Time passage in the story is synced with realty, making the clock a constant motif and reminder — time is running out.
American Film Institutes Ranking: #33/100
Awards: Nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning four (Actor for Gary Cooper and then some editing and musical stuff).
This movie has a handful of things going for it, but I’m not sure where they stand against the test of time.
The backdrop of the movie was McCarthyism, and the film is supposed to be a representation of someone willing to stand up against evil when all others wilt. The film runs in real time, with every shot including a clock corresponding with the correct amount of time that has passed in real life. It flips the Western on its head, having an ending that is somewhat counter to what would be considered traditional.
Putting it all together, enough happens where it produces an average film, enjoyable albeit hard to recommend to others.
[Story/Spoilers] Will Kane (played by Gary Kooper) is in the process of getting married to Amy Fowler (played by Grace Kelly). Before they can leave on their honeymoon, word gets around that Frank Miller (played by Ian McDonald) is coming on the noon train to reek revenge on the town that put him away in jail. His gang shows up at the train station patiently waiting for their leader while Will Kane has to make a choice: leave the town to the will of outlaws or stay and fight Frank Miller once again.
While Kane originally leaves with his bride to start his new life, his conscious gets the best of him. He turns back around and tries to recruit people to help him in his cause against the gang. The only problem is he can’t find anyone who wants to help. The judge that convicted Miller flees; the people at the church don’t want to get involved; his friends all abandon him.
This is meant to be an allegory to the McCarthy era, and how these institutions have failed in their duty to be morally righteous.
The other important character without a screen credit is the clock. Since the movie is running in real time with the viewer and there is a deadline of noon, the clock gives an immense sense of impending doom, especially since everyone continues to bail on the poor Will Kane.
The movie ends in a shoot out between Will Kane and Frank Miller’s gang. While Will is doing a good job, it starts to look like he is in dire straits. This is where Will’s wife Amy comes to the rescue, eschewing her puritan ways and picking up a gun, killing one of the assailants. Together, they vanquish the bandits and have a happy ending.
All this was more scandalous than it seems. The director Howard Hawks was quoted as saying “And who saves him? His Quaker wife. That isn’t my idea of a good Western.” John Wayne called the movie the “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”
This is where I have the hardest problem rating this movie: the McCarthy backdrop, real-time script, and heroine influence might have all been jaw dropping in 1952, but it doesn’t move the needle a whole lot today. While these all together make it culturally significant, I think the movie did just enough to be interesting.