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JulyDiaz

High Noon

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Amy & Paul saddle up and ride through 1952’s archetypal Western, High Noon! They celebrate Katy Jurado’s fierce performance, learn about the ill-advised High Noon sequel, and discover how the film works as an allegory for HUAC-era America. Plus: Henry C. Parke of True West Magazine tells us what makes High Noon stand out in the Western pantheon. 

 

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This made me think a lot about it, which I liked.  Paul early on said he felt it was 'bland' and I've been thinking along the same lines.

So the story breaks down to basically this:

1. Bad Guy comin'
2. Good Guy tries to get help to stand up to Bad Guy
3. everyone says 'f you'
4. Good Guy wins anyway

Now I hate that my complaint sounds a little like the guest said John Wayne felt (a real manly sheriff wouldn't go asking for help), but... why the heck did he ask for help?  I think the fact that he wins without help is weakened by him having spent the whole movie asking for help.  I get that it sets him up to do it alone, but the whole build-up is him asking for help he does NOT NEED.  I found that a little weird.  I don't particularly feel like the town let him down, because he won anyway.

How I see it is this.... there's 3 possible heroic endings:

1. The Devastating Heroic Ending: he asks for help, doesn't get it, fights Bad Guy alone, loses/dies because the help he needed didn't come.  That's still heroic, fighting against the odds, but it's much more impactful.    

2. The Feel-Good Heroic Ending: the town turns him down, but has a change of heart and helps him win in the end.  I'm sure that's what John Wayne wanted.  Probably way to feel-good, or maybe traditional Western?  Surely it's good they didn't do this, but it would've had an impact.

3. The ending they went with: shrugs off the town, wins with his wife's brief help.  They went with the bland ending.  He's still a hero, I guess, but it's just far less emotional.  He just won anyway, whatever.  I mean, we get the awesome look of disgust at the town as he leaves this way, but I don't know.  Was it the best choice?  I'm not so sure.

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First, I have to disagree somewhat about the song. Yes, the lyrics are a bit overdone but the song has this underlying sound of a train slowly chugging along. The sound of the smoke pumping and the wheels turning. Every time the song comes on you hear the train coming, yet another reminder of Kane's impending doom. Even as he walks the streets we hear that train slowly coming for him. That combined with the clocks really drives home the ticking clock element of it all.

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9 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

This made me think a lot about it, which I liked.  Paul early on said he felt it was 'bland' and I've been thinking along the same lines.

So the story breaks down to basically this:

1. Bad Guy comin'
2. Good Guy tries to get help to stand up to Bad Guy
3. everyone says 'f you'
4. Good Guy wins anyway

Now I hate that my complaint sounds a little like the guest said John Wayne felt (a real manly sheriff wouldn't go asking for help), but... why the heck did he ask for help?  I think the fact that he wins without help is weakened by him having spent the whole movie asking for help.  I get that it sets him up to do it alone, but the whole build-up is him asking for help he does NOT NEED.  I found that a little weird.  I don't particularly feel like the town let him down, because he won anyway.

How I see it is this.... there's 3 possible heroic endings:

1. The Devastating Heroic Ending: he asks for help, doesn't get it, fights Bad Guy alone, loses/dies because the help he needed didn't come.  That's still heroic, fighting against the odds, but it's much more impactful.    

2. The Feel-Good Heroic Ending: the town turns him down, but has a change of heart and helps him win in the end.  I'm sure that's what John Wayne wanted.  Probably way to feel-good, or maybe traditional Western?  Surely it's good they didn't do this, but it would've had an impact.

3. The ending they went with: shrugs off the town, wins with his wife's brief help.  They went with the bland ending.  He's still a hero, I guess, but it's just far less emotional.  He just won anyway, whatever.  I mean, we get the awesome look of disgust at the town as he leaves this way, but I don't know.  Was it the best choice?  I'm not so sure.

I mean there is the obvious communist witch hunt metaphor going on here that plays into it all, but that aside I think it is more about responsibility. Kane is not trying to be a hero and save the day, he's simply doing what has to be done. Like the mayor tells him he could just leave and his life would be spared. However, this comes at the cost of having the town fall back into lawlessness. Frank Miller and his crew would just do what they want and it wouldn't be safe and they don't know who the next Marshall is so there is no telling if he will be able to stop him or care to stop him. Kane worked hard to make the town safe and livable, you'll notice the only people that don't think so are the ones up to illegal activity, and he stays to protect the town and the people who while not in immediate danger are in danger of losing what they have built.

It is also mentioned that when Kane first took down Frank Miller they had a whole posse to assist. He's also seemingly in general against violence, as mentioned they would have been better off to kill Miller all the years prior but Kane took him in alive for trail. You could say he might have been hoping with a large enough posse he could have talked to Frank Miller and maybe talked him into leaving. There was that brief moment when he almost believed he could have changed in prison. Again, he could have confronted Frank Miller's crew and evened the odds ahead of time but he believe in the law and wouldn't arrest them for doing nothing. In the end Kane is not John Wayne. He's just one man, a ordinary man with a strong moral compass and he's determined to do the right thing no matter the cost so future generations can enjoy the shade of the roots he has planted. This is why he asks for help, because even though they are coming for him they are also coming for the town. He hopes others see the treat that Frank Miller poses to the town and not just himself, but everybody is to interested in their own safety and wants. In the end I wouldn't say he's shrugging off the town rather he is the only person thinking of the town. It is an appeal to the interests of the town itself and to a lesser degree his health and safety because he's not a swagging hot shot of a man.

In the end yes Kane goes it alone but he's not confronting them in the streets. He sneaks up behind to kill the first guy, out smarts the second, his wife gets the third and finally with Frank Miller he goes out to confront him to save his wife rather than a quickdraw battle typical of other westerns. These aren't the actions of a typical "hero." He wants to stop them yet he doesn't want to die so he uses his wits and some luck to preserve. Personally I find the ending kind of bitter sweet. As I said he's the did this all for the town. He put his life on the line, his wife broke her non-violence code, he did this all for the town. Then the town immediately comes out of hiding and celebrates as if to mock him. They are taking credit and joy in something that wasn't a sure thing that they could have made a sure thing. The men that were betting he'd be dead in five minutes are celebrating. The whole town that turned their backs on him and by extension the town itself, are taking credit in joy in their act of self preservation worked out in their interests. Just like that jerk in your project group that gets an A on the assignment for all the hard work you and the others put in while they did nothing.

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5 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

He's also seemingly in general against violence, as mentioned they would have been better off to kill Miller all the years prior but Kane took him in alive for trail.

Yea I missed this part. I knew his wife was a Quaker, but didn't think how that maybe affected his actions/progress.

While he wasn't confronting them head-on at the end, I still think it's an heroic takedown there.  Maybe I haven't seen enough normal Westerns to realize it isn't though, but outwitting and outsurviving is what heroes do.  He was indeed trying to save the town, a town of cowards no less, and I get that needed to be shown.  

I don't think that he's a hero is in question (unless you're John Wayne); to me it was, is this effective heroing on a storytelling/film level?  And I feel some of the impact could have been expressed and felt stronger.

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Cam Bert, you've maybe changed my mind a bit on this movie. I hadn't really thought about the state of the town of Miller comes back. I figured he'd say "Gary Cooper left? Guess I don't need to kill anyone" then he'd just be kind of a lawless but like a lot of the town is currently. But it really is a matter of one man against lawlessness itself. I had always interpreted this as "LEAVE! YOU'LL LIVE IF YOU JUST LEAVE!" I guess early 20s me didn't appreciate that.

It's weird to hear John Wayne hated this movie so much. I know IRL he was a commie hating, racist jerk but I don't get what his deal is in regards to High Noon. Rio Bravo involved enlisting three other guys to stop the bad guys coming to town. It's kind of dumb to say Rio Bravo gets it right when the barebones actions are pretty similar. If he had other criticisms, I'd understand (because Rio Bravo really is a fun movie).

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Listening to the this podcast I remembered more than a few examples from Blazing Saddles which were clearly callbacks to High Noon.  While Paul and Amy did discuss the issue of no one wanting to help the sheriff in High Noon and Blazing Saddles, I would also say that the the theme of Rock Ridge from Blazing Saddles is a clear parody of the theme song from High Noon.  You be the judge

Blazing Saddles

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiTKIbR69ss

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v0OLW3Qhc8

 

Theme from High Noon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX0RakvyZ1I

 

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I'm shocked that Paul and Amy don't think High Noon belongs on the list.  It's probably my favorite Western on the list (looking forward to an Unforgiven rewatch though), and perhaps my second-favorite Western of all time behind The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  I really think Gary Cooper's understated, world-weary performance is great and fully award-worthy.  The film builds tension better than any movie I can think of besides maybe The Wages of Fear, and without the use of nitroglycerine at that.  

Its historical significance is beyond question, but that's because of its timelessness and universality.  I mean, it says something about this film that both presidents and psychopaths can identify so strongly with the main character (or maybe it says something about our presidents, but I digress).  It's a simple film that is executed masterfully across the board.
 

4 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

While he wasn't confronting them head-on at the end, I still think it's an heroic takedown there.  Maybe I haven't seen enough normal Westerns to realize it isn't though, but outwitting and outsurviving is what heroes do.  He was indeed trying to save the town, a town of cowards no less, and I get that needed to be shown.  

I don't think that he's a hero is in question (unless you're John Wayne); to me it was, is this effective heroing on a storytelling/film level?  And I feel some of the impact could have been expressed and felt stronger.

Just to add to Cam Bert's response, I think the fact that he was able to dispatch Miller and his gang with only his wife's help really emphasizes how shitty the rest of the town was being.  As Cam Bert said, Kane didn't really want to kill Miller.  If, say, 20 people in the town had stood their ground with Kane, Miller might have seen that the odds were against him and left town without any shootout.  If only one or two able gunmen had helped Kane, in hindsight it seems like some minor planning would probably have been enough to take care of the gang without any of the volunteers getting hurt.  As it was, Kane took a bullet on behalf of the town, purely because they were too uncooperative to help him not have to take a bullet.  As AlmostAGhost says, that look of disgust is great, and I also read it a bit as a grimace of pain, since the dude just got shot.

Would it have been a stronger ending if Kane had been more heavily wounded or killed?  Again, I think Cam Bert's point about the hypocrisy of the town coming out to celebrate is spot-on.  Those idiots don't even realize how they look, cheering for a man after fitting him for a coffin, and I think this is made stronger by how little help was actually needed.

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2 minutes ago, bleary said:

Those idiots don't even realize how they look, cheering for a man after fitting him for a coffin, and I think this is made stronger by how little help was actually needed.

I do keep bouncing back on forth on this, especially as I think about the movie more.  I understand the emphasis on how shitty the town was.  Maybe it was necessary and the point: a bit of irony, or bittersweet, or whatever.  

But I keep coming back to that my gut reaction to the ending was basically "huh" and nothing stronger, and I was trying to figure out why... especially because I quite enjoyed the preceding hour, the build-up to it, a lot.  🤷🏾‍♂️ 

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I will say as much as I like the story of this movie every time I watch it I like it a little less and less and that's because of Gary Cooper. Kane should be a stoic man, however Cooper is almost too minimalistic and rather than reading as stoic it comes off more as wooden and stiff. A lot of scenes I would love to see a little more from him, or some brief emotional response, but we don't get that. I think in AlmostAGhost's case this would help sell the ending a bit more because we'd have more chemistry with Grace Kelly and a clearer reaction at the end.

John Wayne would have been totally wrong for this role. Kane should have presence but a certain lack of machismo. I can't help but wonder what this movie would have been like with Jimmy Stewart as Kane.

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1 hour ago, Cam Bert said:

 A lot of scenes I would love to see a little more from him, or some brief emotional response, but we don't get that. 

I'm not saying I disagree with you, but he does break down and start crying at one point - right before the 14-year-old comes in and offers to help. I thought that was a pretty bold choice considering the time period and the genre.

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Hm ya that makes sense. I had no real qualms with Cooper after one watch but definitely, I want to feel his tension, his worry, much more. Stoicism is one thing, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted Heston-like emoting, but we need more of his inner turmoil to come through. 

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13 minutes ago, CameronH said:

I'm not saying I disagree with you, but he does break down and start crying at one point - right before the 14-year-old comes in and offers to help.

There's also the scene in the stables when he considers riding off. 

I agree with Cam Bert that Jimmy Stewart would have been great in this role too. 

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I 100% disagree with Paul and Amy about whether High Noon belongs on the list. I maybe enjoyed this one more than has been said so far. I was absolutely taken with the women in the film, particularly Katy Jurado. And I'm generally quite partial to political parables, so the HUAC investigation backstory fascinated me. Paul and Amy questioned whether the movie would be good on its own without the backstory, but the political nature of the film was overt enough at the time that people were turning it down, so I don't think it was just the behind-the-scenes drama that made it good. 

I have lots more thoughts that will likely dribble out, but that's my hot take after finally finishing the ep. 

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Absolutely. Have you seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? It’s got Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and tackles similar(ish) issues. I’d argue it’s a better movie. 

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1 minute ago, CameronH said:

Absolutely. Have you seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? It’s got Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and tackles similar(ish) issues. I’d argue it’s a better movie. 

That is, in fact, my favorite Western (if it qualifies as such). Jimmy Stewart steels my heart as a lawyer teaching civics to the town. 

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Foreman wasn't someone who was merely called a communist by Jack Warner for union organizing. He had been an actual member of the CPUSA.

7 hours ago, grudlian. said:

It's kind of dumb to say Rio Bravo gets it right when the barebones actions are pretty similar. If he had other criticisms, I'd understand (because Rio Bravo really is a fun movie).

A few years ago, I watched both of them back-to-back, and that was also my view. In both cases the female lead intervenes during the firefight, and while it's more directly lethal in the case of High Noon, that has thematic importance because she's a Quaker. Howard Hawks denounced High Noon for having the sheriff seeking help and had Chance turn down offers of help, but they all wind up helping in the end anyway, and in High Noon sheriff Kane turns down the offers of people he doesn't think are up to it (the difference being they stay out as asked). Considering its political origin, it's surprising that John Carpenter is such a fan of Rio Bravo (Assault on Precinct 13 & Vampires are both said to be his takes on it)

I've read "The Tin Star", the short story High Noon is credited as being based on, and it's a superficially similar plot (although with even fewer women, since the Marhsall is a widower) with a radically different theme (the ending with the badge even seems like an intentional subversion of the short story). I had wondered why they changed the name of the protagonist from "Doane" to "Kane" when they kept the names of some minor characters. It's available online, and if you click to my earlier review of the two films you'll find the links there.

I get the impression that mid-century America was more enamored of Latin American culture than would be the case later. La Bamba was a big hit, and the most popular show on tv (which codified the multicamera comedy) featured Desi Arnez as Ricky Ricardo. In the same year that Gary Cooper won Best Actor for High Noon, Mexican-American actor Anthony Quinn won best Best Supporting for "Viva Zapata!". Later in the decade Disney would have a Zorro tv series. All of John Wayne's wives were Mexicans. Some sociologists wrote "Generations of Exclusion" about trends over time for US hispanics. and one thing they noted was that the older generations often identified as just "Spanish" and not that distinct from the white majority (there was even a legal argument that they should be able to attend whites-only schools for that reason). I'd cite Fox & Guglielmo on that, but that doesn't seem to be available ungated on the web anymore.

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1 minute ago, WatchOutForSnakes said:

That is, in fact, my favorite Western (if it qualifies as such). Jimmy Stewart steels my heart as a lawyer teaching civics to the town. 

I just watched it a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty amazing :) I would put it on the list before High Noon, but I wouldn’t necessarily kick High Noon off.

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4 minutes ago, CameronH said:

I just watched it a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty amazing :) I would put it on the list before High Noon, but I wouldn’t necessarily kick High Noon off.

I would put Liberty Valance on the list instead of Unforgiven. On a first watch of Unforgiven last weekend, I just felt like everyone was trying. so. hard. 

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21 minutes ago, WatchOutForSnakes said:

I would put Liberty Valance on the list instead of Unforgiven. On a first watch of Unforgiven last weekend, I just felt like everyone was trying. so. hard. 

I haven’t seen Unforgiven in years, but I get that. I watched Stagecoach recently (it was on the ‘98 list) and I think I would have preferred that stayed on the list instead of The Searchers.

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2 hours ago, CameronH said:

I'm not saying I disagree with you, but he does break down and start crying at one point - right before the 14-year-old comes in and offers to help. I thought that was a pretty bold choice considering the time period and the genre.

True. I didn't stop to think that having a cowboy lead cry at the time would have been very bold choice. 

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2 hours ago, WatchOutForSnakes said:

I would put Liberty Valance on the list instead of Unforgiven. On a first watch of Unforgiven last weekend, I just felt like everyone was trying. so. hard. 

Fun fact: There is a Japanese remake of Unforgiven that came out about six years ago or so. I found it a fascinating idea at the time considering how many famous early westerns were remakes of Japanese samurai movies. I was eagerly awaiting to see how they might play with this idea in reverse, but they didn't really. 

I agree though. I think it is important to have Western movies represented on the list as they were such a huge part of film history but not sure if Unforgiven is the best choice.

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6 hours ago, CameronH said:

Absolutely. Have you seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? It’s got Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and tackles similar(ish) issues. I’d argue it’s a better movie. 

Yes, this is my favorite (from what I've seen) of the Ford-Wayne collaborations. Great film.

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High Noon is a bit low on my personal AFI rankings (like Paul, I found it a good movie but it didn't emotionally grab me as much as others), but I would still say it "belongs" because of the historical importance. The story behind it is fascinating.

I'm also not sure that the themes are less relevant today, even absent the Communist scare and HUAC. Liberal/left-wing politics are taking on a similar urgency right now, encouraging people to "step up" and take action because of Trump's election. I've never seen so many heavily-attended political marches in my life. The attitude seems to be exactly what Kane is exhorting people to do in this movie, based on the idea that the "bad guys" can't destroy all of us if we stand together. (And also that part of the reason Trump got elected was because a lot of people assumed he wouldn't and sat it out.)

I think maybe the thing that is throwing people off when viewing it through a modern lens is the very "macho" attitude that is just assumed to be the default mode, as that's something that has been questioned a lot in the intervening years. A modern movie might do more to explain exactly why Kane wouldn't be helping the town by just leaving (say, the bad guys give clear indications that they're going to do some bad stuff even without Kane there). Still, I think you can put the pieces together by what is presented on screen.

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