Movie Review: High Noon (1952)

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Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

I wanted to (shockingly) take a break from horror and Miles was in the mood for a western, so catching High Noon on netflix seemed like a good plan. The iconic film stars Gary Cooper as a marshal celebrating both his marriage to beautiful Quaker, Amy (Grace Kelly), and his pending retirement from law enforcement. His new idyll is shattered almost immediately when word comes that a murderer the marshal had arrested years ago has been released, and is due to arrive by noon. Though encouraged to leave town, the marshal feels he must take responsibility for the impending carnage and attempts to corral together a posse to defend against him and his gang of criminals. Most of the townsfolk either ignore his plight, plead for him to leave town, or actively hope for his death.

Thoughtfully paced (with constant ticking clocks to remind us of the impending titular hour), and beautifully shot, High Noon is basically a “thinking man’s” western. It relies more on character development, suggestive backstory, and narrative tension to create interest, with very little action until the big shoot out at the end. The stark black and white cinematography and exaggerated framing reinforce the drama, but it’s the cast and characterization that truly stand out to me. You’ve got a baby-faced Lloyd Bridges and a silent Lee Van Cleef, a sad Lon Chaney, Jr and an unexpectedly secretly badass Grace Kelly. And of course, Gary Cooper, stoic and stalwart, almost a caricature of heroic masculinity but sympathetic nonetheless. BUT REALLY the actual star is Katy Jurado, and I am OBSESSED with her and her character, Helen Ramírez. She’s outspoken and level-headed, as well as compassionate and proud. A hard-working businesswoman who fought to earn a living as an independent Mexican woman in a frontier town, she is looked down on by some for her love affairs but never allows herself to be victimized or shamed. For the most part she avoided the “fiery Latina” stereotype so prevalent in films (even today), and I have immense respect for both the character and actress.

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With a plot that gets bleaker and bleaker as it progresses, High Noon somehow manages to be incredibly entertaining while also realistically depressing. Nothing good happens in this movie, not really, even though it might have a “happy” ending in that the good guy gets the bad guy. But really it’s a sad revelation of a broken justice system, a cowardly populace, and a confused romance. There isn’t much to root for here, neither the marshal’s inflated sense of purpose or the town’s self-protecting attitude. Personally I was dreaming of a future spin-off with Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly running off and starting a store together in another frontier town, it would be both a hilarious female-centric comedy and a study of complex culture clashes. This is what the public wants, nay, NEEDS!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I think The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would be a good double feature, probably. I haven’t seen it in a while.

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