Our Reel Classics selec­tion today is anoth­er icon­ic film from the 1950s, High Noon, star­ring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.  As you can tell from the poster, this is a west­ern, and it is set in the small town of Hadleyville in the New Mexico Territory.  Gary Cooper plays the town mar­shal Will Kane.  The sto­ry opens on his wed­ding day.  His new bride is Amy Fowler, played by Grace Kelly.  The bride is a Quaker and paci­fist, and Will Kane has agreed to give up the badge, move to a new town, raise a fam­i­ly and run a store. 

These plans are inter­rupt­ed when he learns that a man he had helped send to prison, Frank Miller,  has got­ten out and is arriv­ing on the noon train to seek his revenge. The bride sug­gests they pack up and leave town, but he is torn.  He decides to face his ene­my and asks his friends and var­i­ous towns­peo­ple to join with him.  However, one by one, they refuse to help him out of fear for them­selves.  It is not just Frank Miller, but his gang that has gath­ered at the rail­way sta­tion await­ing his arrival.  The clock keeps tick­ing, approach­ing the hour of noon. It appears that even his wife has aban­doned him. 

Will Kane finds him­self alone after hav­ing served to pro­tect the towns­peo­ple for many years. 

The film was direct­ed by Fred Zinnemann (oth­er films include Here To Eternity, Oklahoma, and The Sundowners), and the screen­play was writ­ten by Carl Foreman.  I men­tion this as Foreman’s per­son­al sto­ry was inte­gral to the plot.  Carl Foreman was being black­list­ed by Hollywood for his past com­mu­nist lean­ings.  Appearing before the House Unamerican Activities Committee (Sen. Joseph McCarthy), he had refused to name oth­ers he knew who had also been involved with the communists. 

When Foreman learned that he was going to be black­list­ed, he reached out to friends seek­ing sup­port against this effort.  Most of his “friends” refused out of fear of harm to them­selves.  It has been report­ed that many of the exchanges between Will Kane and var­i­ous towns­peo­ple were based on  Foreman’s own con­ver­sa­tions seek­ing support.

John Wayne and his friend (and fel­low actor) Ward Bond cre­at­ed an “anti-com­mu­nist” orga­ni­za­tion in Hollywood and spoke out against this film and Carl Foreman, believ­ing it to be a state­ment against black­list­ing.  Wayne ful­ly sup­port­ed the black­list­ing efforts and want­ed Foreman out of Hollywood.  Interestingly, the role of Will Kane was ini­tial­ly offered to John Wayne, but he refused it.  Gary Cooper was also iden­ti­fied as con­ser­v­a­tive but lat­er spoke out against blacklisting. 

While work­ing on the screen­play, Foreman read  a short sto­ry by John Cunningham in Harper’s Magazine enti­tled “The Tin Star.”  There were sim­i­lar­i­ties in the sto­ry­line, so the rights were pur­chased to avoid any con­cerns about plagiarism. 

Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in a scene from High Noon.
Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in a scene from High Noon.

High Noon is full of rec­og­niz­able actors:  Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Lon Chaney Jr. (also known as “The Wolf Man” in the Universal hor­ror films), Harry Morgan (Col. Potter in MASH), Lee Van Cleef, and Sheb Wooley (of “The Flying Purple People Eater” fame).  Lee Van Cleef made his first film appear­ance in High Noon and went on to appear in many films and TV shows over the years, includ­ing some of the so-called “Spaghetti Westerns.” 

For those who have seen the film, the theme song stands out as mem­o­rable.  “The Ballad of High Noon” was writ­ten by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington.  It was sung by Tex Ritter, and the open­ing line is unfor­get­table: “Do not for­sake me, oh my dar­lin’.”  The song and the clock tick­ing towards noon appear through­out the film.

Even with the Hollywood con­tro­ver­sy, High Noon earned $3.4 mil­lion in the USA box offices in 1952.  It was nom­i­nat­ed for sev­en Academy Awards and won four, includ­ing best actor (Gary Cooper) and best song.  It lost the best pic­ture award to The Greatest Show on Earth and that loss is often iden­ti­fied as one of the biggest upsets in the his­to­ry of the Academy.  It is also attrib­uted by many to the anti-com­mu­nist efforts led by John Wayne and colum­nist Hedda Hopper.

The American Film Institute ranks High Noon as the sec­ond great­est film in the “Western” genre and ranked it #27 in their list­ing of Greatest Movies of All Time.  Internet Movie Data Base (IMBD) rat­ed the film at 8 out of 10.  Rotten Tomatoes had a crit­ics’ score of 95% and an Audience Score of 89%.  In 1980 CBS Television aired a made-for-TV sequel enti­tled High Noon, Part II:  The Return Of Will Kane, star­ring Lee Majors.  TBS pro­duced a re-make in 2000 star­ring Tom Skerritt as Will Kane. 

To me, High Noon is a film that speaks to the attrib­ut­es of courage, friend­ship, loy­al­ty, and devo­tion (and some­times the lack there­of).  The set­ting is the Western genre, but the themes go beyond the set­ting.  It is enter­tain­ing but, at the same time, also thought-pro­vok­ing. It is not your “run-of-the-mill” Western.  And, for that rea­son, it is tru­ly a “Reel Classic.”

As usu­al, I researched the stream­ing sites where the film can be found to view for free.  It is list­ed on Hoopla, Pluto, and Filmrise.  It is also avail­able as a DVD at the Clark County Library.  I want to men­tion again that if you have a library card, you can access the stream­ing chan­nels Hoopla and Kanopy.  They both are a trea­sure trove of clas­sic and more recent films as well as a host of TV shows.  For more infor­ma­tion, check with staff at the library. 

As always, keep a watch out for the next “Reel Classic” and enjoy the trail­er for High Noon below. 

  • Ron grew up in Southeast Baltimore, spent three and a half years liv­ing in the High Desert in California, and came to Winchester when his VW Beetle broke down here on a cross-coun­try dri­ve to Vermont. He has lived here and worked as a social work­er since 1973. Though he retired in 2013, he remains active as a com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teer on var­i­ous boards, coali­tions, and com­mit­tees. His pas­sions include the woods and nature, music, books, and clas­sic movies (espe­cial­ly Laurel & Hardy).