If the Academy gave out an award for the best performance by an inanimate object in 1952, the clocks in the overheated Western melodrama High Noon would have won in a landslide. A drinking game could be devised where participants down a shot every time a character in the film glances at a watch or a clock to reiterate that time is running out for anxious sheriff Gary Cooper, whose moment of reckoning is 50, no 40, no 30, no 20 minutes away. Yet despite the preponderance of clock-watching in the film, it's curiously lacking in dramatic tension until a justly famous climax. For the threat Cooper faces seldom emerges as anything more than abstract. Sticks and stones may break bones but ideological abstractions will never hurt you.
In an Oscar-winning turn, Cooper plays a tormented lawman in the midst of the most dramatic 90 minutes of his life. In real time, Cooper marries Quaker Grace Kelly, tangles with cocky, callow deputy Lloyd Bridges, confronts the antagonism and ambivalence of his constituents, and stares down a revenge-hungry ex-con who's heading back to town on a train scheduled to arrive at high noon. The soon-to-be-blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman saw Cooper's plight as an allegory for Hollywood's shameful acquiescence to McCarthyism and these are the most subtle aspects of a generally unsubtle film.
There's "symbolism" and then there's "SYMBOLISM!" With a ham-fisted earnestness befitting a Stanley Kramer production, High Noon director Fred Zinneman subscribes to the second variety. It's unapologetically a Western of ideas, but those ideas would be much more palatable if Foreman's script didn't constantly beat audiences over the head with them. Every conflict, subplot, and theme is spelled out in the most obvious manner imaginable, which is a shame, since the film has a lot going for it stylistically, most notably Floyd Crosby's cinematography, with its evocative combination of sweaty, hyper-intense close-ups and artful deep-focus compositions. Otherwise, High Noon belongs to the curious class of American films that manage to become iconic classics without being particularly good.
Key features: The usual assortment of fawning featurettes and an equally gushing commentary from the children of the film's principals.