“Do not forsake me, oh my darling. On this our wedding day. Do not forsake me, oh my darling. Wait, wait along.“
As Tex Ritter’s voice echoes across the opening scene, one of most legendary Westerns of all time begins. A Western that features a timeless story, a great leading performance, and an iconic song (the first non-musical song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, in fact).
High Noon is one of those Westerns that should be on everyone’s watch list, regardless of whether or not they’re into the genre. It’s a film that reflects the time in which it was released and a film that can still have an impact today.
The story is about US Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) who, on the day of his wedding to his Quaker wife (Grace Kelly), finds out that Frank Miller, a notorious outlaw he put away, has been released and is heading to get Kane. The townsfolk and Kane’s wife essentially tell him to leave and not confront Miller. But Kane can’t do it. What follows is a movie that truly does show his abandonment.
The movie is most notable for its rather obvious commentary on the McCarthy administration and how no one seemed to be standing up against him or standing up for the people who were put on trial at his hand for speculative involvement with the Communist party. Fred Zinnemann and his crew use Kane as the representation of all those actors, writers, directors, and other entertainers who had to answer to McCarthy and his colleagues without much support from anyone at all.
If I could go on a small tangent here: one of the biggest ironies involved with this film is that Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance but wasn’t present at the ceremony to accept it. So who accepted it in his honor? John Wayne, a man who was not particularly fond of the movie. He viewed it as “un-American.” In fact, he and director Howard Hawks made the movie Rio Bravo (1959) in response to High Noon.
Speaking of Cooper, he’s phenomenal. The best way I could describe him and his acting is via this quote from Orson Welles: “You’d see him working on the set and you’d think, ‘My God, they’re going to have to retake that one!’ He almost didn’t seem to be there. And then you’d see the rushes, and he’d fill the screen.”
Cooper has this presence about him that can capture you and make you root for him, especially when you see him try to convince his friends to help him and they ignore him. As he walks the streets alone you truly do understand the pain he feels.
One of the most effective ways Kane’s loneliness is communicated is through the film’s phenomenal cinematography. There are so many shots of Kane walking by himself or standing in the middle of the street without anyone next to him, really driving home that lone-wolf persona and feel. So I’d like to dedicate this article to the late Elmo Williams, one of the film’s editor, who passed away last year at the age of 102 and who, along with Harry W. Gerstad, won the Best Film Editing Oscar for their work on High Noon. He was one of the last remaining figures of classic Hollywood.
RIP Elmo Williams (1913-2015)