High Noon

High Noon is a 1952 western film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. The film tells the story of a town marshal who is forced to face a gang of killers by himself. The screenplay was written by John W. Cunningham and Carl Foreman, based on Cunningham's pulp short story, "The Tin Star".

In 1989, High Noon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", entering the registry during the latter's first year of existence. The film is #27 on the American Film Institute's 2007 list of great films.


Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the longtime Marshal of Hadleyville, New Mexico, has just married pacifist Quaker Amy (Grace Kelly), turned in his badge, and is preparing to move away to become a storekeeper. Soon after, the town learns that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a criminal Kane brought to justice, is due to arrive on the noon train. Miller had been sentenced to the gallows, but was pardoned due to a technicality. In court, he had vowed to get revenge on Kane and anyone who got in his way. His three gang members wait for him at the station. The worried townspeople encourage Kane to leave, hoping to defuse the situation.

Kane and his wife leave, but Kane has a crisis of conscience and turns back. He reclaims his badge and tries to swear in help, but it becomes clear that no one is willing to get involved. His deputy, Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), resigns. Only his former lover, Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado), supports him, but there is little she can do to help. Disgusted, she sells her business and prepares to leave town. His wife threatens to leave on the noon train with or without him, but he stubbornly refuses to give in.

In the end, Kane faces the four gunmen alone. He guns down two of Miller's men, though he himself is wounded. Helen Ramirez and Amy both board the train, but Amy gets off when she hears the sound of gunfire. Amy chooses her husband's life over her religious beliefs and kills the third gunman by shooting him in the back. Miller then takes her hostage and offers to trade her for Kane. Kane agrees, coming out into the open. Amy, however, claws Miller's face, causing him to release her. Kane then shoots and kills him. Then, as the cowardly townspeople emerge, Kane contemptuously throws his marshal's star in the dirt and leaves town with his wife.



There was some controversy over the casting of Cooper in the lead role: at 50, nearly 30 years older than co-star Kelly, he was considered too old for the role.

Zinnemann was highly influenced by the books of Karl May, which he had read as a child.

Some scenes were filmed on various locations in California:

According to the 2002 documentary Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents, written, produced, and directed by Lionel Chetwynd, Foreman's role in the creation and production of High Noon has over the years been unfairly downplayed in favor of Foreman's former partner and producer, Stanley Kramer. The documentary was prompted by and based in part on a single-spaced 11-page letter that Foreman wrote to film critic Bosley Crowther in April 1952. In the letter, Foreman asserts that the film began as a four-page plot outline about "aggression in a western background" and "telling a motion picture story in the exact time required for the events of the story itself" (a device used in High Noon). An associate of Foreman pointed out similarities between Foreman's outline and the short story "The Tin Star" by John W. Cunningham, which led Foreman to purchase the rights to Cunningham's story and proceed with the original outline. By the time the documentary aired, most of those immediately involved were dead, including Kramer, Foreman, Fred Zinnemann, and Gary Cooper. Kramer's widow refutes Foreman's contentions; Victor Navasky, author of Naming Names and familiar with some of the circumstances surrounding High Noon because of interviews with Kramer's widow among others, said the documentary seemed "one-sided, and the problem is it makes a villain out of Stanley Kramer, when it was more complicated than that.".


Upon its release, the film was criticized by many filmgoers, as it did not contain such expected western archetypes as chases, violence, action, and picture postcard scenery. Rather, it presented emotional and moralistic dialogue throughout most of the film. Only in the last few minutes were there action scenes.

John Wayne strongly disliked the film because he felt it was an allegory for blacklisting, which he and his best friend Ward Bond had actively supported. In his Playboy interview from May 1971, Wayne stated he considered High Noon "the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life" and went on to say he would never regret having helped blacklist liberal screenwriter Carl Foreman from Hollywood. He later teamed up with director Howard Hawks to make Rio Bravo as a conservative response. Ironically, Cooper himself had been a "friendly witness" to the HUAC several years earlier, and Wayne also accepted Cooper's Academy Award for the role as Cooper was unable to attend the presentation.


The movie won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Cooper), Best Film Editing (Elmo Williams and Harry W. Gerstad), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin), and Best Music, Song (Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington for "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'", sung by Tex Ritter). It was nominated for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay. Its loss in the Best Picture category to The Greatest Show on Earth is usually seen as one of the biggest upsets (and one of the worst choices) in the history of the Academy Awards. This loss is often cited as due to bias against westerns on the part of the Academy. Ironically, despite severely disliking the film, it was John Wayne who picked up Gary Cooper's Academy Award.

Mexican actress Katy Jurado won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Helen Ramirez, becoming the first Mexican actress ever to receive the award.

American Film Institute recognition


High Noon, often described as an "existential Western", is generally praised, although it was somewhat controversial upon its release in 1952. Cooper's character is betrayed by all the "good" men in town who won't take up arms for a just cause. Carl Foreman stated the film was intended as an allegory of the contemporary failure of intellectuals to combat the rise of McCarthyism, as well as how people in Hollywood had remained silent while their peers were blacklisted. The film has also been embraced by those who admire its emphasis on duty and courage.

High Noon transpires virtually in real-time, in contrast to traditional westerns such as The Searchers. In another departure from the norm, there is little action until the final 10 minutes. The only exception is a fistfight between Kane and his former deputy, Harvey Pell. The film's tension derives mainly from Kane’s desperation, aided by skillful editing and strong character portrayal. The frequent shots of various clocks with the hands approaching noon and still shots of those involved, heighten the tension.

Another effective technique is the crane shot, just before the final gunfight. The shot backs up and rises, and we see Will totally alone and isolated on the street. The entire town has deserted him.

The director intended to capture the atmosphere of old Civil War photographs, with an austere gray sky as a backdrop. (This effect results from the fact that early film emulsions were most sensitive to blue and ultraviolet light; Zinneman's attempts to reproduce this effect in the film were one of the reasons he strongly opposed its proposed colorization). Despite the constraints of a limited budget ($750,000) and only 32 days to film, he was able to obtain this.

Cultural influence

According to Lech Wałęsa, High Noon was an inspiration for the election poster of the Solidarity movement in Poland. Wałęsa wrote:
Under the headline "At High Noon" runs the red Solidarity banner and the date—June 4, 1989—of the poll. It was a simple but effective gimmick that, at the time, was misunderstood by the Communists. They, in fact, tried to ridicule the freedom movement in Poland as an invention of the "Wild" West, especially the U.S. But the poster had the opposite impact: Cowboys in Western clothes had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom, both physical and spiritual. Solidarity trounced the Communists in that election, paving the way for a democratic government in Poland. It is always so touching when people bring this poster up to me to autograph it. They have cherished it for so many years and it has become the emblem of the battle that we all fought together.

According to an English professor at Yeshiva University, High Noon is the film most requested for viewing by U.S. presidents and is cited as being Bill Clinton's favorite film.

Remakes and sequel

  • A made-for-TV sequel, High Noon Part II: The Return Of Will Kane (produced in 1980, 28 years after the original movie was released), featured Lee Majors in the Cooper role.
  • The 1980 science fiction film Outland borrowed from the story of High Noon for its plot. The movie starred Sean Connery.
  • The Miami Vice episode "The Afternoon Plane" borrowed both plot and characters directly from the movie.
  • In 2000, High Noon was entirely re-worked for cable television with Tom Skerritt in the lead role.


External links

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