An aging Gary Cooper’s star power wanes in Fred Zinneman’s 1952 western, High Noon.
Throughout much of the film’s scant 85 minute runtime, the characters often wonder aloud and in-depth to one another in anticipation of some event happening – some event no one is even sure will happen. This technique often does wonders for character-driven film, whose setting and plot always take a backseat to exposition, character development and relationship building and especially does magnificent work in the “western” genre, much of whose canon has boiled down to archetypal plot and character assignments. Couple this narrative with a tight budget and above-average writing, and you could have a winner on your hands – and this one almost was.
But in High Noon, this methodology falls short – the writing is too frank and too choppy; the acting is underutilized and overwrought with cliches. One or more of these faults can create accidental genius (see: Good Will Hunting) and none of these faults creates sterility, but both of these faults create a trainwreck. Gary Cooper is old enough, experienced enough and weather-worn enough to force his character, Will Kane, into believable, but the villains aren’t “real” enough and his supporting cast is dull. This movie is known for helping to launch Grace Kelly’s career, but her evident talent is largely wasted, as her character Amy, threatens to leave on the “noon” train with or without him. Trouble is, Cooper as Kane is believable as a tenacious sheriff but not as Amy’s white knight; so you don’t care if she leaves or not. What a tremendous waste.
Let’s talk a bit about what this movie does right, thought, because it’s still worth watching as a piece of history and as a well-shot Point A To Point B narrative. Mexican actress Katy Jurado is great as a foil to many of the important male leads and some of her dialogue adds an unintentional bit of comedy (in Gen Y standards); her fiery passion helped to break up an otherwise monotonous plot. Yet because of this relatively straightforward story – especially for a western – the film was a box office success and allowed the development of important actors in Kelly and Jurado. Continue reading