Often looked at as a “Western for those who don’t like Westerns”, Director Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon is a classic tale about retired Marshall Will Kane, who is forced right back into action when he receives word that a man he was responsible for putting away Frank Miller, has been pardoned and is coming back into town on the noon train. Starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges and Ian MacDonald as the principle cast although the townspeople play a significant part.
Gary Cooper is Will Kane, who after just getting married to the ever so beautiful Amy (Grace Kelly), hands over the coveted Marshall star then seconds later receives a message that infamous criminal Frank Miller (Ian Mac Donald) a man he helped put away has been let free and is on his way back into town, due to arrive on the noon train. To make things worse, Will hears that Frank Miller is being met by 3 other infamous gunslingers at the train station. After being persuaded by the main board members in the towns’ committee and towns people alike, Will hot tails it out of town with Amy to start their new life. The thought however, of running for the rest of his life and letting the town down, does not appeal to him and he returns. With now only an hour before the train arrives he attempts to recruit a number of deputies to help him, but he finds for different reasons, it’s not that simple.
Gary Cooper is thoroughly convincing as the clock winds down to face Frank Miller and his men. He looks genuinely concerned and frustrated about the way the recruitment process is going (during filming he was in terrible pain due to a bleeding ulcer, so his angst was not a put on) and wonders through the town at times like a ghost who once lived there (e.g. Watch him as he heads towards the Church). Grace Kelly’s Amy Kane is equally convincing as the sweet gorgeous new bride of Will who not only fears for the life of her new husband, but is also not so sure what to do (e.g. Watch as she waits in the hotel in the reception area). Producer Stanley Kramer saw Grace Kelly in an off broadway play previous to filming and offered her the part soon after; which was quite a find for this part where you not only needed someone beautiful, but someone who underneath shows both strength and courage but still displays an innocent at times vulnerable side for audiences to identify and sympathize with; she embodies all of the above and was magnificent. The townspeople from Mayor Jonas Henderson (Thomas Mitchell) to the deputy Marshal Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges, looking uncannily like former President George Bush JR.) straight to the bartender, receptionist, Minister Dr. Mahin (Morgan Farley) his congregation all the way including everybody, is remarkably effective in creating the mood of the film, rightly so since in effect it is their town that will be affected by the impounding return of Frank Miller, who must be said Ian MacDonald does his character justice in the “bad guy returns” role. His men a young Lee Van Cleef as Jack Colby , Robert J. Wilke’s Jim Pierce and Sheb Wooley’s Ben Miller provide the perfect set of well respected and feared gunslingers.
Fred Zinnemann’s emphasis and vision based on time running out, not only for Will Kane and Amy Kane but for the rest of the town is the undisputed champion here as the clocks tick by, waiting for the arrival of Frank Miller on that dreaded noon train. Clocks being shown regularly, adds to the anxiety and fear felt by audiences for the characters especially for Will Kane as he tries to get as many men as he can (Watch Will first to last looks up at the clock). Black and white photography for this story helps not only the dark feel of the film but successfully separates it from the traditional colourful “John Wayne Westerns” where the cowboys either fought Apaches, each other or greedy barons that “must have their land.” Fred Zinnemann once said that the 3 most important things about a film is the script, the script and the script, so he faithfully sticks to the philosophy using Carl Foreman’s screenplay taken from the short story ‘Tin Star’ by John W. Cunningham, intelligently recognising that it was strong enough without the use of anything extraordinary. It was this key decision that allows us the pleasure of seeing a simple but effective style on a very powerful story, that I believe could not be done by anyone else; well done to Fred Zinnemann and may he rest in peace.
This classic story that has the vibe of an old Western song about a Legend that once lived in a town called Hadleyville (actual name of the town) has all the elements of a perfect story from start to finish. So fantastic this film, that it should probably be examined and studied about more than most films if you are interested in combining creativity and action to a genre while still sticking to simple good old fashion story telling. If you love Westerns or Action films or don’t, it doesn’t matter, this film is still a must watch. Forget the saying “A Western for those who don’t like Westerns” more accurately it’s a “Film for those who love movies.”