#27 High Noon

“People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don’t care. They just don’t care.”
Martin Howe

Fred Zinnemann’s real time western is labeled a western for people who don’t like westerns. This could not be a more apt review. The film substitutes gunfights for verbal battles while exploring the psychology of an apathetic nation. The only problem is that it is not that entertaining.

The film focuses (almost exclusively) on Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), a tough as nails Marshall that is retiring on his wedding day in order to appease his wife (Grace Kelly).

But when Frank Miller, a notorious outlaw that Kane had sent to the hangman’s gallows 5 years ago, is granted parole, Will Kane will have to put his life, and his marriage on the line if he wants to save his town.

Kane quickly devises a plan to round up a posse of townspeople, make them honorary deputies, and lead an assault on Miller and his three henchmen. The only problem with this plan is that no one in town wants to stand with Kane and fight.

Everyone seems to have his own reason for not wanting to fight. Some are afraid, others (selfish people I think they’re called) would like to see a criminal like Miller in town, and some are just simply apathetic.

Ultimately Kane is forced to face the group of four outlaws by himself if he wants to save his town and create a fresh start for himself and his wife.

The performances are all fine. Gary Cooper is an engaging lead, and Grace Kelly held her own in her feature film debut, yet there is nothing outstanding about them. Their chemistry was minimal at best (perhaps this is due to a real life affair that the two engaged in while filming), and the story wasn’t torrid enough to carry these performances.

The score, which has received quite a bit of critical acclaim, underscored the mood of the film. It was overplayed and because of this whenever it intruded on scenes (usually dramatic highpoints) it felt cliché and laughable.

This film is definitely not a popcorn flic. It progresses slowly and there is very little clever banter to keep the viewer engaged and, with the exception of the last eight minutes, there is very little action.

The film is not a total waste though. It may not exist for my entertainment but there is a crowd that will appreciate it. More importantly though, this film was not made to be a piece of entertainment, it was made to make a statement.

To understand the importance of this film you must understand the time in which it was made.

After World War II a drastic change took hold of the United States. The Soviet Union was no longer an ally, they were now the enemy. This transition brought with it fear and propaganda against all things red. One of the leaders in this fight was the House Un-American Activities Committee, a group that blacklisted people whose attitudes were deemed to be “Un-American” or “Communistic.”

This film is a direct response, and an allegorical outcry, against the apathy, and acceptance, displayed by Hollywood towards this movement. Zinnemann was clearly tired of propaganda trumping reason and he showed it in this film.

Timelessness was cast aside in favour of timeliness in this film, something that the film recognizes by playing out in real time. For this reason it is not the most entertaining picture for modern audiences. Still, its historical importance, and not just in the film industry, cannot be disputed.

For more info on the House Un-American Activities Community click here.

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