High Noon, by Albert W. Vogt III

The highest rated Western on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 Greatest American Films of All Time is The Searchers (1956).  It stars John Wayne.  If there is a brand of cinema that has come to represent the movies this country has produced, it is the Western.  The most recognizable star of this most recognizable genre was John Wayne.  Having said all that, that is not the film I am discussing today.  I bring it up only to explain why it is higher on the list than High Noon (1952).  I have not seen the former, but tonight was my second time seeing the latter.  High Noon also has the advantage of being shorter.  This is part of the reason I chose it.  What makes it neat is that it takes place all in the space of about an hour and a half, which is by design.  Please read on as to why this makes sense.

It is not quite High Noon outside of the small town of Hadleyville in the southern part of the New Mexico Territory. There, Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley), Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef), and Jim Pierce (Robert J. Wilke) gather to go into town to meet the train, arriving at the title time.  On it is Ben’s brother Frank (Ian MacDonald).  As the three men ride into the relatively deserted streets, owing to it being a Sunday, those that do spot them know that there is trouble brewing.  That they can have a peaceful Sunday is because Frank and his men had been taken care of by Marshal William “Will” Kane (Gary Cooper).  He had sent Frank to prison for a whole host of crimes with the expectation of a hanging.  To everyone’s surprise, his sentence had been commuted and the arrival of this three can only mean one thing: Frank is not far behind and is coming for revenge.  Will is oblivious to this at the moment as he is getting married to Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly).  After the ceremony, he officially turns in his badge to Mayor Jonas Henderson (Thomas Mitchell) and is about to leave for his honeymoon.  This is when he is told that Frank is returning, and the train will be pulling into the station in a little over an hour.  Will knows like anyone else in town what this means.  Yet, his new Quaker wife prevails on him, and they leave.  His departure is noticed by Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), and his girlfriend, local shop owner Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado).  He is mad at Will for not promoting him, and jealous of Helen, thinking she still has feelings for Will.  It adds up to Harvey being glad to see Will leave.  As he and Amy drive away, though, the feeling of unfinished business is evident on his face, and he decides to go back and take up his badge.  Apparently, in those days one could un-swear and re-swear oneself in as an officer of the law as one pleased.  The first bit of opposition comes from Amy.  If you do not know already, Quakers are a Christian sect of strict pacifists.  She became one when her brother and father were killed.  She does not want to see the same thing happen to the person she had married mere minutes prior.  When this does not sway him, she threatens to go on without him.  These pleas are not enough to sway his sense of duty.  Now it is time to gather a posse to take down Frank and his men, something he had done the last time.  He expects similar success, but one-by-one he finds people are unwilling to join him.  It is usually the same excuses: the new marshal is coming tomorrow, you should have left town when you had the chance, it is not your fight, etc.  Harvey hands in his badge rather than face the four criminals.  As for Amy, she eventually decides to wait in the lobby of the hotel.  While there, she learns about Helen and her former entanglements with Will.  Because Amy cannot understand why Will is doing what he is doing, she decides to talk to Helen, believing she might be the reason he is staying.  Helen informs Amy that there is nothing between them.  What Helen does remind Amy of is Will’s brave character, which better explains why he cannot let this matter alone.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Will’s last effort to find deputies has him interrupting the church service.  Nonetheless, it is the same message, this time delivered by Mayor Henderson: they are with Will in spirit, but they believe they can get on fine without him.  Getting close to the appointed hour, he returns to his office to find the one person who had agreed to help him quitting because Will had found nobody else.  Two against four did not seem like a fair fight.  Thus, Will writes out his last wishes in the event of his death and heads out into the street.  By this time, the train has come and off steps Frank, as expected.  He is handed a gun and the four of them stroll into town.  Their presence is given away by a bit of thievery on their part, allowing Will to get the drop on them.  From there, it is your classic Western shoot out, with Will slowly whitling down their number.  He receives some help from Amy, who before the train can pull away with her on it, has a change of heart and stays.  She even kills one of the four.  Unfortunately, this gives her position away to Frank, who takes her hostage.  Will comes out and Frank’s request, but with one last shove from Amy, is able to fell his adversary.  We close with the newlyweds embracing.

One can draw several Biblical parallels with High Noon.  Doing so can be instructive for how Christianity fits into the modern world, even if we are talking about a movie made over seventy years ago, set during an even older time.  Still, Faith is living, or it does not exist.  There is no in between, which is what the townspeople wanted.  There are many directions in which one could go.  One could look at Jesus himself on the eve of His passion being abandoned by everyone, including His disciples whom He called friends.  There is Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments and finding the Israelites had abandoned God who had led them out of Egypt with several miracles.  You could go beyond the Bible and look at Church History.  The lives of the Saints are full of stories that can be easily compared to Will’s actions.  What it all points to is having the firmness of character to stand up for what it right no matter the cost.  It is not hyperbole to say that Will risked everything to finish the job the human institution of justice could not.  He did not do so because he wanted to, or because he was seeking martyrdom.  Even Christian martyrs do not go into a situation seeking death.  It simply comes with the territory.  Will displays this fortitude best when he is writing out his last wishes.  In a sense, he has already died.  He has died to self because there is a higher purpose to be accomplished.  We can apply this in our daily lives with our friends.  If you see something wrong, stand up for it.  It will not be easy, but God will reward you.

It should be mentioned that the star of High Noon, Gary Cooper, was every bit the Western star as was John Wayne in their day.  Indeed, they were contemporaries of one another, though they never appeared in a film together.  I guess that would have been too much talent in one movie?  Either way, this one is worth a view.

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