The Strong and Quiet Amy Kane: Grace Kelly in High Noon

Grace Kelly, "High Noon"1952 Universal
High Noon. Ah! This film that I first knew as its French title: Le train sifflera trois fois.
For those who are reading my blog of a 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.
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Today, I’m hosting the 2nd Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon. For my contribution, I’ve decided to write about High Noon, because, well, it was about time!
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High Noon was directed by Fred Zinnemann (From Here to EternityOklahoma!A Man of 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 (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 three nominations (Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay), High Noon remains one of those timeless classics. For its brilliant composition, it’s one of the “old movies” that can be appreciated by many generations.
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On the set
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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 us 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.

 

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High Noon is my favourite Western because it’s more than just an ordinary Western. The performances are ace and the visual dimension, is yet, 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, 19510. 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 why 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. But 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 only 21 when she starred in that film, my age, so it’s another reason for me to feel close to her!
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For a second film, Grace Kelly gives quite a 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 beautiful big 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.
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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].
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This scene between Grace and Katy Jurado, who plays Helen Ramírez, Kane and Miller’s ex-girlfriend, is a delight. Because 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.
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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.
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I have a great collection of Grace Kelly’s pictures and some of my favourite 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 21 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. They’re 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 BELONG to him. It’s, in my opinion, his best performance, and there’s no surprise 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 marvellous too, but I’d like to focus on other aspects of the film now.
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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 Tiomkins’s glorious, suspenseful and memorable score. It’s a must to the film and it reflects so well its atmosphere.
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 it. We star hearing Tex Ritter singing “Do Not Forsake me” and the first actor we see is Lee Van Cleef. 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.
Dimitri Tiomkin’s score certainly is in all its glory during all the film, especially in this scene which is another of my favourites:
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 everybody. Everybody seems to count in this film, even if their role is a minor one (remember what I previously said about Lee Van Cleef). Some of my favourite shots are the one when Grace and Kane leave in their carriage. 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.
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The film also presents some amazing aerial shots, such as this one that accentuates the fact that Kane is now all alone. Look at the beginning of this clip:
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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 Indians 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. 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.”
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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.
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Carl Foreman
As I often like to do it, here are some of my favourite quotes of 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.

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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 leaves 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]
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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 said. 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.
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25 thoughts on “The Strong and Quiet Amy Kane: Grace Kelly in High Noon

  1. In my 12th grade film class I watched this film to do an oral report on- everyone looked at me like I was crazy for watching an “old movie” (We also had to write a report to go with our oral report) YES to everything you wrote!!! It really is a film that can get you into loving westerns! And WHO CARES IF GARY COOPER IS in his 50s??? He’s STILL GOOD LOOKIN’!! (I’m guilty of loving men too old for me! and Mr Cooper is no exception!) This is also the film that made me love him! We share very similar opinions on this film- I just got it on Blu ray too- but am keeping my dvd for the exclusive bonus features- as it interviews both Prince Albert and Maria Cooper! AWESOME JOB GINNIE!!!! and cant wait for your announcement!! Too much suspense!!!

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    • Wow thank you Emily! 🙂 “I’m guilty of loving men too old for me! and Mr Cooper is no exception!” WE TOO! I think we could get along pretty well lol. I’m very impatient to announce my next blogathon. I think it’s a subject people will like. Well, I hope!

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  2. What a wonderful post.I was introduced to Gary Cooper with my parents’ Super 8 version of Vera Cruz and when I watched High Noon for the first time it was purely because of Gary Cooper, and a little because of all the great reviews I’d heard about High Noon.
    What I found interesting (not sure if you found the same snippet of information) is that they filmed some of it in colour and then changed to black and white because they didn’t like how it looked.
    Don’t you just love that opening music riff (before any singing or melody) that winds its way throughout the movie?

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  3. Despite knowing the theme tune like everyone else, I’d never seen the film in full. I watched it especially to read your blog Virginie. I can see why it’s your favourite westerns. It’s one of those stories that covers universal themes expertly, like showing how love brings out the best and worst within us simultaneously, how the conformism of the community does not always protect the individual’s interest and the sacrifices that come with maintaining justice. I really appreciated your intelligent analysis of the movie and Amy Kane as well. Grace Kelly was perfect as an initially coldly pious repressed Quaker who gives into passion to become a heroine. It’s a shame Grace Kelly thought she was wooden. I thought she was right to underplay the role and had great subtlety, which made the movie as a whole convincing whereas most westerns feel staged. I agreed with your perceptive interpretation of the symbolism of the themes. I also admired the fact it’s the second Western from that era I’ve seen (the first being Giant which is more of a drama but set in nearby Texas) that is sympathetic to the Mexican character not being fully accepted into the setting. Thanks for endorsing this movie!

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  4. Wonderful post! I am in complete agreement and am such a huge Gary Cooper fan. I used to think I didn’t like westerns, but he made me like them. 🙂 But I appreciated your analysis of Grace Kelly’s character, too. Too often it seems like her role is overlooked and you show how much more integral and strong her character is.

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  5. Thanks Virginie. Might be my favorite western as well. Cooper and Kelly worked so well together I never thought of the age difference. Didn’t realize there was such a big gap between them. Also nice overall view of the film.

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  6. Cooper was far too old for the film. The character Will Kane was supposed to be a young man. In reality Cooper was clearly older than Lon Chaney Jnr. who played his mentor.

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