High Noon

Year: 1952
Production Co: Stanley Kramer Productions
Studio: United Artists
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Writer: Carl Foreman
Cast: Gary Cooper, Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly, Lee Van Clef, Katy Jurado

Another film I watched out of a desire to add to my film education, not necessarily out of any interest in the story – as I've said before, Westerns have never been my favourite. But writers and directors far more educated about the industry that I am swear by the genre, so who am I to judge?

I wasn't even familiar enough with Gary Cooper to recognise him when he appears on screen, but one joyously busy morning in a frontier township, the former Marshall, Will (Cooper) is marrying his sweetheart Amy (Grace Kelly) in a small ceremony, whereupon his friends and the townsfolk intend to see them both off with well wishes, leaving the town of Hadleyville in peace.

But no sooner have Will and Amy said 'I do' than dark news arrives in town. Frank Miller, a crook Will sent to hang but who's sentence was commuted, is arriving back in town on the noon train that very day – and the new marshall isn't due to arrive until the day after. Miller's former gang have already arrived in Hadleyville, setting a chill over the town and going to the station to laze around and wait.

As everyone expects and fears, they're there to wait for Miller's train to arrive and then ride into town to exact revenge on the town that saw them imprisoned. Amy wants nothing more than to ride off towards their new life – Hadleyville isn't Will's problem any more.

But in classic guy-in-the-white-hat fashion, Will knows he's the only thing standing between Hadleyville and the Miller gang's vengeance, risking his relationship with his new bride by turning the wagon around and returning to town to arm up and stand against them.

Everybody around him responds differently. The town judge who sentenced Miller is getting out while the going's good, believing he'll be among the first of their victims. Will's deputy, hotheaded Harvey (a very youthful Lloyd Bridges), refuses to stand with him because Will hasn't appointed him as his successor, thinking him too impetuous.

Harvey seeks solace in the local saloon owner, Helen, who was once Kane's girlfriend, making Amy feel even more bitter about his apparent sense of duty, and various other townspeople and supposed friends of Will's bow out or hide, too cowardly to stand with him.

In the end it comes down to a classic Western motif, a bloody gunfight across the dusty streets as Miller and his gang come into town to seek their revenge, and as far as I could see it's one of the most faithful representations of the style of action and questions about morality the Western was known for.

What's much more interesting however was the activity behind the scenes, with producer Stanley Kramer and writer Carl Foreman and the McCarthyist red scares of the time. A former Communist party member, Foreman was dragged before the HUAC witch hunt, refused to name names and ended up ostracised by Kramer, put on the Hollywood blacklist and leaving the US for years.

As soon as it was released the movie was apparently seen as an allegory of the blacklist, with the originally intended star, John Wayne, having turned it down because he thought the dirty commies in the industry should all hang.

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