Trying Hard to Look like Gary Cooper – High Noon (1952)

Super-duper.  So this is the story of a lawman (Gary Cooper) who has decided to hang up the badge and holster, get married and retire.  The new law doesn’t arrive until a few days out, and on his last day on the job, he must make a change of plans when killer Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) gets released from prison and is due into town on the noon train.  He tries to rally up a posse to protect the people, but when potential violence is on the table, things are never that simple.  This is my third time watching this, and I can honestly say that this has really grown on me, as I have enjoyed this more and more every time I’ve seen it.  It’s more of a slow burner with emphasis on the story, so if you’re coming into this expecting a lot of action, you may end up being disappointed.  While there is a flurry of inevitable gunplay at the climax of this, it’s really not about killings or horse chases, it’s more focused on a rousing story, which is where this succeeds in spades if you have a little bit of patience.

van cleefIf you’re a fan of the Man with No Name trilogy, be on the lookout for a very young Lee Van Cleef in his very first role.

One very interesting and groundbreaking aspect to this is that this story is actually told in real time.  This movie begins just before 11, and it concludes at high noon, appropriately enough.  It is a far more common gimmick to see stories told in real time nowadays, like with “24”, Phone Booth or 88 Minutes (don’t watch the last one), but back then, you didn’t see this every day, and the only movie I can think of that did this prior is Rope.  You know a train of bad guys is due in at noon, and because there are so many clock shots to remind you of the approaching hour, it really amps up your anticipation because you know something bad is coming and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.

highnoon-clocksClock shots is something that you never want to do on stage, but in a movie, when done right, it’s extremely effective.

A lot of this is set up, and the majority of what makes this so interesting comes from seeing that nobody wants to do the dirty work, and the subsequent quandary that it puts our protagonist in.  Gary Cooper plays a man with his principles, and like most Westerns, he has a code that he follows.  As long as you are prepared for what to expect, you are in for a real treat.

High Noon (1952) *****

– Critic for Hire


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