High Noon. Ah! This film that I first knew as its French title: Le train sifflera trois fois.
For those who have been reading my blog for long time, you probably know that High Noon is one of the films that made me discover classics, but also the film that made me discover Grace Kelly (and, as a matter of fact, Gary Cooper too). It’s also my favourite western. Why? We’ll come back to that later.
High Noon was directed by Fred Zinnemann (The Men, From Here to Eternity, Oklahoma! A Man for All Seasons) and produced by Stanley Kramer. Carl Foreman wrote the script and Dimitri Tiomkin wrote the music. The film stars Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Thomas Mitchell, Lon Chaney Jr, Otto Kruger, Lee Van Cleef (in his first role, a silent one), Ian MacDonald, Sheb Wooley and Robert J. Wilke.
Released in 1952 and winner of four Oscars (including Best Actor for Gary Cooper), and nominated for three (Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay), High Noon remains one of those timeless classics. For its brilliant composition, it’s one of those “old movies” that can be appreciated by many generations.
High Noon is a very “simple” western. No Indian chases here and no big countries. All the action takes place in a little town of New Mexico, Hadleyville. Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the town marshall, just get married to Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly), a young Quaker girl. A newly wed man, Kane is about to give up his profession and be replaced by a new marshal. But, as soon as the wedding ceremony is over, the railway station man comes in a hurry to inform them that the notoriously terrible Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is arriving by the noon train. His brother Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley) and his acolytes Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef) and Jim Pierce (Robert J. Wilke) are waiting for him at the station. Kane had once arrested Miller for murder and this one was to be executed, but things changed and he wasn’t. People suspect that he is back to take revenge on Kane. So, they hurry him to live with Amy. On his way, Kane feels responsible for the protection of the town and decides to go back. Things don’t go too well for him as, Amy, a pacifist, tells him she’ll leave by the noon train if he doesn’t leave the town with her. Plus, Kane looks for people to help him confront Frank Miller, but nobody seems to have the courage to take such a risk.
High Noon is my favourite Western because it’s more than just an ordinary Western. The performances are ace and the visual dimension is, yes, simple, but also very impressive.
But let’s start with Grace Kelly, who is our main subject today. High Noon was Grace’s second film and her first important role. Even if it still was not a leading role, it was more important than the one she had in 14 Hours (Henry Hathaway, 1951). Anyway. Grace Kelly’s role in High Noon has always been one of my favourites of hers. As a matter of fact, it might be my favourite one. The main reason is that Grace is so humble in this film. We know she had mostly played high society ladies, beautiful, clever, perfect, too perfect. I love her in Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, of course, but I find it difficult to identify with these classy characters. Amy is more an ordinary girl. She has great values, she is simple (in a good way) and courageous too. She also has such a kind face and inspires confidence. Amy Kane was the innocent and sweet Grace Kelly, the pre-Hitchcockian cool blond. Grace also was in her early 20s when she starred in this film, like me, so it’s another reason for me to feel close to her!
For a second film, Grace Kelly gives a quite convincing performance. She is maybe not as much at ease as in Rear Window or maybe not as much poignant as in The Country Girl, but she still impresses us. I always remember this wedding scene at the beginning. Grace seems so angelic with her large and beautiful eyes; just the ultimate definition of the word “adorable”. Even if she first plays the calm girl, she manages to surprise us when she confronts Will Kane in his decision of staying at Hadleyville to face Frank Miller and his gang. I love this moment when she says to Gary Cooper (Kane) “Don’t try to be a hero! You don’t have to be a hero! Not for me!” There’s so much emotion in her voice, so much power. We almost believe she will convince Will to stay, but she, unfortunately, doesn’t.
It might not be obvious at first, but Grace also portrays a woman who is strong and independent. Some people might think that she abandons her husband by deciding to leave on the noon train. Maybe, but it also shows us that she makes decisions for herself. Then, [spoiler] at the end, when she finally decides to leave the train and go find her husband in the fight, she becomes the second heroine and proves us her great love for her new husband and her courage to do something she will normally not do: kill. [end of spoiler].
This scene between Grace and Katy Jurado, who plays Helen Ramírez, Kane and Miller’s ex-girlfriend, is a delight. It shows us a strong opposition between the woman of character (Helen) and the woman of values (Amy). Due to Helen and Will pasts, we are afraid the two ladies might not stand each other, but, on the contrary, we realize they kind of complete each other. We may also say that it’s thanks to Helen if Amy finally decides to help her husband. She makes her understand that she has to fight for her man if she loves him. For her clever performance as Helen Ramírez, Katy Jurado won a Golden Globe Award.
Grace was not happy with her performance and said about it that she was too wooden, but Fred Zinnemann found positivism in this and claimed that Grace’s lack of experience as an actress combined to, yes, he had to admit, the fact that she was a bit wooden only made her character more adorable and more touching. It was perhaps the perfect type of acting for someone like Amy Kane.
I have a great collection of Grace Kelly’s pictures and some of my favourites are these shots that were taken on the set of the film:
It has often been said that Gary Cooper was too old for Grace Kelly. Yes, it’s true. She was 23 and he was around 50. There’s a big age difference, but, due to the fact that I love Gary Cooper, I don’t mind much. As a matter of fact, I think Grace and him look good together. There is a beautiful chemistry between them (one of my favourite moments is, at the end, [spoiler] when they hug each other after Miller’s death [end of spoiler]. There’s so much tenderness, so much beauty in this moment. Younger actors such as Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Charlton Heston were also listed for the role, but, to be honest, I couldn’t imagine someone else than Gary Cooper as Will Kane. The film simply BELONGS to him. It’s, in my opinion, his best performance, and it isn’t surprising that he won his second Oscar for it. His acting game is full of subtlety and full of honesty. Kane AND Gary Cooper are simply heroes in this film. For once, I have to say, no supporting actors surpass the main one.
The rest of the cast is marvelous too, but I’d like to focus on other aspects of the film now.
Something I’ve always loved about High Noon is how the music and the image share the film space so well. To me, this film is like a big choreography. I couldn’t imagine High Noon without “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'” or without Dimitri Tiomkin’s glorious, suspenseful and memorable score. It’s a must to the film and it reflects its atmosphere so well.
My favourite moment, precisely due to the image and the music, might be the opening. I mean, when I was watching the film yesterday, I just started it over three times because I just love its opening. We start hearing Tex Ritter singing “Do Not Forsake Me” and Lee Van Cleef is the first actor to make an entrance. He advances toward the camera with style and his unique look. Even if he has a small part in the film, this moment glorifies him for sure. Then, Sheb Wooley and Robert J. Wilke arrive and add even more magnificence to this scene.
It’s no wonder why High Noon won the Oscar for best editing. This one plays with the multiple possibilities and creates a great dynamism in a film that, first, remains quite simple. The camera shots are perfectly chosen to convince our eyes and make this film unforgettable.
High Noon was filmed in a way to give power to each actor. Everybody seems to count in this film, even if their role is a minor one (remember what I previously said about Lee Van Cleef). One of my favourite shots is the one when Grace and Kane leave the town in their carriage (at the beginning). They are filmed in a low angle shot and they look so noble. I love it.
I’m also quite a fan of most shots that include Lee Van Cleef. I mean, he has the most amazing close ups:
Grace Kelly also has her moment of prestige with well-chosen close-ups which, apparently, made Katy Jurado a bit jealous.
The film also presents some amazing aerial shots, such as this one that accentuates the fact that Kane is now all by himself. Look at the beginning of this clip:
High Noon is not a traditional western as it was much more based on good morals than “bang bang” and “cowboy vs Indians”. I have to say, I’ve never really liked it when Natives Americans are the bad ones in Western because, first, it’s racist and, second, it’s not representative of the reality. But that’s another story! High Noon manages to escape with grace from these prejudices. The film is also known to be a symbolic opposition against the blacklisting and McCarthyism there was at the time in the United States. John Wayne saw it as the most un-American thing he has never seen. Fred Zinnemann said of High Noon that it was “a story about a man’s conflict of conscience.”
High Noon‘s screenwriter Carl Foreman was blacklisted during the Maccartysme area. Sadly enough, screenwriters seemed to have been the scapegoats of the Maccartysme…
His script remains memorable for the glorification of the individual, glorified with the words, and the values he shares so well with us.
As I often like to do, here are some of my favourite quotes from the film:
1- Helen (to Harvey) : You’re a good-looking boy: you’ve big, broad shoulders. But he’s a man. And it takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man.
2- Helen: What kind of woman are you? How can you leave him like this? Does the sound of guns frighten you that much?
Amy: I’ve heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn’t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That’s when I became a Quaker. I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for people to live. Will knows how I feel about it.
3- Helen: Kane will be a dead man in half an hour and nobody’s gonna do anything about it. And when he dies, this town dies too. I can feel it. I am all alone in the world. I have to make a living. So I’m going someplace else. That’s all.
4- Amy: Don’t try to be a hero! You don’t have to be a hero, not for me!
5- Will [on staying in the town, facing Frank Miller]: I’ve got to, that’s the whole thing.
High Noon is a movie full of good values and it presents us a good life lesson at the end. Simply, that people are sometimes weak and don’t deserve what is done for them. It’s pretty clear when [Spoiler] Will and Amy leave the town without saying a word to anybody. Will just saved them from Miller, alone. Nobody wanted to help him. He throws his marshal star on the ground and leaves a hero, but a bitter hero. [end of spoiler]
High Noon was often described as “a western for people who don’t like westerns”. (IMDB) I think it’s true, for all the reasons I’ve previously mentioned. This film is one of a kind and almost belongs to a separate category. It is also known to be a “Noir Western”.
It’s a film that will always have a special place in my heart, and writing about it was nothing but a good experience.
Other fellow bloggers have honoured Grace Kelly and her films with their contributions to the 2nd Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon. I invite you to take a look at them here.
Before I leave you, all I can say is happy heavenly birthday dear Grace Kelly!
She left us too soon, but her memory will always be honoured.