High Noon: Definitive Western Flick
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly and Henry Morgan
When you’re a man of the law, nothing matters to you, even if it’s a newly-wed wife who’s appalled at the guts for leaving her with no option but to return home without her husband. You might despise such a man or even imagine of killing him in cold blood. But, not after I tell you he’s too proud to run away. Much before he read his wedding vows, Will Kane vowed to protect his town and its people. This is the story of Will Kane. Based on the magazine story titled ‘The Tin Star’ by John W Cunningham, Fred Zinnemann’s ‘High Noon’ starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly is one of the bravest stories of all time, undoubtedly.
On a sunny morning, Jack Miller, Jim Pierce and Ben Miller gather up and head towards the railway station, through the town, to receive prison-returning Frank Miller. Some months back, Will Kane, the local Marshall had booked and sent Frank to prison. This day, Will wed Amy, put his badge down for good and is ready to bid adieu to the town when he comes to learn about Frank’s return. The new Marshall won’t join until tomorrow and if Frank finds out Will is gone upon his arrival then he’d go on a killing spree. Having anticipated the imminent future and the unfolding of events, Kane puts his badge on to fight Frank and his men. Will’s got exactly one hour until Frank’s arrival and in the interim has to put together a team to fight the baddies. What will happen to Will when Frank arrives forms the rest of the story?
The first 14 minutes of the film are the best first 14 minutes of any film I’ve seen in my whole life. The trio gallop through the streets of the town on their horses while everybody gazes at them in absolute silence and fear. No dialogues yet, only expressions on everybody’s face that gives you a hint something bad is about to happen. Almost after 14 minutes, the station master comes running to Will to break the news – Frank Miller is returning via the noon train.
I found the first 14 minutes fascinating because the story is thrown at you right from the first minute. There’s no time spent to introduce the character, narrate the credentials or track record of the Marshall or how old is the town or something like that. The characters introduce each other as you proceed in to the film. This way the director actually cut down on running time.
If I were to put it in one line then I’d put it this way – ‘High Noon’ is a simple revenge story told in the most riveting manner like never before. There’s tension in the film, from the first to the last minute and you get succumbed to it in such a way that you’d hope for it continue. Gary Cooper’s role was not spectacular but he most definitely was one in his performance. Gary played a tough role which needed him to bring all his emotions to one place – face. Yes, notice keenly and you’d know that this film had Gary express everything through his face. Happiness, fear anything you name it, you had it on his face. These expressions were explicitly visible because there were plenty of zoomed shots of Gary’s face. One of the best scenes where you’d notice his expression is when he’s returning to his office after being let down by the whole town. He has this helpless but have to fight look on his face which I think was brilliant.
The song ‘High Noon’ sung by Tex Ritter, written by Ned Washington, serves as the catalyst to instill courage in to Gary Cooper aka Will Kane. It’s haunting and mourning but every time Will walks depressingly with face down, fearing for his life, you’d hear the ballad in the background play – ‘ Do not foresake me, oh my darlin’
The entire story is narrated through the song which you realize only after you finish the movie. The four time Oscar winning director Fred Zinnemann is not to be taken lightly. He may not be Billy Wilder or Alfred Hitchcock of his time but he most definitely was one of the best in the biz. Fred’s direction in this film was at its best. Although the story may have been inspired, Fred took special interest in giving special detailing to few things that subtly bring forth tons of sense. For example; the first thing Fred shows us after the trio enter the town is church. This scene subtly explains that even God in the church is helpless as he lets them pass in to the city. The only person who can stop them is Will Kane. Therefore in your eyes Will becomes invincible, literally. There are so many such brilliant scenes in the film. The music by Dmitri Tomkin is just one more element that makes High Noon one of the great masterpieces.
In essence; ‘High Noon’ was the best definitive western flicks of all time.