When I can steal a Saturday morning or afternoon to myself, I watch Westerns. I grew up in Texas and believed in the Western's virtues, and have never been completely disillusioned of them, so it's pleasant to kick back and watch a good Western in action. Today it was a double bill, and two of our culture's finest morality plays: High Noon and The Tin Star.
In High Noon, the lines of conflict are clearly drawn. The antagonist is a psychotic killer released from prison on a technicality and bent on revenge against Will; Will is a marshal who tamed Hadleyville and then dedicated his adult years to protecting it, and now quits the job to marry a Quaker girl and get on with the rest of his life. Though it's his last day as marshal, Will decides to stand and fight against the coming storm. The townspeople disagree with his logic and deny him any help.
Although most perceive High Noon as a great Western, I've never thought of it as more than entertaining. I enjoy Gary Cooper's performance in the film, but the marshal as a whole is a bit stiff (his name is WILL, for Godssake. And Biblically speaking, KANE.) Of course, the point of the film, and that of Westerns, is that virtue is not negotiable; you're either on the side of the angels or you're not. That Quaker/new wife Grace Kelly (bless the producers for casting her) has to commit to Cooper's point of view - violating her own pacifist dreams - to save his life is what troubles me. If he were the slightest bit human, he would have been able to acquire the deputies he needed to stand up to the intruders, and not have to bend his principles at all.
Ive been told that presidents in the White House request screenings of this film. God help us if they're trying to "be like Coop". I don't think this film is about law and order, or about standing up for the weak, or even standing fast against the various evils of the world. I think it's about love. Only Kane's wife gives him unconditional love, and that's why he rides off with her at the end.
Then Laurie and I watched The Tin Star. Both these films were made in the 1950s, and this one's perfect for a ten-year-old boy sitting in a theater on a Saturday morning, lap full of popcorn, balancing a Coke and two hot dogs, and enchanted as the story unfolds.
The cliche-burdened plot moves brightly. Henry Fonda offers his usual subtle and impeccable performance. The dialogue is sometimes brilliant, sometimes simply longwinded. Anthony Mann's town shots are for the most part mundane. However, in the
hills, he gives us moments of brilliance and clarity. Most importantly, we end up in the right place - physically, emotionally, and morally (I block out the gooey epilogue that wraps up all the loose ends). And I'm out of popcorn.
The Tin Star is based on a story by Barney Slater and Joel Kane.
Oddly, High Noon is based on a pulp story called The Tin Star.