Movie-A-Day: High Noon (1952)

That movie to blame for Shanghai Noon

Cast:

Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, and other actors your grandparents had crushes on.

Premise:

When a man he sent to jail swears vengeance, a newlywed marshal prepares for the inevitable showdown.

In the first episode of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano states that modern psychology has weakened men by making them talk about feelings. To quote; “whatever happened to Gary Cooper, the strong silent type?” Up until now that was the only thing I ever heard about the actor. Modern audiences associate the Western genre with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne (assuming they’ve even seen a western). Which is a shame because the guy was an ACTUAL cowboy and knew how to ride a horse and everything.

In this film, however, he’s one of the more mundane Western heroes. When he know his archenemy and his 4-man gang is coming, he spends most of the film trying to recruit deputies to fight them. Because that’s what a real person would do. Compare this to the Italian Westerns like A Fistfull of Dollars where Clint Eastwood can shoot three gunmen dead in 5 seconds.

Gary Cooper’s attempts to find support consistently. When he’s not being denied, someone’s trying to convince him to leave and he refuses. Even his cowardly deputy, who I assumed would pull a Han Solo and save him at the end, doesn’t help the poor guy out. I might be reading the film differently than intended, but it seems to suggest that it’s NOT for society’s benefit that good guys get in gun battles with bad guys. Gary could just run away and save everyone the trouble but consistently refuses, which to me makes the whole shootout his fault. I guess I should admire that he stuck by his guns but the whole thing seems a waste of time.

highnoon6

Another oddly progressive element is the two female leads of the film. One is his new wife played by Grace Kelly. On the surface she’s very much a stereotypical southern belle: highly religious, overdressed, etc. Then she’s given a backstory explaining that she was an orphan who became a quaker due to seeing her parents’ violent deaths. So rather than her just being a lady scared of losing her husband, she’s someone who’s experienced violence firsthand.

The other lead is Katy Jurado, who plays the ex-flame of Cooper and the dude that wants to kill him (awkward). I was surprised to learn she was actually hispanic since so many films back then had whites playing other races. I’m a bit torn as to whether she’s progressive or not. On one hand, she’s shows to be the owner of a saloon and doesn’t mind the idea of picking up the gun – all pretty good things for a woman in the 50’s. On the other hand, you could just say that her headstrongness is just because she’s a “spicy latina”, which was also a pretty big stereotype. Either way, she’s obviously meant to contrast with Grace Kelly’s character. While she also wants Cooper to leave town, she claims to be willing to help defend him, which Kelly won’t do. The two women help articulate the inner struggle Cooper is having: Kelly is his desire for safety and absolution whereas Jurado is his pride and sense of justice.

Overall, I enjoyed High Noon. I’m not sure I can see yet why it’s considered one of the greatest films of yet, but it’s definitely worth a look for any fans of Westerns.

Rating: Two Guns Up

Fuck yea, Clint!

Fuck yea, Clint!

Stray Thoughts

This guy must’ve been obligated to do every major western, since he was so many including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Stagecoach. He’s normally the smart-but-slovenly guy who helps out the hero at the end, which makes it pretty painful when he turns down Cooper.

It’s hilarious that it’s common knowledge that the bad guy vowed to murder a public official while in prison, AND STILL GOT RELEASED! You’d think that would come up in a parole meeting.

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