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Posts Tagged ‘High Noon’

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.

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highnoonposter1Much of the thematic tension in Fred Zinnemans’s High Noon comes from the conflict between what the lead character Will Kane sees as his duty to provide for his community, and the obstacles preventing him from doing so. Released in 1952, the film has been interpreted as a cold war allegory, but a convoluted one, with Kane either representing anti-communism, or anti-blacklisting, depending the context in which the film is analyzed. From either perspective, High Noon, through its use of a genre so tied to our sense of national identity, asks us how much we, as Americans, owe to our country. Here, the southwestern town of Hadleyville, which built itself up from lawlessness to respectability, stands in for America, and Kane’s desire to protect the town is easily applicable to a much larger scale.

Kane is unflinchingly willing to sacrifice himself to protect the citizens of Hadleyville from returned outlaw Frank Miller, even as they refuse his help again and again. Early in the film, Kane has a conversation with his new wife Amy about his choice to return to town after leaving his position as marshal, convinced that the town needs him. Amy, a Quaker pacifist, tries to convince Kane that, since he no longer has an official responsibility towards Hadleyville, he doesn’t need to stay and confront Miller. Her argument does nothing to change Kane’s mind. He sees his responsibility to the law as extending beyond his official capacity—it’s about principal. This aligns neatly with the film’s cold war allegory, as in High Noon, the fight is as much to do with ideology as the threat of physical danger. To read the film as anti-communist, Kane positions himself as an ideological guardian, standing up to an encroaching threat to the way of life the townspeople worked hard to establish. This echoes cold war rhetoric about the need for the United States to protect democracy. To emphasize this point, the following scene consists of Kane confronting the town’s judge, who is fleeing. As he packs his bags and tries to convince Kane that he’ll never stop Miller and his gang, the judge folds away an American flag, visually demonstrating how un-American that statement was.

In the end, Kane is victorious. He manages to take down Miller, and perhaps even more importantly, he wins his ideological battle with his wife, who shoots one of Miller’s men to save her husband. Though the final confrontation doesn’t play out in High Noon the same way that it does in most Westerns, it demonstrates the importance of ideology to the film as a whole.

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In order to see High Noon’s application to American ideals, we much take context into consideration. The movie was produced in the early 1950s, the same time as the rise of communism. The film’s ties to communism come from the entire cast correlation to Red Scare similarities. The protagonist of the film fits the classic ‘lone ranger’ form of most western films, but he does the un-American thing by maintaining a sense of integrity for his career rather than his romantic love interest—his literally recently wedded wife.

Now why is this ‘un-American’? The ‘American’ thing would be to follow love, because love conquers all. What is important to extract from this is also what the ‘un-American’ ideals in marriage are. In many other countries—not necessarily communist countries of this era—follow arranged marriages for economic and social standing/mobility rather than ‘the heart wants what the heart wants’ type of mindset.

Another America and the Western ideals would be how the protagonist conquered his dilemma. The sheriff—Will Kane—doesn’t follow the classic American style of buckling down to business and taking care of all issues singlehandedly, with pride and grace. He tends to seek help at every possibility he can—which still makes him successful but seems very much like taking ‘the easy way out’—so un-American. The true American story of success is done by a single MAN of power, not by a small town as the backbone of said man.

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High Noon

 

   Rebecca Feldman          

            The classic Western film High Noon reflects the stereotypical role of the man in the west. Masculinity is one of the main themes of High Noon, and the characters reflect various levels of masculinity. Deputy Sheriff Harvey Pell struggles with his masculinity, while William Kane seems to represent the perfect man without consciously attempting to be.  After Kane’s wedding to Amy Kane, he learns that a murderer he sentenced to be hanged was pardoned on a legal technicality and will be returning to their small town Hadleyville, New Mexico on the noon train. Kane is furious, although he gave up his position as town Marshall for his new Quaker wife, and plans to leave to St. Louis with her; he tells her that he has to stay to finish what he started. She begs him not to be a hero, reflecting the classic western view of man protecting woman, but it seems Kane feels that he needs to live up to his own standards of manhood. His wife tells him that she will be leaving with or without him, but Kane refuses to leave without bringing Miller to justice.
            The town does not support Kane and they urge him to leave town. The townspeople feel that the only real issue Frank Miller has is with William Kane, therefore; if Kane is not in the town, Miller will have no reason to cause any problems. We learn that while Miller was free in Hadleyville, the town was a very dangerous place. With no support, Kane has a lot of trouble finding deputies to help him defeat Miller; it seems no one will man up to bring Miller to justice. Mrs. Ramirez, a female character that once dated Miller, then dated Kane, and during the movie dates Harvey Pell, tells Pell that although he is to be the new sheriff, he is not half the man that William Kane is.  Ramirez tells Pell that “Kane is a man, it takes more than big broad shoulders to make a man and you have a long way to go.” Pell then goes to the bar and acts bitter towards the bartender and other customers. The Bartender calls him “the boy with the tin star” again, effeminizing his masculinity. Pell takes in this comment and it seems to give him the strength he needs to approach Kane and offer to help him. Pell says that it is time to make the streets fit for women and children, another example of men protecting the allegedly-weak. However; after an argument and a seemingly random fight scene between Kane and Pell, Pell quits.
            Pell, unable to reach the classic stereotype of a true man, backs out of a chance to protect the town, leaving Kane to fend for himself. Frank Miller and his gang of three men reach the town at noon, and through the sequential gun-fight scene one can truly understand the epitome of a man that Kane is. Before he leaves the station, Kane writes his will and falls into tears. Kane’s cry shows he is human, and although he quickly wipes his tears after a teenage boy saw him, his tears are tears of virtue. He approaches Miller directly, more or less walking to his death with dignity and pride. Kane is able to kill one of the gang members and afterward he takes cover at a barn. Miller and his men set the barn on fire, in attempts to expel Kane. Regardless of the fact that Kane was literally in the middle of a gun fight and fighting for his life, he still took the time to free all of the horses from the burning barn, again exemplifying Kane’s magnificent virtue and selflessness.
            Amy Kane does board the train to leave town, however, once she hears the gunfight begin she exits the train to find her husband. At this point, Kane is inside a saddler shooting at Miller and his men from the window. Amy Kane runs into the station, in which she goes against her religious pacifist beliefs and shoots one of Miller’s men from behind. Miller ends up finding Amy Kane, and holding her hostage in attempts to lure Will Kane. Kane obviously comes outside in order to save his wife, but she ends up saving him by suddenly attacking Miller and giving Kane a clear shot.
            After Miller is dead, the town rushes to the scene. At this point, Kane throws his tin star on the ground and leaves town with his wife. Kane’s final action shows that he was not fighting for fun or to make himself look good, but for justice, and once justice was achieved, Kane felt his job was finished.

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High Noon

 

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I found the film High Noon difficult as a Western. There are no cowboys, there are no Indians and there’s only one gun battle. The movie instead centers on Will Kane, a newly married Marshal, his new wife Amy who is a Quaker, the people of the town they live in and the bandit Frank Miller. As the Kanes prepare to leave on their honeymoon, Kane (Will) receives word that Miller, a bandit he put away as Marshal, is coming back to town on the noon train. Miller previously threatened Kane and anyone who stands with him for locking him up. At this point, the townspeople tell the Kanes to get out of town and avoid a shoot out with Miller. Kane refuses and spends the next 60 minutes trying to rally men as deputy Marshals. No one will help him. The noon train pulls into town, where Miller is met by three of his gang members. They seek out Kane, but also break a window to steal a whip. Amy Kane is sitting on the noon train- she told Kane she was leaving with or without him- when she hears gunfire. Miller and Kane are having a shootout, and Kane has shot two of Miller’s men and wounded himself. Amy shoots the third gang member, who has quickly reconciled saving her husband and her religious beliefs. Miller takes Amy hostage so Kane will come out, but Amy attacks Miller, thus helping Kane shoot him dead. The townspeople finally come out to see Kane, and he leaves by throwing his Marshal badge/star on the ground.

Kane is the ostensible hero of this movie, but he’s sort of virtuous to the point of fault. Plenty of people point out to him that things would be better for everyone if he left. They literally tell him he has a wife to think about, and to leave town. Instead, he lets his morality guide him to stand up to this criminal, even if he has to do it alone. Kane says “if you think I like this, you’re crazy,” indicating that he has no personal want to face Miller, no glory he wants from it, only a moral code he is naturally bound to. He is the representation of masculinity in this movie, and the creators include several antithetical masculine characters that serve to highlight it. His deputy Marshal, who is too loose and freewheeling to be made Marshal in full, won’t help defend the town. His friend Sam asks his wife to lie to Kane about his whereabouts, so he won’t have to face Miller (or Kane, really). The bartender, who tells Kane that Miller brings business and people like him for that, is minimal character, but still enforces this idea.

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After watching Stagecoach (twice) I noticed a few instances where it seemed that the West was taming the situation, and not vise versa like we have discussed in class.

Normally, and as we have discussed, some force from the East moves into the West, bringing civilization and domesticity to the wild.  However, Ringo Kid (John Wayne) deserved some credit in taming the forces moving into the West.

He seems to appear in the movie suddenly, and we get the impression he has lived in the West for some time.  In this way he can be seen as a product of the West, an extension of it.  He is an outlaw on the run (that could be “wild” couldn’t it?) and is moving East when the stagecoach picks him up.

After entering the coach, one of the first things that happens is the doctor and the ‘gentlemen’ get into a verbal scuffle.  As soon as it heats up after the doctors insult, it is Ringo who calms the situation and gets the two to stop fighting.

Also, when everyone stops to eat at the reservation, the upper class people do not want to sit with the lower class.  It is Ringo who bridges the gap and keeps the situation under control, not seeing class but just seeing people.  He does not let anything escalate and patches up some of the social disconnect of the situation.

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High Noon

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I chose to watch High Noon because I love Grace Kelly, who plays the wife of the main character.  It was made in 1952 and according to my research, was actually selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The main character is Will Kane, played by Gary Cooper. Kane symbolizes the typical American moral hero.  He’s the marshal of a town in New Mexico Territory, he has the typical pretty blonde wife, and he values peace.  These three facts alone tell volumes about the man Kane is: he values the law and is courageous enough to defend his people in the midst of the Wild West, he values family and living life morally (a very important aspect to include in the 1950’s, during the “cult of domesticity”), and he is not a warmonger. There is no “Gunslinger” mentality in Kane’s character.  Kane is a newly married man, and just wants to settle down, give up the dangerous responsibility of lawmaker, and open up a peaceful shop with his wife.

These aspects of Kane’s character allow a closer look into what a “real man” was considered during this time.  While Kane was a moral, respectable, and peace-loving man, he still possessed the qualities needed to become the American Western hero.  When Frank Miller, a criminal that Kane had brought to justice in the past, is rumored to return to the town after being pardoned by a legal technicality, Kane initially leaves town, not wishing to subject his new family to danger.

However, his moral compass soon takes over and Kane turns back, much to the chagrin of his wife.  He realizes that he must protect his townspeople from imminent danger, and there is no time to be a coward.  However, when he returns to the town and asks for help in fighting the gang, he receives none.  The entire town turns its back to Kane, choosing instead to let him defend them alone.  While this may symbolize the weakness and fearfulness of the human being, I think that the fear of the townspeople serves more to emphasize the greatness in Kane’s character.  Regardless, Kane accepts their fear and resolves to fight alone.

Meanwhile, the female lead in the movie displays typical feminine qualities as well.  As a pacifist, Amy gives Kane an ultimatum: either leave with her on the noon train or she’s leaving without him.  Amy’s desire to flee and avoid conflict displays a stereotypical weakness of woman; she lacks the courage and drive to engage Miller.  At the same time, her actions can also be construed as motherly, another stereotypically female trait, as she struggles to protect her husband from the dangers that he is about to face.  She boards the train to leave town without Kane, but a new character emerges when Amy hears gunshots and hops off the train to defend her husband.  She is transformed into more of a heroine (an admittedly weak one, however) when she quickly gets involved in the gunfight, giving up her pacifist tendencies and shooting one of Miller’s henchmen dead. She displays a boldness that can be attributed to her desire to keep her husband safe. However, she is captured relatively easily by Miller, who uses her to lure Kane into the open.  This part quickly returns Amy to the role of the damsel in distress.  When Kane faces Miller, Amy escapes his clutches, giving her husband an open shot.  Kane kills Miller, saving the day.

When Miller is dead, Kane takes off his marshal’s badge and throws it contemptuously into the dirt, symbolizing his disgust for criminals, unnecessary violence, and the weakness of the townspeople.

Overall, High Noon is a commentary on the type of masculinity that is to be desired.  Kane is a moral man, and only does what he has to do to protect the people he cares about.  He is not a gunslinger, and does not care for violence. He is just a simple man who wishes to live a peaceful life with his wife.  However, he is masculine in that when the challenge arises, he can accept that sometimes violence is inevitable and get the job done.  In High Noon, Kane is the perfect man.  Coupled with the perfect lady (demure, beautiful, timid, but still with that American spirit to stand up for what she believes), Kane symbolizes the American dream—the 1950s “clean” version.

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