Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #27 on the list: High Noon (1952).
The AFI Top 100 has no shortage of Westerns, but High Noon’s rather brilliant premise sets it apart from the others: on the eve of his retirement, Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) finds out that an outlaw he put in jail was just released and is headed to his town with his gang for revenge. Instead of running away–as his new bride urges him to do–he roams the town, seeking help from the locals to stand up against the gang. Through his desperate search for support, we learn a great deal about the town, its inhabitants, and Kane himself. High Noon ultimately sacrifices the exciting set pieces and showdowns we come to expect from classic Westerns in favor of character development and pathos. It’s an admirable deviation from the norm, but it’s more interesting in theory than it is in execution, and the ending is a major disappointment, especially after such a tense build-up to the explosive climax. Its biggest asset by a mile is Gary Cooper’s performance as the determined and honorable Marshall, but that alone can’t wash away the bitter aftertaste left by the final minutes.
Does It Belong on the List?
I can’t see much of an argument for its inclusion other than preserving Cooper’s performance, so no.