Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly, Katy
Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Harry Morgan, Ian McDonald, Lee
Van Cleef, Morgan Farley. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. (1952/85 min).
by D.M. ANDERSON
couldn't make a film like High Noon today.
came to the sad realization that one of the greatest westerns of
all time is in danger of becoming meaningless and irrelevant to an
entire generation, and not simply because it's an old movie.
In addition to being one of the greatest, High Noon is also one of the most important. Allegorically, the film was
always more than just another Hollywood oater, despite its
deceptively simple plot. Additionally, it is a technical and visual
masterpiece that plays as well today as it did nearly seven decades
ago. Even outside of the context of the film, the very term, 'high
noon,' remains part of our vernacular.
As played by Gary
Cooper (who deservedly won an Oscar), retiring Marshall Will Kane was
a hero we really hadn't seen in a western before. While certainly
brave, he's not fearless. Kane is often uncertain of his own
decisions, self-conflicted and torn between doing the 'smart' thing
and the 'right' thing, even if the right thing could get him killed.
Kane's not necessarily adored by all the townsfolk, either, though
he's been solely responsible for keeping them safe over the years. As
a man he once put-away is returning to town on the noon train for
revenge, most of them want Kane to leave. Some fear for his safety,
while others, all of whom refuse to help him, obviously fear for
their own. A few simply hate the man, such as his deputy (a very
young Lloyd Bridges), who resents being passed-over as the next
|"Tell me, Marshall...does this look infected?"|
Noon has been remade and ripped-off so many times over the years
that one of its primary purposes has been largely forgotten.
Screenwriter Carl Foreman intended this as an allegory in protest of
McCarthy-era blacklisting (of which he himself was subjected to). Foreman's working relationship with producer/partner Stanley Kramer
acrimoniously ended during filming due to their political positions
during the Red Scare.
aside, High Noon still works wonderfully as sheer
entertainment. Shot in beautiful black & white, the film is
loaded with stunning imagery; the iconic image of Kane, alone in the
streets before all hell breaks loose, still raises goosebumps. One of
the earliest films presented in 'real time,' there isn't a lot of
action per se, but with each ominous shot of a ticking clock,
director Fred Zimmerman - with considerable help from editors Elmo
Williams and Harry Gerstad - masterfully piles on the suspense...
of which will sadly be forgotten by the relentless march of progress,
not to mention our inherent laziness.
|When bingo night turns deadly.|
Noon makes effective use of clocks throughout the story...always
present in the background, relentless reminders that something bad is about
to go down. You couldn't make a film like this today, not because the
movie itself or its story have become dated, but because people are
rapidly forgetting how to tell time using an actual clock. And
I have the unfortunate evidence.
the real world, I've been a middle school English teacher for about
20 years. I distinctly remember, during my first year, a kid named
Kylie, who needed to use the restroom. At my school, students are
required to fill out a hall pass, writing down the date, destination
and time that they are leaving the classroom. The pass is then signed
by a staff member, which allows the student to leave the room for
five minutes to use the bathroom, get a drink or visit their locker.
though I was standing directly beneath the classroom clock, meaning
it was well-within her field of vision, Kylie asked what time it was.
I was momentarily speechless, briefly thinking this was the
laziest seventh grader of all time. Then I quipped, "Look at the
clock. It's right there." Without a hint of embarrassment, she
replied, "I can't read it. It ain't digital."
used to religiously read MAD Magazine as a kid and recalled one of
Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of..." comic strips, where
the punchline was a child explaining to an adult that he only knew
how to read digital time. It was meant to be a light-hearted observation of
the disconnect between generations. Now here I was, face-to-face with
the same type of kid MAD Magazine made fun of 25 years
|Bruce Dickinson's clock.|
the way, Kylie didn't actually return to class for 15 minutes, which
meant I had to write her a referral for skipping. She angrily protested that
she was only gone for five, at which time I replied, "How would
you know? You can't read a clock." Her response was that she
simply knew what five minutes "felt like." She trusted her
own internal temporal instincts over my ability to tell time, a skill I mastered in kindergarten. Kylie's mom took her
daughter's side, of course, calling to berate me for writing-up her
up, and "if my daughter says she was gone five minutes, then it
was five minutes!"
dunno...maybe Mom's belligerence was her way of overcompensating for
neglecting to teach her dumbass daughter one of society's rudimentary requirements. The last time I checked, awareness of time was
still among the most important of daily functions, right up there
with remembering to drop your pants before taking a dump.
begged the question: How does one make it 13 fucking years
totally unaware of how a clock works?
wish I could say Kylie's short-hand/long-hand limitations were an
anomaly, but it's gotten worse since then. Today, I'd estimate that
at least half of my students in each class do
not know how to read a clock (I've seen studies suggesting that number could be as high as 80%). Most either rely on someone to tell
them what time it is, or repeatedly check
their phones, which they love to do in the middle of class with the
hopes of sneaking-in a text or two. Just recently, one student came
to class wearing an actual watch - a big, shiny gold one with
hands, numerals and everything. I remarked how easy it must have been
to tell the time with a watch that big. He replied he couldn't
actually read it; he just bought it with Christmas money because big-bling hip-hop watches were cool.
|"Uh...what the f**k?"|
not sure what's worse...that so many kids have never bothered to
learn a skill nearly as basic as socks-before-shoes, that they feel
it's perfectly acceptable not to know, or that an inability to
grasp the concept of a traditional clock is becoming the norm. I've
mentioned this in class on numerous occasions and the responses are
always the same: Blank, uncomprehending stares or the standard
retort, "It doesn't matter. I've got my phone," which is
also the common justification for not knowing their own phone numbers.
could argue that this is just a sign of the times. After all, cursive
writing is no longer taught in schools. Cursive may be formal and
fancy, but an archaic skill with no functional purpose in the real
world. Traditional clocks, on the other hand, are not simply living
room decor or rappers' wrist accessories. They remain part everyday
life...in schools, offices, stores, malls and towering over us
atop buildings. I can't imagine what it's like to see them everywhere
and be completely clueless.
what must it be like to watch a classic like High Noon and
feel absolutely no suspense, no tension or rudimentary awareness of
the ominous implications of the ticking clock, simply because you
never bothered to learn how to read one? I suppose those who are
blissfully ignorant of a minute-hand's function wouldn't bother with
High Noon, anyway. It's black & white
and doesn't star Dwayne Johnson. But if I ever showed this film to my
students (which I should do, just to be an asshole), the very concept
would be lost on half of them.
today's temporally-challenged children begin to procreate, the
ability to read a traditional clock will become increasingly rare,
and I'm sure the day is coming when I'm standing before an entire
classroom of kids completely ignorant of that mysterious ticking disc on the
wall. In the grand scheme of things, the extinction of time-telling
skills is probably a minor concern - unless a freak solar flare fries
their phones - but it's kind-of sad that a classic like High Noon may no longer a timeless classic.