This article was corrected August 20, 2000.
There’s a difference between a classic and a cinematic masterpiece. It’s almost always a mistake to remake the latter (see “Psycho”). But the original “High Noon” belongs in the other category. It’s a classic, not because of some kind of filmic genius in Fred Zinnemann’s solid direction, but because of the elemental simplicity of the set-up. The forces behind this TBS Western re-hash were smart enough not to mess with a good thing — this is a very faithful rendition, with only minor adjustments. While it may not win a slew of awards, the pic works — and given the well-known title and TBS’ success with its originals, it could break some cable ratings records.
The storyline is as crisp as they come. On his wedding day, just as he’s giving up his marshal’s badge, Will Kane gets word that villainous Frank Miller has been pardoned and will be arriving on the noon train to seek revenge. Only a few minutes in, everybody knows exactly where this story’s headed: There’s a shoot-out a-comin’.
Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of unappreciated lawman Will Kane, and the choice of Tom Skerritt here demonstrates the desire not to reinterpret the role in any drastic manner. Skerritt and Cooper share a certain seasoned poise, and both seem a bit too tired to be handling this crisis. Skerritt’s eyes perhaps look a bit watery right from the start, but that’s also because director Rod Hardy (“Buffalo Girls”) zooms in on them a lot.
Not only do the characters basically remain the same, but the tone does, too. There’s a sadness permeating the film: Kane is being abandoned by the townsfolk he’s faithfully served, and even by his new wife, Amy, who doesn’t want to wait around to be widowed. Grace Kelly was the picture of gentle pacifism in the original, and Susanna Thompson is more zealous here. The most prominent changes to the TBS version involve Amy, and the best that can be said about the tweaks is that they don’t do much damage.
Of the other members of the contemporary cast, Maria Conchita Alonso, Dennis Weaver, and Michael Madsen actually improve upon their predecessors, while Reed Diamond, as the disloyal young deputy portrayed originally by Lloyd Bridges, is just obnoxiously bratty rather than naive and needy.
“High Noon” is also known as a “real-time” film — there’s 80 minutes of screen time and 80 minutes that elapse in the life of Will Kane. The focus on clocks is matched, and even amplified, but Hardy and writer T.S. Cook make the mistake of “opening up” some of the scenes, and this has the effect of impeding the oppressive sense of constant anticipation. Commercial interruptions will worsen the problem.
Of course, it’s really the shoot-out that counts. And while, again, Hardy makes the action work in a basic sense, there are several moments when cinematographer Robert McLachlan and editor Michael Ornstein make it look too much like a video game. Clarity would have been preferable to an effort at purposeful confusion.
There is one element, though, that’s most obviously, and lamentably, absent — the original music from Tex Ritter.