My understanding of the film is that there is a mix between real life relevance and aesthetic value that make this one of the most important westerns ever made. This film was regarded as the most unamerican western ever made, and the production was greatly affected by the red scare that was taking place at the time, with writer and producer Foreman having to flee the country and go to Britain just as the film was released nationwide. The funny thing is that the reception that it received in the Soviet Union wasn’t very warm either, as it was seen as a celebration of the individual. It seems to me as if, upon its release, everywhere in the world this western was somehow used as a political statement, and judges as if it represented some sort of manifesto or wrong politics no matter how you looked upon it and no matter what political wing your idealisms belonged to. This didn’t stop the academy awards from nominating this film and even awarding it with four statuettes including one for Gary Cooper’s performance.
In reality, there are uncomfortable politics in this movie, that much is true, but it is also a very romantic western, unlike the other more violent and action packed ones that were released at the time. I guess the casting of Gary Cooper makes sense in that way, he usually gives me the idea of the hero that can be very appealing to a female audience as well as a male one because of the romanticism he seems to perspire. It is his charm that in the plot carries on the movie, as he tries to persuade the town he helped make peaceful to help him taking care of a group of outlaws whose leader has been freed, and who is coming back into town. To make matters worse, this whole thing happens on the day of his wedding, and on the say when he had given up his badge, as he had vowed to do to the very graceful Grace Kelly. This story of a man standing alone against darker powers is something that would go on to influence plenty more movies. However, there is reason to believe that at the time, Americans did not even remotely want to be portrayed as people who would turn their backs to a right cause and leave the one man fighting alone. It is also an uncomfortable plot as one can sense a relevance between the plot and the whole Red Scare affair.
As it stands, this film doesn’t even look like the kind of film that would have interested the backbone of the western audience for a much more simple reason; the film hardly has as much action as your average western in general. It matters little that so much care is taken in building up tension and atmosphere for the sake of the grand finale to such an audience that would have wanted to see shootouts, chases and more action than this movie delivers. In fact, until the last few minutes of the finale, the film is carried on by Gary Cooper looking for people to help him taking care of Frank Miller and is gang, and more than that, there is very little confrontations between the outlaws and the law man in all that time. What is truly remarkable, in reality, about this film is indeed that the atmosphere is built, but also that the film tells the story of an hour, that hour before the train with Frank Miller arrives at noon, and in that hour, we really get to see Kane’s frustrations, his disappointments, his fears but also his bravery, and with the latter, we build up his status that makes his actions look even more heroic than a simple matter of fact reputation would have given to him.
It’s a revolutionary western which breaks free of the genre conventionalities. It’s different and remarkable in the way the story is portrayed. Watching the townspeople and even his own friends turn his back to him is a soul destroying portrayal of cowardice, but also shows that people hardly ever stand united for the same cause, and most of the time just wait for a messiah to take care of the troubles for them. What is more is that the explanations that the people give vary from political, to ones of jealousy, from cowardly to ones of oppositions to the causes of Kane (the latter is actually quite daunting, as when he asks for help in the saloon, the people seem to hardly care about the town being a safe place for children and wives, as they just want to have a good time).
Zinnemann is a great director, and some of the shots are pretty fresh and new. Everytime Gary Cooper (Kane) leaves his office, or the saloon, or the hotel or the Church, he walks out towards the camera and stops so we get a close up of his face (sometimes as close as Leone’s extreme close ups). That way we really get to see his desparation, we can tell he is wondering in his mind ‘okay, what am I gonna do now?’ The character of Grace Kelly is also a conflicted character, though I must say the way that her character is handled in the movie in my opinion is the weak aspect of it all; she seems all too distant and hardly there at all for her to play such an important part in the finale. Moreover, I believe that the film is outdated in the way that it freely moves away from the character of Kane by dealing with the character of the jealous lawman and his troubles with Kane’s ex-girlfriend, the tough Helen Ramirez, I see no real need to go so in depth for his character and heck, I don’t see the need to have any scene without Kane in them, as the film should have been more centred around him, by having us constantly looking at what he is doing.
The rest of the movie is great. Gary Cooper is just the right guy to play Kane, and I will never argue against any casting of Grace Kelly, she is so beautiful no wonder she became a princess. The ending does not disappoint, it is very well done, but then again, Zinnemann is good at building up an action packed finale, as he does in another great movie of his, From Here to Eternity. Though the photography may seem old fashioned here and there, and in fact sometimes a little too old fashioned being a 1952 film, it’s nice to see that westerns can look good in black and white as well as colour; I will say more, colour would probably have ruined the whole feeling of the movie, as this western is much more psychological than others, and the black and white helps get feelings you wouldn’t normally associate with westerns get across.
WATCH FOR THE MOMENT – The final showdown. Kane stands alone.