High Noon

I found High Noon (1952) a bit tedious. Despite its famous title I actually knew very little about it before watching it, so it’s not a case of overly high expectations. I got a bit more excited during the credits as it has a great cast (Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Lee Van Cleef) but unfortunately the acting is lackluster and it’s not a great film.

Cooper plays marshal Will Kane who, in an unlikely turn of events, gets married, retires, and has an old enemy released from prison on the same day. The film takes place in real-time, hinging on the suspense of the noon arrival of his nemesis, and on the conflict Kane feels between staying and likely dying, or leaving (as his wife wants him to do) and feeling a coward and letting outlaws run the town. He spends most of the film fretting and to-ing and fro-ing, unsuccessfully begging people to become deputies.

It’s all very predictable. Cooper rightly tries to play his role as human rather than heroic, but rather than a character conflicted and morally complex (as in his great performance a few years later in Man of the West), he comes off as weak, lifeless, and unsympathetic. Ian MacDonald as Frank Miller is not intimidating enough for the role he is meant to play, and Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado, while a bit better than the male actors, are sidelined, not particularly developed, and their motivations are opaque.

Finally, the score. The Dimitri Tiomkin soundtrack is credited for saving the film, as the film did poorly when it first came out but part of the score was released as a single, which was apparently popular enough that the studio decided to release the film after all. Although Tiomkin has some great instrumental scores, I find the vocals unbearably hokey in this and some of his other westerns. Overall, this is a mediocre western and there are much better westerns in the early 1950s so I wouldn’t bother (The GunfighterWinchester ’73ShaneJohnny Guitar, etc). Then again I seem to be in the minority. ★★☆☆☆

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