Friday, February 26, 2016

AFI Top 100, #33: "High Noon" (1952)

Movie Stats:
Released 1952 (Sweden)
American, in English (a small amount of non-translated Spanish)
Director - Fred Zinnemann
Stars - Gary Cooper, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly

Plot Summary:
Set in the Old West, when convicted felon Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) returns unexpectedly to the town that sent him up the river five years ago, outgoing marshal Will Kane (Cooper) prepares for a showdown. Jurado co-stars as the local prostitute (I think), Helen Ramirez; Bridges as the supremely annoying deputy marshal, Harvey Pell; and Kelly as Will’s very new bride, Amy.


Bad Stuff:
It’s a lot of talking/repeated conversations and very little action. During the church scene, where the good Christians of the town are discussing whether or not to help the marshal, one lady said (paraphrased), “I can’t believe we’re doing all this talking and no doing” and I thought to myself, “Amen, sister.”

For all the hinting about how evil Frank was, like he was Ivan the Terrible or something, he seemed rather incompetent and easily beat in the end. I’m not sure why Will spent all that time looking for extra deputies. He didn’t seem to need them.

The never-ending use of that awful “High Noon” song. Stop it, movie. Stop it!

Good Stuff:
As a character study, it was interesting. I enjoyed seeing how the different townspeople reacted to stress and fear. As annoying as Harvey was, for example, I found his emotions believable: resentment that he didn’t get the marshal gig; jealousy of Will's prior relationship with Helen; disgust with himself for his cowardice, etc. This character, and several others, had a lot of layers.

I loved Helen Ramirez. What a pleasure it was to stumble across a strong female character in a movie like this! And she was strong without being a total bitch! When she told a man that no one was allowed to touch her without her say-so, I just about fell over. How oddly progressive of you, 1952.

It rather capably raised the question of whether Will should stand and fight. Most action movies, there’s very little wondering about whether the good guys should fight the bad guys. It’s a given. But nearly everyone who wanted Will to leave rather than fight had a decent argument as to why he should. Did he do the right thing? The movie seems to think so, but I feel it’s open to interpretation.

The Verdict:
Side note: I spent the first ten minutes expecting Clark Gable to turn up until I finally realized that, yet again, I confused Clark Gable with Gary Cooper. Haha.

As far as westerns go, this one is rather cerebral. I get that all the talking, and the constant watching of the clock, was intended to build suspension. However, I didn’t find it particularly suspenseful. I was certain that it would end as it “should.” I wasn’t even spoiled. I didn’t know anything about it going in, and I could still tell early on that it wasn’t going to be edgy or anything. Therefore, as the talking went on and on, I just felt more and more impatient. It was disappointing that the resulting confrontation, when it finally came, was about five minutes long. Also, in all that talking, could they maybe have explained more of who Frank was and why he was so bad? I literally felt nothing one way or the other about him. As good as the movie was at building the characters of the “good” guys, it was terrible at it for the “bad” guys. In spite of my problems with it, however, I did like its layers and nuance. It’s not a bad movie. It simply has flaws.

I give it 3.5 stars.

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