Through a lifetime of loving westerns, I had never seen High Noon, perhaps because both my parents were more John Wayne than Gary Cooper – fans, I mean – and I didn’t get around to Mr. Cooper myself until recently. In any case, it was not what I expected. I expected a fairly standard, if high quality, shoot ’em up western. Instead I got a wonderfully rich examination of what makes a man rather than a boy, of what makes a woman, and of duty.
These have all been on my mind for quite some time, partly because I met and got to know a few men who were noticeably different from other men of my acquaintance, who held a different kind of maturity and centeredness, and who seemed perfectly comfortable interacting with me and other women. I had been so used to guys who were charmingly boyish – and rather unreliable, as well as awkward in one way or another around women (worshipping, on the make, ignoring) – that I had stopped considering the possibility of other options. And then suddenly there they were. I must say, it was very sexy.
So, I found myself completely fascinated.
Gary Cooper’s Kane, who has just married Grace Kelly in her first major film role (manner of speaking), has only some initial hesitation about where his duty lies when a killer he sent to prison is set free and returning on the noon train, bent on vengeance. His new wife’s begging, threats, and eventual departure don’t sway him, because he knows he is right. He’s not belligerent or angry or defensive about it; he’s just quietly – and regretfully – certain.
Can you imagine marrying Grace Kelly and then finding out moments later that you’re likely to be shot to death before you have a chance to – well – enjoy it? What might a boy do in that situation – run away with her, and hope the bad guy can’t find them? Take her off to the barn and shag her, quick before the train comes? Whine? Drink? Lash out?
Fortunately, there’s the “boy” character in the film (Lloyd Bridges as Harvey), and the wonderful Katy Jurado (as Mrs. Ramirez) to point out to all of us – and to Mrs. Kane in particular – the difference. Mrs. Kane eventually sees the light – and the beauty of a man who knows what he requires of himself and holds to it.