Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thank goodness it wasn't Daylight Savings Time that weekend: "High Noon"

Finally caught this classic western, which doesn't seem to be on TCM as much as others. Not only did I feel obligated to check this off the list as a would-be cineast, but I wanted to exactly see how a theme song with the refrain "Do Not Forsake Me" worked. As it turned out, surprisingly well.

Our story opens with the meandering song playing while three rough-looking fellas get together outside a dusty town. Turns out they're waiting for a train that will bring an even worse guy to town: a murderer who not only avoided the death penalty but got turned loose from jail. Drag.

Word of his arrival gets to the town marshal (Gary Cooper), who has just turned in his star after marrying a gorgeous blonde who looks totally out of place here (Grace Kelly). As much as he'd like to get on with his life, the marshal can't let this villain roam around town. So he's back on duty -- a decision virtually everyone opposes: his wife, his deputy (Lloyd Bridges) -- who feels cheated that he's not the new marshal -- and most of the town, where the outlaw has a bunch of friends.

So the story becomes Cooper running around trying to rustle up a posse to confront the bad guys when the train arrives at ... wait for it ... high noon. This means the bulk of the movie consists of two shots: (1) pained looks on Cooper's face, and (2) clocks. Lots of clocks. More clocks per capita than any town west of the Mississippi, I reckon.

Critics will tell you this is an allegory for the Joe McCarthy anticommunism witchhunts of the 1950s. That may be, but the movie works just fine as a simple countdown to a confrontation. It works so well that with all the tension about what this old marshal is going to do, the actual climax is a bit of a letdown.

Still, "High Noon" is a nice, uncomplicated western presented almost in real time, which is impressive for more than a half-century ago. Not my favorite of the genre, but better than many others, even without Bridges saying, "Looks like I picked the wrong time to quit sarsaparilla!"


Post a Comment

<< Home