Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sobering thoughts at 'High Noon'

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin', on this our wedding day...

Watching one of my favorite movies tonight. Fred Zinnemann's "High Noon," Gary Cooper, 1952, one man standing alone when the town refuses to help.

It's a western, sure, but it's more than that; it's an allegory, it's a fine story, it's a searing, bothersome examination into the dark recesses of human nature.

My pal Dean Harned and I disagree vehemently about the film. He co-opted his argument from John Wayne -- claiming that "High Noon" is "un-American," that no "true American" would refuse to help Coop's Marshal Will Kane defend the town against pardoned murderer Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald).

I'm not so sure.

"High Noon" was influenced by the McCarthy blacklisting of the '50s. Look at it through that lens and it's quite easy to picture the ugliness of which human beings are capable.

Overlook all that seriousness, though, and this is a darn good movie. Kane has just married the Quaker Amy Fowler (the serenely beautiful Grace Kelly) when he receives a telegram that Miller, a murderer he sent up the river 5 years ago, has been pardoned. Everyone -- including his wife -- urges Kane to get out of town. But he can't do it. Feels an obligation not to run.

Initially the town agrees to help. But, when push comes to shove, they abandon Kane, leaving him alone to face Miller and his gang.

Wayne so hated this film that he and Howard Hawks made "Rio Bravo" in 1959 to dispute it. Hate to say it, but Duke's response isn't anywhere near as good as this classic.

Leaders like Will Kane are few and far between these days. Sadly, I think you could throw a rock and find plenty of people like the cowering townsfolk in "High Noon."

I'm not a doomsday-ist. I don't believe that America is in decline. I don't think this country has seen its best days.

But I do think I've learned a little about human nature, and I dare say there's a little bit of the "High Noon" denizens in all of us. Will Kane is who we hope we are, the type of person we'd like to think we'd be given the circumstances, even if we often fall far short of such character.

It's a heavy lesson to learn -- one I've spent most of my life trying to ignore, but one that keeps proving itself time and time again in so many different circumstances.

Sobering thoughts indeed on a stormy Tuesday night.

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