High Noon again

Below Rocket Man observes that the question of the hour is: Which side is the Democratic Party on? Rocket Man recently noted that a year or two ago just about everyone was using the movie “High Noon” as a metaphor for the war on terror. President Bush was Gary Cooper, standing tall, and almost alone, against the forces of evil. He added that he thought that at some point the movie analogy would shift from “High Noon” to “The Searchers.” (Click here for Rocket Man’s post on “The Searchers” and the war.)
“High Noon” is a film that comes directly out of the famous House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the early 1950’s in which present or former Hollywood Communists were asked to name names — i.e., to identify their party colleagues in the industry. “High Noon” screenwriter Carl Foreman appeared before the committee while working on the screenplay to “High Noon” and injected his personal experience of abandonment and betrayal directly into the screenplay.
Is there anyone who hasn’t seen “High Noon” or had its graphic images seared into his consciousness? The film is set in Hadleyville, a town remote from higher authority other the town’s marshall. In the first scene of the film, Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) marries the ravishing Amy (Grace Kelly) and retires his marshall’s badge.
But as Marshall Kane and his wife prepare to leave town, Kane is informed that Frank Miller, the convicted murderer whom Kane had originally apprehended, has been released from jail and is on the way to Hadleyville for a showdown with him. Not one to back down from a confrontation, Kane decides to postpone his honeymoon and face the murderous Miller and his gang, who await Miller’s arrival on the train’s noon stop in Hadleyville .
As Kane attempts to enlist the townspeople to help him, he quickly discovers that no one is willing to join him to face Miller and his thugs. The plot of the film elapses almost in real time as the minutes tick away toward the final showdown and as one townman after another declines to join Kane in his confrontation with Miller. The clock is almost a character in the movie.
Beads of sweat break out on Kane’s forehead as the time approaches noon. Kane experiences repeated disappointment and disgust as he unsuccessfully seeks to enlist assistance in the confrontation. When the confrontation comes at high noon, Kane faces Miller and his gang alone. The townsmen emerge from their quarters to join Kane after Miller and his thugs die in the shootout. Kane throws his badge into the dirt and departs town in a buckboard wagon with his wife. (Click here for a wonderfully detailed summary of the film.)
“High Noon” is a none too subtle liberal parable condemning the perceived or alleged cowardice of the film industry and those who cooperated in testifying before HUAC. The industry played its role in the drama by blacklisting uncooperative witnesses such as Foreman, who subsequently departed for England and spent the remainder of his productive career there. Despite the specific circumstances of Foreman’s ordeal that were reflected in the screenplay, the parable is told with sufficient generality that it serves powerfully to illuminate circumstances beyond its inspiration.
Who today are the citizens hiding from their responsibilty to their fellow citizens and to their country? Who today are the citizens living under the illusion that Miller isn’t gunning for them, just for Marshall Kane? Who today provides an endless supply of excuses to avoid action and prefers to run at the signs of impending danger? Who today populates the contemptible crowd that is unwilling to fight to preserve its law and order? Who today stands to the side as the buckboard carrying Kane and his wife recedes into the horizon to the strains of “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling”?


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