Remember the movie High Noon don’t you? Described by many as the definitive Western; it was made in, ugh, 1952. Ok, that’s a while ago pardner; even before an old geezer like me. When movies today are churned out for either maximum pyrotechnic effect or pretend to explore tough issues but come up with the usual answers (i.e., Bush is bad and the clueless Americans are behind all the ills of the world), High Noon is a relevant blast from the past.
Well at least Thucydides, Hobbes, and Churchill might agree as might many of the Nepali security forces that fought so hard the last ten years.
Minimalism is the movie’s strength. Shot in grainy black and white, the story unfolds in the span of a few hours in a town called Hadleyville. Frank Miller, a brutal killer, was sentenced to death some five years ago but manages to receive a pardon from, er, politicians” we are told (how about that, isn’t that a shock?).
His three partners (one of them a very young high-cheekboned Lee Van Cleef who plays “Bad” opposite Clint Eastwood in The Good, Bad, and the Ugly) are waiting for him at the train station where he is to arrive at Noon. They plan to proceed to town and kill Will Kane, the Town’s Marshall, played by the legendary actor Gary Cooper, who put Frank Miller away in the first place.
News spreads amongst the townsfolk of Frank Miller’s imminent arrival and there isn’t a soul willing to stand up to Miller and the boys. The judge skips town, the deputy Sheriff is too self-absorbed, would –be posse members are either too cynical or believe Frank Miller can’t be defeated, and the town criers and leaders think it best that Marshall Kane get the hell out of town. And Kane is ready to get out himself.
You see, he just got married that morning and plans to ride off into the sunset with Helen, his Quaker wife, played by yet another beautiful legend, Grace Kelly, the real life tragic Princess of Monaco.
Ahh, what a conundrum Kane faces which are thankless vicissitudes of being the guy in charge of security and telling the townsfolk that they have to stand up to Frank Miller. And the townsfolk and criers really don’t want him around. He is persona non grata in Hadleyville. He is the main obstacle to peace.
Does he leave? There would be no movie if he did of course. The moral struggle is simple yet relevant (at least amongst realists) and the suspense as the clock tick-tocks away towards High Noon is managed with finesse. The dialogue (very little action in this movie) makes it great. Take this nugget of a response he gets as an old friend declines to help him:
“You risk your skin catching killers and the juries turn them loose so they can come back and shoot at you again. If you're honest you're poor your whole life and in the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star.”
One knows exactly how the Nepali security forces and some plain-spoken diplomats feel right now.
And then there is his wife’s alternative take:
“My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That's when I became a Quaker. I don't care who's right or who's wrong. There's got to be some better way for people to live.”
The theme of High Noon is classic and, therefore, stands up even today in 2006. Stand up and fight the bad guys because you see them for who they are even in the face of massive resistance from those that have an “alternative” plan for peace – even if that peace could ultimately corrupt one’s values? Or, skip town and just let it be? Watch this movie with your kids, if you can.
As an end note: any resemblance in the above of Prachanda and his deputies to Frank Miller and his boys; Ambassador Moriarty to Marshall Kane; the Nepali media and “activists” to the town leaders or criers; and Ian Martin to Helen (Marshall Kane’s wife) intentional.