Sunday, February 22, 2009

High Noon (1952)

Psalm 90 speaks of God's protection from the "noonday devil" (daemonio meridiano). Who or what is the noonday devil? One possibility is that this devil is not a spirit like Satan and his cohorts, but an evil man or men intent on foul deeds in the full light of sun.

A confrontation between a just man and the noonday devil in the old American West is found in Hollywood's High Noon (1952). There, outgoing Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) -- abandoned by every able-bodied man in town -- is left alone to confront four outlaws, including Frank Miller, a killer just released from prison who has sworn revenge on Kane because Kane was the lawman who saw to it that he was brought to justice.

Even though Kane has made the town safe for their families, the citizens give these evil-doers free rein. Some refuse to back Kane because of cowardice (rationalized by remarkable sophistry), others because of self-interest, and in some instances because of outright malice.

Newly married to pacifist Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly), who threatens to leave if he decides to stay and fight, Kane must decide not only "twixt love and duty" but between conscience and cowardice. As the ballad from the film says,

"The noon day train
will bring Frank Miller.
If I'm a man
I must be brave
and I must face that
deadly killer.

Or lie a coward,
a craven coward,
or lie a coward
in my grave."

Kane knows that if he runs, he will hand over not only the town but also his own soul to the devil in the form of Frank Miller. Helen Ramirez, who has been sequentially the mistress of Frank Miller, Will Kane, and now of Kane's deputy, urges Amy to put her husband before her pacifism. Kane faces his enemies, help comes from an unlikely source, and Frank Miller is slain.

A compelling story of courage versus cowardice, loyalty versus betrayal, resistance versus capitulation to evil, the film is available in DVD format from the usual outlets.

High Noon poster, from Wikimedia Commons. Copyrighted; fair use claimed.