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OLD REVIEW FORMAT1952
Stanley Kramer Productions
High Noon apparently has everything it needs to be a great classic western—a villain just freed from prison, a train about to bring him to the man he’s sworn to kill, a hero who must sacrifice everything for the sake of his duty, a memorable ballad (well, I could have done without the ballad) and a gunfight equal to the fame of the movie. The themes are as basic as good versus evil, and as complex as the question of lawful killing. Love, loyalty, forgiveness, courage, manliness—there’s hardly a worthy element missing. It’s an inspiring movie, but… what all is it inspiring us to? I must say, it’s not what High Noon lacks that makes it a questionable film. It is the corruption of all the things it has, and the unbiblical worldview behind what it is.
The Message of High Noon:
Marriage is meaningless
Right at the very beginning of the story, we are introduced to our first real conflict. Marshal Kane’s duty compels him to stay in town, wait for the train, and face the villain whether anyone else stands with him or not—and that “anyone” includes his new bride. There’s no problem there, of course; sometimes men are forced to act according to conscience, with or without the support of their wives. And there’s nothing wrong with the story involving young Mrs. Kane’s lack of support; this happens in real life, it adds suspense to the story, and, most importantly, it’s resolved in the end. However, his decision to stay results in her decision to leave… with or without her husband. She won’t wait to find out whether she’s going to be a wife or a widow, she says; and because neither of them will give in, they part: she without regard to her marriage vows, and he without appeal to them. In High Noon, love is everything; solemn vows taken before a mighty God are nothing.
Business is evil
And while Mr. and Mrs. Kane are waiting for that fateful train—the one that will bring villain Frank Miller, and that will take away the young Amy Kane—the clerk in the hotel is disturbingly pleased with the idea of Marshal Kane being taken down a peg or two—or killed, even. Why? Because before Mr. Kane came to that town, Frank Miller and his boys saw to it that business was thriving; and the settling of the town at the hand of Marshal Kane brought peace and quiet, and an end to the generosity of crooks who kept the major businesses booming. The saloon manages to stay afloat by keeping a door open to those who oppose Kane’s social reforms. Power corrupts, money is power, and business is money. Whoever runs the businesses, according to this worldview, has everyone else at their mercy—hence Frank Miller’s concern for business.
The State can civilize the frontier better than families can
Business owners are, of course, not the only ones to abandon our hero in his time of greatest need. Family men are willing to do whatever it takes to stay out of the conflict—because they are unwilling to stand up to a hardened killer, to risk leaving their families without a provider, or even to change the status quo. In High Noon, families are introverted—a reason not to fight, rather than the main reason for it. They are torn between a fear of leaving widows and orphans in the hands of a small town, and a half-hearted confidence in the staying-power of community; and they are apparently ignorant of the necessity (in this film) of specially authorized power to prevent criminals from taking over the territory. In High Noon, families are helpless, small-town community is worthless, and without a town marshal, they’ll both end up crushed by men like Frank Miller.
Christians are harsh, ungrateful, and self-serving
And there’s yet another set of people to condemn. Have you ever wondered why certain groups of people are portrayed the way they are in film? Why, for example, High Noon takes place on a Sunday morning, when all of the faithful Christians are in church, oblivious to everything that is going on until Kane himself walks in to gather a posse? Why Kane is stopped cold and treated as an outcast before he can get anyone to listen to him, and why, when they do listen, the congregation is torn between gratitude and base ingratitude for Kane’s efforts on behalf of the town—with ingratitude winning out in the end? Kane admits to not having been a church-going man, “and maybe that’s a bad thing,” he says; but through scene after scene of cowardice, division, bickering, accusing and ultimately unmoved “Christians”, we’re taught to think that perhaps staying away from church was not a bad thing. And if we weren’t convinced of it beforehand, the scene in which a series of images appears of those who left Marshal Kane to face death alone, where the church—filled with nothing but cowards and hypocrites—is compared, not contrasted, with the villains in the saloon, should leave the audience with no doubt as to what director Fred Zinnemann wished to communicate about Christianity.
Pastors are weak, incompetent hypocrites
There is one Christian only, who does not take part in the back-biting and debate that floods the church when Kane comes in. There is one Christian in the entire town with meekness and humility—and he’s a failure in leadership and apologetics. When the marshal turns to the pastor and asks him to influence his flock—to explain that they must fight Frank Miller—the man quietly declines, on the grounds that he truly does not know which course is the right one. There are times in real life when pastors reach moral crises, and when they do not have the answers their congregation needs. But rather than just admit to the shame of being without a biblical answer, the pastor goes ahead and brings up the Bible—the passage that says, “Thou shalt not kill”—and shaking his head draws attention to the fact that (apparently despite the commands of Scripture) “we” Christians hire lawmen to do our killing for us. He shakes his head again and says, “I just don’t know.” In High Noon, pastors have no authority, no influence, no answers; and they do have a Holy Book they are scripted as being unwilling or unable to abide by.
Christ is irrelevant and inadequate
When someone undertakes to set Christ’s church in a bad light, they are only a step away from doing the same thing to Christ himself. And when a movie depicts the people of God as people with their heads in the sand, with no courage or moral fortitude or Christian charity, it depicts Jesus Christ as having made no difference for the good in these people’s lives. If Christianity is declared to be hollow and meaningless when it’s put to the test, the same is declared to be true of Christ.
There is no meaning in life
Is it any wonder, with all the hostility in Marshal Kane’s micro-world, that—when Frank Miller finally lies dead in the street—he throws down his badge and turns his back—literally, on the ungrateful people he has twice saved from a ruthless killer; and figuratively, on all the work he did to save them the first time around. When the movie ends, Will and Amy Kane are not heading off to a good life, first and foremost. First and foremost, they are leaving behind years of wasted effort. High Noon does not end well, even with all the suspense and excitement of the gunfight and Mr. and Mrs. Kane’s reconciliation. It ends with the message that, as vital as the conflict with Frank Miller was, and as necessary as it was for Marshal Kane to stay and perform his duty, it was all meaningless in the long run.
High Noon had many good things—all the things I mentioned before. And it is really not hard to see how so many people could watch it so many times and still think of it as a great story and a tribute to American ideals. In with the good, however, there is much that is bad—more bad, I think, than can be outweighed by the better side of the movie—and most of it is not merely incidental. It is central to the plot. More than that, most of the unbiblical, socialist, anti-Christian themes in this film are the center of the plot, written to be as dramatic as they could very well be, and conveying messages that we are not always on the lookout for in black-and-white westerns.
If High Noon is a great film, I believe we must raise our standards and look for a greater.