Fred Zinnemann’s classic Western is an absolute masterpiece that continues to hold its place as my favorite Western of all time. It’s a marvel of cinema, and a wonderful dramatic thriller set in the old West and ponders on the question of what happens when the helpers need help. It’s also a stunning albeit cynical glimpse at the ultimate summary of a hero and how they can sometimes be cast aside by those that they’ve protected for so many years. Gary Cooper’s role as Will Kane is absolutely pitch perfect, especially when it pertains to his role as a man desperately seeking help in staring down imminent death and settling score that will meet him at the end of his day, no matter what he does.
Cooper plays Marshall Will Kane, a man who has just married the love of his life and is readying for his retirement. After watching over the town of Hadleyville New Mexico for so many years, Will is preparing to leave with his new wife Amy to live the rest of his life in a new town. Unfortunately a vicious criminal named Frank Miller has been released from jail after Will put him there years before. Intent on murdering Will when he arrives at noon by train, Frank’s three brothers wait for him in the station, prepared to face Will Kane and murder him in cold blood for vengeance. Despite Amy’s insistence that Kane flee town and not look back, he’s dead set in staring Frank down once again and facing off with him. He’s unfortunately outnumbered and without an army.
As the minutes tick by, Will spends the afternoon walking around the town anxiously trying to find someone to help him fight Frank, but much to his horror, no one is willing to step up and aide him. With the inevitability of the showdown, Will has to decide if he wants to flee town as a coward, or potentially die as a hero. And on the slim chance Will survives the attack, what then? How can Will possibly continue on with a life knowing he has no one to lean on, and may also likely experience other criminals with a score to settle? Is it still worth playing the hero once you’ve seen how ungrateful those you’ve saved are toward you? How can one possibly lend others a hand when they’ve been turned away in their darkest time? The urgency presented in “High Noon” is nail biting, offering an unnerving mood that makes Will’s journey to find some form of help absolutely harrowing.
You can sense the sheer desperation and fright in Will Kane’s eyes throughout the duration of “High Noon,” as director Zinnemann consistently cuts to a ticking clock, and silent shots of Frank’s gang waiting at the train station for him to finally arrive. Every second counts for Will Kane, and his hope of finding an ally in his final war is a crushing one that ends in a compelling unfolding of events. “High Noon” is an absolutely masterful Western that ponders on the hero and what happens when they need to be saved themselves.
Olive Films’ new label the Signature series offers up special editions for a lot of remarkable and acclaimed dramas and cult films. The Signature Edition for “High Noon” comes with a booklet with an essay by Sight and Sound Editor Nick James. On the Blu-Ray, there’s “A Ticking Clock” a wonderful six minute look at Mark Goldblatt’s excellent editing for “High Noon” and how he used editing to tighten the tension at every turn. “A Stanley Kramer Production” is a fourteen minute look at producer Michael Schlesinger, with pictures and anecdotes about his life. “Imitation of Life: The Blacklist History of High Noon” is a nine minute look at how the screenwriter for “High Noon” suffered through the McCarthy era of Hollywood’s witch hunt and blacklisting epidemic.
The segment is hosted by historian Larry Ceplair and blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein. “Ulcers and Oscars: The Production History of High Noon” is a twelve minute visual essay with wonderful and rare archival footage, and is narrated by the late Anton Yelchin. There are looks at early production stages of casting, the scripting complications due to the “objectionable” subject matter of the era, and there’s a discussion about the film’s reception, its awards reception, and its legacy. There’s even an interesting look at how John Wayne and Howard Hawks hated the movie. “Uncitizened Kane” is an eleven minute original essay by Sight and Sound editor Nick James. Finally, there’s the original theatrical trailer for “High Noon.”