“You risk your skin catching killers and the juries turn them loose so they can come back and shoot at you again. If you're honest you're poor your whole life and in the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star.”
Until I watched High Noon I had yet to find a western that felt intense. To me there just never seems to be any tension because they all seem the same. There is a small Midwestern town in the middle of nowhere where the sheriff has to save the day from some outlaws and bandits. That is pretty much what goes on in High Noon but told differently, artistically, and brilliantly.
Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just married Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly). He is the town’s sheriff but he had planned to leave the position to become a storekeeper. From the train station the stationmaster runs into town to warn Will that Ben and Frank Miller have been released from jail and along with two other outlaws Jack Colby and Jim Pierce are set to come into town on the noon train.
Upon hearing the news Will immediately leaves with Amy. When they are a little ways out of town Will stops the wagon and tells Amy that him running is exactly what Frank Miller wants him to do and if he were to run it might not be good for the townspeople and they would also try to hunt him down wherever he goes. Will turns the wagon around and heads back to town. As the time ticks down Will struggles with what to do. He goes to the local saloon to try to gather up special deputies to help fight the outlaws. No one there wants to help because most of them are friends with the Millers and others have changed their minds about him as a sheriff. Will then interrupts church services to gather people. Several of the church members do not want to help him either mostly because he was unable to keep the brothers behind bars and now they may come and hurt their children and destroy their town.
In the meantime Amy has given Will an ultimatum. He either leaves with her or she leaves on her own on the noon train. Will decides to stay and finish what needs to be finished.
The time and train come into town. Everyone is indoors waiting and protecting themselves for whatever may come. Amy was on the train when she hears gunfire erupt. She rushes off the train and to the Marshall’s office. Will has the outlaws chase him to the edge of town to barn. They have him trapped for a moment as they try to burn down the barn Will is hiding in. Will manages to kill one of the outlaws from his perch until he is forced down from the fire.
Hiding in the Marshall’s office Amy sees one of the outlaws. She finds a gun and shoots the man dead. The last outlaw left alive is Frank Miller. He finds her and drags her out of the office. Frank tells Will to come out or he will kill Amy. As soon as Will shows himself he throws Amy to the ground and begins to shoot. Amy attacks Frank and Will is able to shoot the outlaw dead.
Immediately following the end of the battle the townspeople come out of their homes and businesses. Will throws his badge on the ground and he and Amy finally leave the town for a new life.
What I liked about the story with High Noon is that you know the outlaws are coming to kill Will but it is the build up and anticipation of the coming fight that creates this great tension. We see Will all tense with anticipation and helplessness. I also really liked how Will is shown to be a good man but from what everyone else says to him about him and them not wanting to help you see that maybe Will Kane is not a very good man. Like, he has tried to do his best but he either was not up to the task as much as the people would have liked or he just did a lousy job protecting the town. Adding to the tension was the direction. Several of the shots were from below or just level with the actors in the scenes where their anxiety is building. The direction I felt was artistic and different for a Western. I like artistic-ness when it comes to certain films. I never would have thought that combined with a Western that style or effect would have worked so well. I liked how there was very little action and it was more of a story of a man with conflicting morals and emotions than all action.
High Noon is a very good classic Western that is worth watching.