C&I Digital Streaming Guide: High Noon Cowboys and Indians Magazine C&I Digital Streaming Guide: High Noon

You can celebrate Gary Cooper’s birthday on May 7 by watching his Oscar-winning performance.

Everyone knows that noon — now available on multiple streaming platforms — is the story of a noble marshal who must stand alone against a vengeful criminal while the cowardly citizens of his small town refuse to offer help. As is often the case with “everyone knows” stuff, however, director Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic western was far more complex than conventional wisdom would suggest.

Sure enough, Will Kane (Gary Cooper, whose birthday we celebrate May 7th) does seem an icon of integrity when we meet him on what he considers the first day of a new life. Judging by what he said, and what was said about him, he had been a respected marshal of Hadleyville for several years, dutifully turning the lawless Wild West town into an oasis of honesty and family values. Now he’s given up his badge and tied the knot with Amy (Grace Kelly), a younger Quaker woman who wants her new husband to adopt a pacifistic approach to life.

But just before the newlyweds can set off on their honeymoon, Will gets some bad news: Frank Miller, the surly killer that Will helped send to prison years ago, is on his way back to Hadleyville to sort things out with law enforcement. Three of his thugs were waiting at the depot, waiting for Frank to arrive on the afternoon train. And it’s already 10:40 Uh-oh.

Being reasonable—and, more importantly, newly married to a beautiful Quaker woman—will initially agree with the townspeople who suggest that he and Amy should head out of town. However, minutes from Hadleyville, our hero feels compelled to turn his train around and head back home because… well, you know, a man has to do what a man has to do.

Trouble was, Will couldn’t find anyone to do it with him. For the next hour or so, he ran from person to person, group to group, trying to rally support for his stand against the invading barbarians. Yet, time and time again, Will was rejected or betrayed.

Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), his deputy, refuses to get involved because he blames Will for hindering his career advancement. (Harvey thought he would make a great surrogate marshal; Will thought otherwise.) Martin Howe (Lon Chaney Jr.), Will’s mentor and predecessor, is too hurt—and, to be fair, too arthritic—to risk his neck once again to ungrateful townspeople. Mayor Henderson (Thomas Mitchell) actively forbids any assistance to Will, insisting that violent gunfights on city streets will be bad for business and worse for Hadleyville’s image. Meanwhile, Amy sits and cooks at a local hotel, threatening to leave town on a train that takes Frank Miller on her fateful date.

In the end, Will — with a little help from Amy, who decides to hang on and, better yet, shoots one of the baddies in the back — must take care of business without the help of the lily-hearted Hadleyvillians. He tossed his badge out into the street in the last disdain, and went with Amy to a better and perhaps quieter life elsewhere. over.

noon greatly disappointed some traditionalists when it was first released in 1952—John Wayne and Howard Hawks were among its most vocal detractors—but many critics warmly praised the film as a smart and sophisticated “adult western.” Audiences bought stacks of tickets, and Academy voters honored Gary Cooper with a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor. (Cooper — then 50 years old, but looking older — calmly suffered bleeding wounds during filming, partly causing a generally sad and often painful expression that enhanced the credibility of his performance.) Oscars were also awarded for film editing and score music. , and for setting an unforgettable mood noon the theme — aka, “Don’t Leave Me, Oh My Darlin’” — is sung throughout the film by Tex Ritter.

After more than half a century of revival, revisionist reviews, and made-for-TV remake, noon continues to fascinate as a political allegory. It was written by Carl Foreman, who went on to undergo a long series of blacklists for alleged Communist sympathies. (He must use an alias when he co-writes Bridge on the River Kwai, and was unable to receive its accolades when the 1957 film won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.) For those inclined to fuss, this film is easily interpreted as a metaphor for the climate of fear generated by McCarthyism in the 1950s, a period when many directors, writers, , and actors abandoned by old friends—actually treated as pariahs—because they’ve been branded as “subversive.” (Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel examines the story behind this story in his recently well-received book, High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of American Classics.)

Apart from politics, noon remains important because of its formal structure. This 85-minute film is cleverly crafted and edited to maintain the illusion that it unfolds in “real time”, methodically and inescapably counting down to the final fight. To intensify the tension, director Zinnemann and Elmo Williams, his Oscar-winning editor, occasionally cut close-ups of the ticking clock, effectively underscoring Will’s mounting desperation.

All well and good, of course. But what is almost always not mentioned in the discussion about noon are fleeting hints and subtle cues that suggest maybe, just maybe, the whole situation isn’t as black and white as it seems. Here and there, you can display clear signs that, for some in Hadleyville, Will Kane has become a sacred booty sport that will not be missed or regretted. It’s not that they’re afraid to offer help—rather, it’s more like they want to witness a long overdue return. Or, as one hotelier put it bluntly about Will, “He’ll be rewarded.” Obviously, Frank Miller still has friends and admirers all over town. Equally clear, Will had not done enough during his tenure as marshal to sway their allegiance.

And then there’s the complicated problem of sexual intrigue. Subtle, that is, because the 1952 film couldn’t explicitly reveal who slept with whom, and why they didn’t want anyone to know. Since early stage, noon not too subtly suggesting that Will once had a crush on Helen Ramirez (Kathy Jurado), a very beautiful Mexican woman and very proud of Frank Miller. Was that why Will caught Frank in the first place? Does he want to get rid of his romantic rival? The questions lingered in the air, teasing without an answer.

Given the urgency of time, place, and local custom, it was likely that Will felt he would never be able to publicly judge, much less marry, someone like Helen. (A local businessman thanks him for his help as a quiet partner—but he knows enough not to insist that she’s ever been seen in public with him.) Even so, that hasn’t stopped Harvey, the overbearing and overcompensating deputy, from trying to replace Will. in Helen’s affections after the marshal bound himself to his venerable Anglo lover. Unfortunately, callow boys are no substitute for grown men (despite being image conscious), and Helen told Harvey as much as the first time we saw them together on noon. Which, of course, shows that professional frustration wasn’t Harvey’s only motivation in his refusal to help Will.

At the end of the film, the two men meet in a warehouse. Will briefly considers getting on a horse and rides it, and Harvey strongly recommends this tactical retreat. But no, Will couldn’t bring himself to cut and run. Harsh words are exchanged, accusations are made – and the result is a violent, brutal fight. Oedipal’s tone is unsettling, if not entirely unexpected, as a younger man tries (and, of course, fails) to subdue his older former mentor. In fact, the testosterone-fueled slugfest is so deliberately drawn-out, and filled with sexual envy, the final shootout almost seems anti-climax.

Which just shows you: Even in the west constrained by Production Code restrictions, there may be more than one reason why a man should do what a man should do.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: