Saturday, July 2, 2011

High Noon and What Came After

I find it interesting that so many movies feel the need to ‘respond’ to High Noon. Well, maybe interesting is the wrong word- more like baffling. I read about the attacks when it came out, calling the hero unmanly for showing fear and appearing to almost cry, and my reaction is a stunned cry of "But it’s High Noon! How can anyone hate High Noon?"

Apparently, some people did- or even if they liked it, felt the need to make a movie showing what should have happened. Rio Bravo and High Plains Drifter are both in some ways responses to the movie, though the responses are not quite the same. Rio Bravo is the response of a swaggering father saying "Son, you should be ashamed of yourself- you don’t need to rely on the townsfolk! And don’t show no fear, neither!" High Plains Drifteris the response of a troubled younger brother going "No man, what you oughtta do is go back there and kill every last one of those ungrateful sons of bitches!"

Funnily enough, I love all three of these movies. Rio Bravo is a delightful ensemble adventure, and the romance between John Wayne and Angie Dickinson is appealing (even if it is cribbed almost line for line from the director’s earlier movie, To Have and Have Not.) High Plains Drifter is a banquet of the bizarre, an epic, nihilistic horror movie masquerading as a western. I don’t even mind the rape scene- it certainly isn’t the most evil thing Clint Eastwood does over the course of the movie, which acknowledges that all those mysterious men with no names are scary for a damn good reason.

In the middle sits little old High Noon, an allegory for the Red Scare or Korea or urbanization or whatever us modern viewers like to attribute to it. It would be irritated by Rio Bravo’s response and horrified by High Plains Drifter, and would generally try to stay out of the conversation.

Why is it this movie provokes such strong reactions? There are many controversial movies and many ideas to be rebelled against, but why does the simple story of a man abandoned who sticks to his principles simply because it’s something he has to do (while being broken up inside that no one else seems to see it that way) upset people?

I don’t know. All I know is, while John Wayne looks on disgusted and Clint Eastwood paints the town red, tired and scared old Gary Cooper must stand by himself.

For High Noon, it’s a rather fitting position.

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