Minutes after Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) gets married to Amy (Grace Kelly), a young Quaker, the town gets news that a gang of bandits are waiting at the train station for the noon train to arrive. On that train is Frank Miller, a criminal with a grudge against Kane and his town, just let out of jail. Once that train arrives, they plan on killing Kane. He’s urged by everyone to leave town with his new wife to think of, but he realizes that the new marshal won’t arrive until the next day and feels that it is his duty to stay and protect the town. No one is willing to help him.
The bulk of the film feels like it takes place in real time, constantly checking the clock and counting down the minutes until the train arrives. Like that shot of the red sand flowing out of the hourglass in The Wizard of Oz, the ticking clock becomes a morbid symbol of how much time Kane has to live. The odds are against him, four against one, and that guy building something behind the barbershop might be the coroner getting a coffin ready. We never find out, but that’s my bet.
The whole film is filled with tensions. Time is running out, no one will help Kane, which makes Deputy Harvey (Lloyd Bridges) look like a coward. Smart maybe, but still yellow. Amy is morally against the violence Kane is about to bring so she plans on catching the noon train to St. Louis. On top of that, she discovers an old friend (and possible flame) of her husband’s, Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado).
One of my favorite scenes is when Kane walks into the church in the middle of service looking for men to stand with him. Before he can even explain his intrusion, the pastor burns him since he hardly attends church and didn’t get married there. Way to preach compassion. Then the congregation seem to hold an impromptu town meeting debating whether to help Kane or not. The few men willing at first are shut down realizing the social and economical impact a brawl with bandits will cause.
The ending action is perfect and stretches the anticipation to the brink. There were points where I found myself yelling to Cooper where the bandits where and what to do, that’s how I know I’m enjoying the film.
The only thing that bothered me is the relationship between Kane and Amy. For starters, he’s got to be about thirty years older than her, and what does she see in him? She’s a Quaker and completely against violence, yet she knows he’s a law man and probably shot a few guys in his time. But of course, this is the old west and if she gets taken care of he can have his young bride and everyone’s happy. Still, if the romance was more convincing, made more sense to their personalities and wasn’t such a creepy age gap, I would’ve been on board, no problem.
Besides that, I loved this movie. The anticipation to the climax wonderful, Cooper is an actor I can always enjoy and it’s no wonder he won Best Actor for this role. The message about standing up and finishing what you started is wonderful and doesn’t feel preachy (even though it was a slap in the face to some people in Hollywood at the time.) If you don’t like westerns, you’ll probably like this one; if you do like westerns, I’d like to know what you think. John Wayne hated High Noon, but don’t let him influence your decision.
“Kane will be a dead man in half an hour and nobody’s gonna do anything about it. And when he dies, this town dies too.”