Tuesday, August 5, 2008

High Noon: Cooper and Who?

The classic western, High Noon, came out in 1952. A remake appeared some time ago, but I haven't seen it. Why see a copy when the original is available?

It's a simple story and told very simply; it's strange, but the best ones seem always to follow that pattern. Special effects may be necessary to develop an interest in many films, but the great ones don't need them and generally don't have them.

Plot: Kane, a town marshal, played by Gary Cooper, has just gotten married. His bride is played by Grace Kelly; I think this may be her first leading film role. He learns immediately afterward that Frank Miller, a man he put away for murder, has been released and is headed this way. He should arrive on the noon train. At the trial he promised to kill Kane. Kane's wife, a Quaker, wants him to leave town and tells him she is getting on the noon train, with or without him. The townspeople, not wanting trouble, also want him to leave and in spite of their avowed regard for him, refuse to help him in his showdown with Miller and his three cohorts, who are already at the train station, waiting for Miller.

Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly get top billing. Cooper deserves it, but sometimes I wonder about Kelly. While she had considerable exposure on TV, this was her first film role. There was another actress who played a major supporting role in the movie, and frankly I wonder that, if the film had come out today, rather than in 1952, the billing might have been Cooper and Jurado, instead of Cooper and Kelly.

Katy Jurado, who plays Mrs. Helen Ramirez, in the film has a unique role, considering it was made in 1952 and not half century later. I just watched the film a few nights ago, and my impression was that she dominated every scene she was in and shared the spotlight with Cooper the one time they appeared together. In the scenes with Kelly, I was focused on Jurado, not on Kelly. That holds true for her other scenes, all with male characters.

Her role is a very unusual one for that era of film-making. She is a widow and a Mexican woman; at one point she tells Kelly that she hates this town because of the treatment a Mexican woman here receives. She is educated and not depicted as the typical subservient Mexican peasant woman. She is the silent partner in at least one commercial establishment, the town general store, I think. She is highly regarded by her partner, who at one point said that he had never cheated her and had been completely honest in his dealings with her. I got the feeling that he was serious and wanted her to think well of him.

One of the anomalies in her role was her relationship with men. She had relationships with four different men over a period of years: her deceased husband, the film's villain Frank Miller, later with Kane who put Miller away, and at the time of the film with Kane's deputy Pell, played by Lloyd Bridges. One can't conceive of Kelly's character having that many relationships.

Helen Ramirez is a strong woman; she obviously dominates deputy Pell and suggests strongly why she had accepted him as a lover, when she tells Pell that while he has big shoulders, he isn't the man Kane is and dismisses his talk about handling Miller himself, suggesting he isn't the man Miller is either. When he asks her "who walked out on who"--her or Kane--she just looks at him and says nothing. She isn't embarrassed or ashamed to answer: it's just none of his business.

When, in their confrontation, Kelly asks her why she isn't staying to support Kane, Jurado simply shrugs and says that he is Kelly's man now, not hers. When asked by the man who works for her whether he should get involved in the Kane-Miller fight, she says he should stay out of it. She no longer plays a role in either man's life. She is a realist and decides that Miller and his three friends will probably kill Kane, which means the end of the town as a civilized place to live. She is leaving, also on the noon train, having made arrangements to sell her share in the general store.

In spite of her obviously "immoral" life, her affairs with three men, she is not punished at the end of the film, unless it is by losing Kane to Kelly's character. But, that happened before the film started. She leaves quietly with money in her purse, and the remainder of her share will follow shortly afterwards. She is a survivor: if Kane were killed, one would be concerned about his widow's future. I, anyway, would have no fear for Jurado's character, Mrs. Helen Ramirez.

The top billing was Cooper and Kelly, but I wonder if it shouldn't have been Cooper and Jurado.

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