A basic western formula has been combined with good characterization in “High Noon,” making it more of a western drama than the usual outdoor action feature. With the name of Gary Cooper to help it along, and on the basis of the adult-appealing dramatic content, the business outlook is favorable.
The Stanley Kramer production does an excellent job of presenting a picture of a small western town and its people as they wait for a gun duel between the marshal and revenge-seeking killer, an event scheduled for high noon. The mood of the citizens, of Gary Cooper the marshal, and his bride (Grace Kelly), a Quaker who is against all violence, is aptly captured by Fred Zinnemann’s direction and the graphic lensing of Floyd Crosby, which perfectly pictures the heat and dust of the sun-baked locale.
Zinnemann carefully and deliberately makes the most of the mood cast by the threat of impending violence. Script sometimes gets him a bit too involved in the development of side characters and their reactions, but he manages to keep the tension constantly mounting until it is resolved in the highly satisfactory, guns-blazing climax. Script was based on John W. Cunningham’s mag story, “The Tin Star,” and is rather derisive in what it has to say about citizens who are willing to accept law and order if they do not have to put personal effort into obtaining it.
Cooper does an unusually able job of portraying the marshal, ready to retire with his bride and then, for his own self-respect, called upon to perform one last chore as a law man even though it is the duty of the town’s citizens. Plot shows him turned down in every quarter, forced to go against the wishes of his bride and, finally, facing the deadly threat of the returning killer alone. Miss Kelly fits the mental picture of a Quaker girl nicely, but the femme assignment that has color and s. a. is carried by Katy Jurado, as an ex-girlfriend of the marshal. While the character is somewhat shadowy of purpose as written, her personality makes it stand out.
Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Henry Morgan, Morgan Farley, Harry Shannon, Tom London, Larry Blake and James Millican are among some of the townspeople adding to the film’s tempo. Ian MacDonald, the killer returning from jail to get Cooper, is excellent, as are Lee Van Cleef, Robert Wilke and Sheb Wooley, his gun pals.
Throughout the film is a hauntingly-presented ballad that tells the story of the coming gun duel. It wears the picture’s title and is tellingly sung by Tex Ritter. On the cleffing chore were Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington. Tiomkin also composed and directed good background score.
1952: Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Song (‘High Noon’), Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Editing.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay