While established as a key cinematic text in the history of the American Western, High Noon is also an example of bucking convention.
Fred Zinnemann’s film is one subsumed in ominous dread, as the posse belonging to outlaw Frank Miller early on ride into the small New Mexico town of Hadleyville and declare the intent of their boss, free from prison, to return and kill Sheriff Will Kane, the man who put him in jail. It becomes a picture dedicated to the inevitable final act, in which Will—at the titular ‘high noon’—faces down his nemesis not just to save his life, but spare the soul and existence of Hadleyville and its residents from the oncoming force. High Noon loses nothing from this approach and, indeed, gains much from the tension Zinnemann stretches out of Frank’s impending return.
Gary Cooper imbues Will with a nobility, gravitas and grace as the town lawman who spends much of the film trying to convince his headstrong new bride Amy (the ever radiant Grace Kelly) to leave town, while encouraging the townsfolk to take a stand against the enemy around them. In that respect, High Noon gained a difficult reputation at the time of release and subsequently, deemed as it was a liberal response to the pervasive ‘McCarthyism’ rippling through American politics in the wake of the Korean War, and with the Cold War hotting up. Screenwriter Carl Foreman had been blacklisted by McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities and John Wayne turned down the role of Will, believing the film to be distinctly ‘Un-American’.
High Noon weathered all this, and stood the test of time, to be regarded as one of the strongest examples of the American Western in cinema history, especially free of the pernicious politics that almost destroyed it.…