Time: 85 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Cooper), Film Editing, Score, and Song. Nominations for Best Director, Screenplay and Picture.
Not being a fan of the Western, the only reason I actually sat through this film is because it was so well-regarded. I really like the films I've seen with Gary Cooper, but he isn't my favorite classic actor. Probably because he made alot of westerns and war films, another genre I'm not extremely fond of. However, after watching HIGH NOON, I think I'm going to have to start opening my mind about these types of films. Cooper gives a wonderful performance as the seemingly doomed Marshall Will Kane, who stays to fight justice even though it's no longer his job. He may be outwardly stoic, but Cooper lets his character's fear show through his eyes. Kane doesn't want to die, but he's not about to let the town he worked so hard to clean up fall into a seedy, disgusting cesspool all over again. Though the supporting cast claims such stars as Lloyd Bridges and Grace Kelly, this is Cooper's show and he gives it everything he's got. I couldn't take my eyes off him.
The entire plot takes place in a mere 2 hours of time. It begins with three cowboys crossing the plains and arriving at a small train depot. Their presence causes a great deal of excitement in the townspeople because they are good friends with local renegade Frank Miller, who had been sentenced to death, but is now free...and coming back to settle some scores. Will Kane begins the day by getting married to Amy (Kelly). They plan to head out of town right after the ceremony to begin their new life together. Since the new marshall is coming to town the next morning to take his place, the news that Miller is returning should have no bearing on Will's life. The town leaders try to get him to leave and he does, but his conscience makes him turn back around. Amy is furious at him for choosing his past and assured violence over a future with her. She refuses to stay around and see another family member die at the end of a gun. Of course, the only way out of town is on the noon train, the same train bringing Frank Miller.
Though many of the townspeople are pleased with the job Will has done, making the town a safe place to raise a family, there is a large contingent who can't wait for Frank's return. It quickly becomes apparent that Will is on his own. No one is willing to join his posse because they don't think he's going to make it another day and they don't want to be on the losing side. His junior deputy, Harvey Pell (Bridges) refuses to fight by his side, though he eventually tries to save his life, because Will didn't recommend him for sheriff to the town leaders. Harvey is also dating Will's old girlfriend Helen (Jurado), who still loves Will, but is smart enough to get out of town before the trouble begins. This is Will's fight and his alone. He walks the empty streets preparing for the inevitable altercation with Miller and his men. Amy tries to leave, but when the shooting begins she races back to stand by her man. The battle is long and hard fought, but in the end, Will walks away scarred and battered but unbowed and unbeaten. He proves to himself and the cowards who refused to fight, who is the better man.
Lest you think I gave away the ending, think again. It's pretty clear from the outset that Will is going to survive. He is played by Gary Cooper after all and at this point in the world of cinema the filmmaker's rarely killed off their leading man. What makes the film gripping and poignant is Kane's silent resolve to do what's right no matter what it might cost him. Even when it looks like his marriage will become null and void before it has a chance to begin, he sticks to his guns and stands to face his enemy with only his mental courage and years of experience to save him. It's a hard lesson for Will to learn. He thought he made a difference, that the town and it's people respected him. What he discovered is that fear and greed are more powerful masters. Cooper is amazing. I don't know who he was up against for the major acting awards, but it's clear after watching this film they didn't have much of a chance. The only other stand-outs in the cast are the two ladies Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado. They are vastly different women, but each are beautiful and strong in their own ways. It's easy to understand why Kane loved them both.