The uneasiness of the Cold War and the distrust that erupted surrounding the Red Scare in the late 1940s were evident in Fred Zinneman’s 1952 movie High Noon. The central conflict is presented immediately: a marshal awaits the arrival of the now-free man that he had sent away under a life in prison sentence and his three fellow avengers.
The Western movie begins with three of the four avengers coming through town on horse and with guns. However, the film viewer is expected to consider this posse warily, as they wear scowls and all of the townspeople become increasingly uncomfortable at the sight of them.
Through several references and a couple of straightforward comments, we become aware that this small town of Hadleyville had recently been saved. The law had been established and “decent women” could now walk the street safely and raise families. The implication is that Frank Miller represented what was wrong with this town, but thankfully they had “the best” marshal, Kane, to get rid of Miler and for which to attribute this town’s turnaround. Kane is well liked and married to a beautiful young woman whom he treats well. Kane even opts to stay and fight the bad guys as opposed to run off with his new wife; he is a strong, determined, law-abiding, and caring community man.
All of a sudden, the plot unnaturally spins around and Kane is an arrogant, two-timing, power hungry cop who can’t find anybody in the town to stand guard with him against Miller and friends who are arriving in an hour to kill him. The only way I see this making sense is that the writer wanted to show the complexity to the red scare. As unrest built in the late 1940’s, so many people got on board with McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthyism was the status quo. America wanted the communists punished, and we weren’t so worried about due process or facts. Then, as more evidence came out pointing to the large number of falsely imprisoned people and/or people imprisoned based on political group identification, people began to say hold on, America has lost its way, this isn’t okay, we don’t jail people for their political views. Many began back peddling; we had almost gone too far to be ‘civilized’ that we had compromised our foundation. Enter Kane who had seemingly fallen out of praise incredibly quickly; he was laughed out of the bar for trying to stand up for his town that he had supposedly built. Kane was no longer the hero, and people did not want to be associated with him. His status was superficially elevated as we became obsessed with American communists, and then superficially devalued as we tried to start a new (old) page.