If you never saw the original, you should be impressed. It is a well-written story based on the screenplay by Carl Foreman and the magazine story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham. The look and technical aspects are all above the usual quality of TV-made westerns. Tom Skerritt is a fine actor, always delivering capable performances (“The Turning Point;” “A River Runs Through It;” “Ice Castles;” “Contact;” and the TV series “Picket Fences” to name a few). His Will Kane is a sensitive, brave and capable law enforcer. He is a man we’d all like to have as a friend.
Missing from this version are the memorable score by Dimitri Tiomkin, sung by Tex Ritter; the artful direction of Fred Zinnemann; the award-winning editing of Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad; and Gary Cooper’s performance, one of the most concise and appealing you will find in the genre.
Although it is well made and family friendly, the theme found in both this version and the original does not sit well with this unabashed devotee of the horse opera. John Wayne reportedly turned down the part because he objected to the portrayal of a town where all the citizens and institutions lacked courage and moral fiber. “It’s the most un-American thing I ever saw….” I agree. The country was settled by people who faced Indians, marauders, the harshness of nature, the back-breaking labor of cultivating the land, and the fear of the unknown. Yet, once they established communal life, all of a sudden they became gutless? I doubt that.
On the one hand, you can focus your attention on the lead character. Will Kane is a man of integrity. He lives by a code of ethics. He is willing to stand alone for his ideals, even if it means losing his wife or his life. Certainly, he is a positive role model. But in both versions, the marshal’s badge is thrown down into the mud. Whenever I see American symbols debased, I feel it insults the memory of those who died for those symbols. I do not believe “High Noon” represents the American spirit of 1880 or today.
It’s good popcorn-eatin’ entertainment, but I prefer the messages found in “The Magnificent Seven,” where hired guns learn about courage from hard-working farmers, or Howard Hawks’ answer to “High Noon,” “Rio Bravo.” In this one, the sheriff is aided by others willing to die so that right might triumph.