High Noon Fallacies
Stanley Kramer’s western High Noon (1952) is a landmark film for many critics and viewers. Shot in black and white, it was one of the pioneering movies glorifying the courage and perseverance of an individual during hard times. The plotline is very simple, focusing on retiring Marshall Will Kane, who on the days of his wedding receives the news that ex-convict Frank Miller is arriving on the noon train. Five years ago Kane sent Miller to prison, but the latter is released and wants to get even with the Marshall. Kane and his wife leave the town in haste, but then on second thoughts Kane returns to the town, seeking help from the citizens. The townspeople find different excuses to keep out of the impending troubles. After Kane has defeated the outlaws, the citizens come out of hiding places and congratulate the Marshall. Kane, disappointed in people around him, tosses his badge in the dirt with disgust. Throughout the film such fallacies as inconsistency, appeal to authority, hasty conclusions and questionable premise launch viewers in the socio-cultural atmosphere of the 1950s, provoking various questions and spurring viewers to think for themselves. The characters do their best to portray each of these fallacies, demonstrating the contrast between action and intention, expectation and outcome, loyalty and betrayal.
The first fallacy that cannot be passed unnoticed is inconsistency. There are many scenes that lack logic at first glance. The movie begins with the wedding of the former Marshall Will Kane (played by Gary Cooper) and Amy Fowler (played by Grace Kelly), who are happy together for a few minutes. Their happiness is shadowed by the news of the criminal Frank Miller, who has been pardoned and is coming on the noon train, burning with hatred and brooding over schemes of vengeance. Will Kane is well aware of who is the prime target of Miller’s hatred and, guided by the instinct of self-preservation, decides to flee with his beautiful wife, but on second thought he returns to the town in order to face his enemy and demonstrate his bravery. The biggest inconsistency, in my opinion, is depicted in church scene, where townspeople are afraid to stand up to their views and beliefs. Some men and women express opinions, which can inspire, but, contrary to the viewers’ expectations, the citizens of Hadleyville remain passive and indifferent. As one of the characters underscores: “People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don’t care. They just don’t care” (High Noon). The townspeople live in their own shells and scurry in fear, as the gang comes into town. On the one hand, they want peace and quiet in their town, but, on the other hand, they admit that having the Millers around meant more profits for their businesses. When Kane attempts to persuade the men in the bar to fight against the gang, the men express reluctance, because they do not want to be outnumbered and they do not believe in justice or rather the justice system that justifies that scum-of-the-earth criminal Frank Miller. The judge, who is supposed to ally with the Marshall, is one of the first to leave the town, pointedly taking the American flag and scale of justice with him. The widely acclaimed American democracy is criticized in this film, as townsfolk are basically selfish and coward. Those who are ready to protect the town from the criminals and their foul deeds are either under-aged or crippled. Kane’s wife also surprises by her unexpected decision to stick by her husband, which is against her pacifist views. As a child, Amy experienced the horrors of violence, and now she has to suppress her fears as well as abandon her pacifist ideology in order to prove devotion to her husband. At moments, inconsistency in characters’ behavior gives the movie a jolt of suspense and freshness.
The second fallacy that I find interesting in High Noon is the appeal to authority. It seems that townspeople in the film, except Will Kane, do not realize their responsibility for the town in which they live and wish to stay away from the impending troubles. They can easily blame the authorities for bringing the misfortunes onto their heads instead of taking decisive steps to protect themselves. In the church scene, some folks blame Marshall for creating danger, and they strongly believe that as soon as he leaves Hadleyville, their problems will be over and peace and tranquility will be restored again. One of the church-goers advises Kane to escape the town, saying:
“Because if he’s [Kane] not here when Miller comes, my hunch is there won’t be any trouble, not one bit. Tomorrow, we’ll have a new Marshal. And if we can all agree here to offer him our services, I think we can handle anything that comes along. And to me, that makes sense. To me, that’s the only way out of this. Will, I think you’d better go while there’s still time. It’s better for you, and it’s better for us” (High Noon).
Will Kane is a representative of authorities. Despite his desires and efforts to protect the town and purge it from the scums of society, he is hardly respected by Hadleyville’s citizens, because he is one of “them” rather than “us”. Townsfolk are disappointed in authorities, yet they appeal to them, when they experience predicaments and need instant solutions to their problems.
The next fallacy I would like to pinpoint is hasty conclusion, which is based on limited evidence. In my opinion, it is one of the characteristic features of the society in the 1950s. The townspeople believe that Marshall Kane’s fate is sealed and he will be dead as soon as Miller appears on the scene. This belief is greatly shown in the episode, where little boys are enacting a shoot-out, one of them exclaiming: “Bang, bang, you’re dead, Kane” (High Noon). Somehow, people have quickly forgotten Kane’s past glories and victories. The belief that Marshall will not make it unscratched is reinforced throughout the film. Helen explains to her lover Harvey why she wants to escape the town: “Kane will be a dead man in half an hour and nobody’s gonna do anything about it. And when he dies, this town dies too. I can feel it. I am all alone in the world. I have to make a living. So I’m going someplace else. That’s all” (High Noon). The viewers anticipate a sad end instead of a happy one. The only one who does not jump at conclusions is Marshall. He is a true hero, demonstrating immense willpower to protect ungrateful people and, thus, establishing moral superiority over the crowd.
The fourth fallacy I would like to mention is simple and questionable premise. The story is too universal and could take place anywhere. From the beginning and throughout the whole course of the movie numerous questions cross the viewer’s mind, making them doubt the reality depicted in High Noon. Death sentence that was changed to release seems highly improbable. Secondly, if the convict wants to take revenge on Kane, he would catch the Marshall off guard, leaving him no time for retreat or finding allies. Thirdly, Miller must be really good at knowing group psychology and predicting that he will be dealing with Kane alone and not the whole town. Miller’s gang devotedly and passively waits for the leading perpetrator, instead of making whoopee in the nearest bar. The film emphasizes that there is more loyalty and unity between the criminals rather than ordinary citizens. Miller’s gang is ready to risk their lives for restoring their boss’ reputation, while the townspeople will not turn their finger to protect themselves.
High Noon is a simple movie with a complex underbelly that still resonates through the ages. Such fallacies as inconsistency, appeal to authority, hasty conclusions and questionable premise make it a cinematic masterpiece that takes the viewers on a fascinating intellectual and emotional journey. Meaningful in its implications, High Noon is a challenge to modern westerns. The film places many facets of human nature under the microscope, revealing human merits and vices. High Noon vividly underscores that the principle of self-preservation is dominant and most valued in American society.