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High Noon (1952)


You ever had an epiphany--one of those moments where the scales fall from your eyes, the light dawns, the voices speak, and in one blinding insight that which was obscure becomes crystal clear? I had one this morning and am very angry with myself for not realizing this before. David Gregory, NBC's White House Correspondent, was on Imus in the Morning today and he was asked about George W. Bush's U.N. appearance tomorrow.  He revealed that--with half the nation and most of the world expecting the President, like a dutiful and chastened schoolboy to present a  kind of book report about Saddam trying to develop nuclear weapons, and then grovel for a UN mandate to do something about it--Mr. Bush is instead going to confront the member nations and the institution itself and ask: What more do you need?  He'll discuss the many UN resolutions that Saddam has violated and ask what the purpose of the body is if they're unwilling to enforce their own diktats. He'll demand, though one assumes politely, that either the UN act immediately in accordance with its own previous decisions, or we'll act for them.  And with that, like Jake Blues entranced by The Reverend Cleophus James, I saw the light: this is High Noon.

In fact, tomorrow will be the real-life doppelganger of the scene where Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) goes to the chapel to rally the townsfolk to help him fight off Frank Miller and his gang.  Kane, like America itself, is a reluctant warrior.  He's recently married, ready to settle down and enjoy the good life, in the mistaken belief that evil has been purged from the town.  But with his nemesis returning, he knows his duty and he's prepared to do it, even if it costs him the love of his pacifist wife, Amy (Fowler) Kane (Grace Kelly).  Now he just needs help and he's certain that the town that he'd made safe, secure, and prosperous will be prepared to repay the favor.  Instead, of course, the citizens are too terrified to lend a hand.  Some even seem to welcome the idea that this righteous hero will get his comeuppance--better the dastardly Frank Miller than the Marshall, whose by the very nature of his being is a living rebuke to their self-absorption.

Kane's initial disbelief turns to disgust, which is only exacerbated as his deputy makes material demands in exchange for his assistance (Russia), his former lover scorns him (Canada, France, and Germany) and members of the last posse that helped bring Miller in bail out on him (the Sauds, etc.).  And he is caused great pain as his new wife (anti-war Americans) determines to leave town without him, rather than accept violence.  He loves her and her Quaker ethics are real, but still he has to do what he knows is right.  His only willing helper is a man we're given to believe must have once been a worthy lawman, but is now a shaky, though courageous, drunk, with residual memories of faded glory--he's willing but unfortunately no longer of much use (Britain hasn't quite fallen this far yet, but it's close).  So Kane must face evil nearly alone and save his society in spite of itself.

One of the important elements here is that we can understand the reluctance of the prosperous populace, which has been softened by the reign of civilization, to take on Miller and his gang.  The men have married, have businesses, and homes and children--they've much to lose.  Meanwhile, the oppressive evil that Miller represents is rather speculative and, after all, Kane is there to do the dirty work for them.  When the wives plead with their husbands to stay home and stay safe, we may disagree, but we comprehend the impulse.  They aren't necessarily bad people; they're just short-sighted.  But when the final battle comes a very few will be forced to face their delusions, particularly Amy Kane, who realizes in the end that regardless of her beliefs evil is real and a good man, her husband, may succumb to it unless she helps.  In much the same way, one suspects that those in America who counsel caution (the Times, the Democrats, etc.) will recognize once the shooting starts that what is at stake is that which they, in their heart of hearts, love--freedom, democracy, and the decenct society we've all built together. No, we may doubt it now, but Amy will be by our side.

Finally, as in the movie, we can have no doubt how the story ends: America, like Gary Cooper, triumphs; good beats evil.  This is not a final triumph by any means, for evil is eternal.  But we know well the cost of leaving it unchecked; soon the Frank Millers are running the town and the rest of us are cringing in fear.

And as we watch the whole drama unfold, we look at the Germans and Canadians and the rest and we see their secret shame at leaving to be fought by others a battle that is rightly theirs too.  We can always find reasons not to fight, but we can't always live with ourselves afterwards. Sooner or later such craven cowardice must eat away at the soul.

And as Marshal Kane leaves the chapel tomorrow we'll know that the question is not whether Frank Miller is a threat, but only who will fight the evil he represents.  Who will risk their comfort to vindicate the beliefs that brought that comfort?  Who still believes, as the enemies certainly do, that some ideas are worth fighting, even dying, for?

As High Noon approaches, will our friends and neighbors join us? Or will we hear only the sound of bolting doors and windows being shuttered?

The clock is ticking--the big hand moving along--and in the background a song is playing...
Do not forsake me,
Oh my darling
On this, our wedding day
Do not forsake me,
Oh my darling
Wait along

I do not know
What fate awaits me
I only know
I must be brave
And I must face a man
Who hates me
Or lie a coward,
A craven coward
Or lie a coward
In my grave

Oh, to be torn
'Tweenst love and duty
Suposing I lose
My fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearing high noon

He made a vow
While in state prison
Vowed it would be
My life or his'n
I'm not afraid of death
But oh
What will I do
If you leave me?
Do not forsake me,
Oh my darlin'
You made that promise
As a bride
Do not forsake me,
Oh my darlin'
Although you're grieving,
Don't think of leaving
Now that I need you
By my side

Wait along, wait along,
Wait along, wait along,
Wait along, wait along,
Wait along, wait along,
Wait along.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

    -INFO: High Noon (1952) (Internet Movie Database)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Fred Zinneman (Internet Movie Database) -FILMOGRAPHY: Gary Cooper (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Grace Kelly (Imdb)
    -ESSAY: Bush's resolve already has paid dividends (Jack Kelly, Sept. 19, 2002, Jewish World Review)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: High Noon (1952) (Internet Movie Database)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: High Noon (1952) (MRQE)
    REVIEW: of High Noon (James Berardinelli's Reel Views)
    -REVIEW: of High Noon (Alex Scott, Timewarp)
    -REVIEW: of High Noon (Tim Dirks, FilmSite)