1952 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #165: High Noon (1952)

We turn our attention to one genre that really got going in the 1950s which was that of the western. The genre is most associated with John Ford however, the films in the next two posts aren’t directed by arguably the man who can be considered the king of the western. Instead our first post features Fred Zinneman’s classic western, High Noon, a film which saw Gary Cooper win his second Best Actor Oscar.

The film is based around Cooper’s Will Kane; the sheriff of a small New Mexico territory who is to give up his job and leave the town with his new wife Grace Kelly’s Amy. However just before he is to go he gets word that Frank Miller, a criminal that he convicted, is to return and has his mind set on revenge. Even though he is advised to leave the town he realises that things will only get worse if he doesn’t take care of Miller. The main thrust of the plot involves Will trying to put together a gang who’ll be a match for Miller and his three associates. However his various pleas for help are met with a mixture of resistance and apathy from the townsfolk. The reasons he’s given are all flimsy and range from how the showdown will make the town look and plain cowardice. The high noon of the title refers to the time that Kane will meet Miller and his men with it eventually transpiring that it’ll be a four-on-one attack.

I’ve seen the plot of High Noon replicated many times however I very much enjoyed watching the original for the first time. The central theme of Kane going round the town is handled well with everybody finding different reasons not to help him even though most concede that Kane has helped clean up the town they just don’t want to help him. The design of the town is also deftly handled each set is laid out well and this helps in the final scenes with the shootout. Cooper deserved his Best Actor Oscar here more than he did for Sergeant York and I found him particularly captivating as the film progressed. Cooper is ably supported by Lloyd Bridges as his deputy who refuses to help out as he is jealous of Kane and thinks he still has designs on his ex-girlfriend now Bridges’ girl. This girl is Helen Ramirez played by Katy Jurado who sizzles in the film coming across as a strong Latino woman and a lot more interesting than Grace Kelly’s pacifist who has little to do for most of the film apart from hang around at the station although she does come into her own in the final scenes. Alongside Cooper’s win, the film also was victorious in the Best Original Song category for Tex Ritter’s central theme ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling’. I have to say that I found Ritter’s song a little distracting at times and it didn’t lend itself to the urgent nature of the film. Ultimately High Noon was a film that I appreciated for its simplicity as its plot was easy to follow and it contained what I believe to be Cooper’s finest performance.


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