Saturday, August 01, 2009
More than it seems
I'm sitting here watching High Noon for about the 40th time. Listening to the opening theme song, sung by John Ritter's daddy, Tex Ritter. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin, he croons lazily, in a voice that sounds eerily just like Robert Mitchum's.
I'm shamelessly getting my Man-Hunk fix on Marshall Will Kane, aka Mr. Gary Cooper, who, at a weary age 50 in the movie, with a beat-up body full of hip, back and stomach ulcer pain, still managed to be man enough for Grace Kelly's Amy and give an absolutely hypnotizing and sympathetic performance that won him a second Oscar for Best Actor in 1952. Sadly, he would not live another decade. (The above photo is Cooper in his twenties at the start of his career, and is my current favorite photo of him. Below, is a still from the movie.)
The plot: On the day he gets married and hangs up his badge, lawman Will Kane is told that a man he sent to prison years before, Frank Miller, is returning on the noon train to exact his revenge. Having initially decided to leave with his new Quaker wife, Amy, Will decides he must go back and face Miller. However, when he seeks the help of the townspeople he has protected for so long, they turn their backs on him. It seems Kane may have to face Miller alone, as well as the rest of Miller's gang, who are waiting for him at the station...
Every time I watch High Noon, and truthfully I've seen it about a dozen times, I willingly forget that I know the outcome and sit riveted for every minute of it. I scream at Amy for most of it, until she comes around and stands by her man. I writhe in disgust at how the townspeople treat their hero and protector. It's a hard movie to watch if you're into its premise.
Along the way I enjoy every drop of the wonderful supporting performance given by the great Mexican actress Katy Jurado. She literally drips sex appeal, but it is through her that Amy finds her own truth, and it is through Jurado's gorgeous almond-shaped eyes that we see what is really important to know.
You may watch it and think, okay, it's a good western and filmed in real time. But what's all the big deal? The big deal is, it's more than a western, it's an allegory for (the then) current times.
High Noon was released in 1952 at the height of the Red Scare and McCarthy Congressional hearings. According the screenwriter who was blacklisted after writing it and before it was filmed, he meant to draw parallels between Will Kane and those who were blacklisted, whose friends disappeared when they were needed most, who feared standing up because they might lose what they had. I do not know how proveable this is or if I even believe it, but aside from being a fabulous classic, it also holds a certain status in the folklore of Tinsel Town.
Regular readers of this blog will know that if women get hard-ons, Cooper -- at any age -- gives me one every time I look into his eyes. And, Heaven help me if he smiles. (Below, Coop with the one and only Shirley Temple.)