and down-to-earth Mexican saloon owner, compensates Grace Kelly's lack of acting experience by providing her strong opposite.

The role played by Lloyd Bridges, although well played, should have been left out of the picture. Harvey, Kane's young and ambitious deputy, only complicated story that was perfect in its simplicity. This is one of the major flaws in this film that would otherwise be hailed as true masterpiece. The other one is the title song, written by Dimitri Tiomkin and sung by Tex Ritter, which is nice by itself; unfortunately, it is overplayed during the whole course of picture and gets really tedious. Luckily, those flaws don't negate the strong impact this film would have on the viewer, the impact that inspired many future filmmakers and made HIGH NOON one of the most important pieces of American film legacy.

Copyright 1999 Dragan Antulov

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