Hello, and welcome to my new weekly feature. I’m calling it “Friday Favorites” and it will highlight some of my favorite movie-related things. It could be a favorite character or casting choice, a favorite song or score, a favorite scene, line of dialogue, shot or simply a moment. Anything is possible (costumes, sets, etc) and I’d love to hear your suggestions. Note: Just because something appears here does not make it my absolute #1 favorite thing in that category, but it is simply “one of my favorites”.
1952’s High Noon, is widely considered one of the best of all Westerns. It tells the story of former Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who has just married a pacifist (Grace Kelly) and resigned from his role, eager to start a new life as a shopkeeper. He learns on his way out of town that one of the men he arrested, Frank Miller, has been released from jail on a technicality and that he is on his way back for vengeance. Against his wife’s pleas he returns, hoping to rally the people there to stand with him and defend the town against the Miller and his gang.
As the movie goes along, many of his friends volunteer to stand by him, only to back out as the prospect of danger draws closer. The film happens almost exactly in real time, with the minutes counting down to the Miller’s arrival on the train at “high noon”. The townsfolk even try to convince Kane to leave, hoping that Miller will follow Kane and leave the town alone. Kane makes an impassioned final plea at the church and then finds himself abandoned even by his best friend.
The shot that I consider one of my all-time favorites (at the top of the post) happens as Kane realizes he is truly alone. High Noon is shot in a fairly standard, ground-level kind of way for all of the film except for this one, ultra-famous crane shot (it even appears at the end of the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park). As the film’s theme, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’,” plays, the camera rises up above the town as Kane looks around in one last moment of desperation before striding off with new determination, resigned to fighting alone.
John Wayne called High Noon, “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” He felt this way both because of the implication that American citizens would be so cowardly as to not stand up and help, but also because High Noon was an allegory for blacklisting and McCarthyism, at its height in those times. The script was written by Carl Foreman, a former member of the American Communist Party who was blacklisted during production.
Regardless of the political context, it’s still a haunting and gorgeous shot (that I was lucky enough to see on the big screen a couple years ago) that really emphasizes Kane’s loneliness and abandonment. It also brings a sense of the march of time, both in its immediate sense as the train approaches and more generally as the years have started to pile up on Will Kane. It’s the only shot of its kind in the film, the only technical trick, and it’s used perfectly as both a moment of artistry and performance and as a way to further explore the story.
Come back next week for another installment of Friday Favorites!