This is not only a classic movie that every film-lover should see, but one with a timeless warning about standing up against evil.
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment, Masters of Cinema series
Time: 85 minutes + 200 minutes of bonus features + other extras
It wasn’t the wedding day that Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) had planned. At half past ten he was marrying the beautiful young Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly in her début feature) but no sooner had he kissed the bride, than he heard that the noon train was bringing outlaw Frank Miller to town, his gang of three waiting for him at the station.
Miller had promised to get his revenge on those who arrested and sentenced him, before a northern court had not only downgraded his hanging to a jail sentence, but pardoned him after five years.
Will Kane cleaned up the town that Miller’s band had made unsafe for women and children. Kane was well respected for turning it around. But this time, when he needed a posse of men to stand against the gang, he struggled to find anyone. The judge fled town; the saloon regulars were keen to see Frank back; a retired marshall made arthritis his excuse; and the church people dithered (in a scene brilliantly parodied in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles) – although the town drunk and a brave 14-year-old do offer their services.
Making his work harder, Amy had become a Quaker, as her brother and father were killed by guns, and she wanted to see no more killing. Amy also wants Kane to run away, but he stays to do the right thing. There are further complications from an old flame, Helen Ramirez, still in the town.
The iconic Oscar-winning movie, a western for people who don’t like westerns, and one that John Wayne hated, now has a 4K restoration Blu-ray release. Deliberately shot in black and white and filmed against muted grey skies, the movie takes on an almost documentary feel, appropriate to the tone of the script. It also boasts some innovative stylistic features, such as the threatening close-ups of clocks and the static shots of the nearing midday train, as well as the iconic crane shot of Kane’s isolation in the main street.
From 2019’s perspective, we can see how far ahead of its time it was, with the second and third leads being strong females with deep-seated opinions, entrepreneurial skills (in Helen’s case) and the means to change the plot.
It comes with a string of bonus features. Opening the 47 minute film that celebrates High Noon’s 50th anniversary, Bill Clinton comments that the film has reminded him that “courage is not the absence of fear; courage is perseverance in the face of fear.”
Alongside two audio commentaries sit a useful interview with film historian Neil Sinyard and another from 1969 with screenwriter Carl Foreman. The half an hour of video on the making and context of the film, which mention the sub-text against McCarthyism, shows old clips that contrast with the new, gloriously pin-sharp image. Unusually, there is very little repetition of clips and comments on the various features, which include some great background trivia.
One interview comment particularly shows this to be a movie for our troubled times, noting that the director Zinneman, “an Austrian Jew, troubled by the rise of fascism in Europe, could find in this script a potent treatment of a community in crisis that doesn’t respond to the dangers around it, and by not responding, forfeits its democratic institutions”.
This isn’t so much a western as a character study of a frightened and divided society that just happens to be set in the old Wild West.