Wednesday, July 17, 2013

High Noon

Directed by Fred Zinneman and screenplay by Carl Foreman from a story by John W. Cunnigham, High Noon is the story about a retired marshal who finds himself having to take a stand against a group of vengeful criminals in order to save his town. The film plays into a man reluctantly taking part in a stand against a villain and his gang as it’s told in real time. Starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Ian MacDonald, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Lee Van Cleef, and Robert J. Wilke. High Noon is a gripping yet mesmerizing film from Fred Zinneman.

The revolves around the release of a criminal named Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) who is about to arrive at the town of Hadleyville in order to get revenge on the man that put him to prison in a marshal named William Kane (Gary Cooper). Once Kane hears the news on his wedding day and that Miller will arrive town at noon, trouble brews as Kane is about to retire and live the quiet life with his bride Amy (Grace Kelly). Kane reluctantly decides to stay to face Miller and his gang as he suddenly realizes he’s all alone with no one willing to take a stand with him. Even Amy reluctantly decides to leave Kane to take the train out of town along with a former lover of Kane and Miller named Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) who is currently with Kane’s deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) who also decides not to help out Kane. Once noon comes in, it all comes down to this showdown between Kane and Miller with his gang.

What makes this film so engrossing isn’t just the fact that it’s told in real time but the way time is used to create this sense of tension and dread about the return of a notorious criminal who had brought chaos to this small town until a man named Kane brought law and order back to the town. Miller’s return causes worry as they’re all afraid of him and his gang forcing Kane to do everything by himself. Carl Foreman’s screenplay definitely plays to that sense of tension and dread as time is a real drive to the story. A lot of it features Kane having to go back to town and gather whatever posse he can get only to be turned down as many of the locals have no faith in the aging Kane despite what he’s done for the town. Still, there’s those who feel like Miller’s return will help things as Kane finds his back against the wall.

The script also plays into the people around Kane such as Amy and Helen as both of them each offer weight to the story. Amy is a Quaker who is worried about being a widow and doesn’t want to see Kane killed but also doesn’t want to deal with the sense of violence as she had horrific encounters with violence in the past. Helen is a woman was once a lover of Kane and Miller in the past as she had just made a new life for herself but Miller’s return forces her to flee in order to not just see Kane killed but also avoid Miller. Frank Miller doesn’t appear in the story until the moment the train arrives exactly at noon but still carries a presence that is disconcerting as he brings fear to this small town as the locals are unsure whether to take a stand against him or just let him and his posse take over.

Fred Zinneman’s direction is truly engrossing for the way he presents the film. Notably in the way he maintains this sense of tension in the film as time slows down where the pacing has this unsettling tone over what is coming. Zinneman uses a lot of close-ups and medium shots to play out the tension while always finding a way to put the clock in the frame to emphasize that time is a key proponent in the story. Zinneman also creates the sense of drama to help drive Kane’s decision of whether to face off against Miller or to run with Amy and hide from him. Yet, Kane is not a coward but he is aware of how dangerous Miller and his gang is.

Zinneman also employs an intimacy in some of the drama as well as scenes of the locals talking about Kane and Miller to help play into that sense of time as they all await for the showdown. It does add to that sense of dread where everyone is waiting for the train arrive including Miller’s gang as they wait at the station. Once the climatic showdown is coming, the suspense definitely amps to see what will happen and how will Kane go face to face against Miller and his gang. Overall, Zinneman creates a very intense and riveting film about a man taking a stand against a chaotic criminal.

Cinematographer Floyd Crosby does brilliant work with the film‘s gorgeous black-and-white photography in the use of shadows against the sun while creating low-key lights for some of the film‘s interiors. Editors Elmo Williams and Harry W. Gerstad do fantastic work with the editing as it plays to the sense of suspense and dread along with a few rhythmic cuts to play out some of the dramatic reactions and fights. Production designer Rudolph Sternad, along with set decorator Murray Waite and art director Ben Hayne, does excellent work with the set pieces from the look of the town to the hotel that Helen stays in.

The sound work of John Speak is superb for the atmosphere is created in the saloons as well as playing up to the suspense with the sound of clocks and train horns. The film’s music by Dimitri Tiomkin is amazing for its low-key yet somber score that is a mixture of country-western and orchestral music while using some orchestral music to play up the suspense and drama while the film’s title song co-written with lyricist Ned Washington and sung by Tex Ritter is a wonderful piece that helps tell the story.

The casting by Jack Murton is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable appearances from Harry Morgan as a friend of Kane who refuses to help out, Eve McVeagh as that friend’s wife who reluctantly lies to Kane, Otto Kruger as the judge who tells Kane to leave town, Lon Chaney as Kane’s old mentor who also tells Kane to leave, Morgan Farley as the town’s local minister and as Miller’s gang, there’s Robert J. Wilke, Sheb Wooley, and Lee Van Cleef as they bring a unique presence to the film. Ian MacDonald is terrific as the film’s antagonist Frank Miller as he appears late in the film but brings a great presence in the way he arrives to the film.

Lloyd Bridges is excellent as Kane’s successor who feels slighted by Kane as he abandons his post while trying to get him to flee. Katy Jurado is amazing as Helen Ramirez as a former lover of Kane and Miller as she is aware of the danger that is coming as she tries to get Kane to flee town as well. Grace Kelly is radiant as Kane’s new bride Amy as a woman who urges her husband to flee while dealing with the possibilities of what would happen as she would play a key role in the showdown. Finally, there’s Gary Cooper in an outstanding performance as William Kane as an aging marshal who is forced to face the man he put in prison while realizing how alone he is as it’s a performance that is truly engaging in the way Cooper maintains a sense of humility and determination to a man wanting to do what is right for himself and his town.

High Noon is a tremendous film from Fred Zinneman that features a brilliant performance from Gary Cooper. Along with noteworthy supporting performances from Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, and Lloyd Bridges, it’s a film that is truly one of the defining films of the western genre. Particularly in the way it builds tension and suspense in real time as it doesn’t falter in its pacing while maintaining a sense of excitement. In the end, High Noon is a magnificent film from Fred Zinneman.

Fred Zinneman Films: (Redes) - (That Mothers Might Live) - (Stuffie) - (Forbidden Passage) - (Kid Glove Killer) - (Eyes in the Night) - (The Seventh Cross) - (My Brother Talks to Horses) - (The Search) - (Act of Violence) - (The Men (1950 film)) - (Benjy) - (Teresa) - From Here to Eternity - (Oklahoma!) - (A Hatful of Rain) - (The Nun’s Story) - (The Sundowners) - (Behold a Pale Horse) - (A Man For All Seasons) - (The Day of the Jackal) - (Julia) - (Five Days One Summer)

© thevoid99 2013


Chris said...

I quite liked it, and agree it was great for building suspense right up to the final moments.
Sense of tension and dread about the return of a notorious criminal I also noticed in High Plains Drifter

Ryan McNeil said...

Goddammit I'd just got that song out of my head!!

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-It's what kept me engrossed in High Noon as I think that is a key element in what makes a western great.

@Ryan McNeil-Oops, sorry. At least it's not some crap pop tune that's on the radio right now.