A film that appears on many Top 100 A-T lists, it's taken me forever to get around to it and it is certainly a very good movie.
Here we have a fairly early (1952) anti-Western a film that of course contains the righteousness and virtue of the Western Hero and the simple dichotomy of the good versus the bad, but it is subverted throughout by moral ambiguity from every direction.
The story concerns a marshal (Gary Cooper) who is retiring to get married and settle down with a beautiful young Amish bride (Grace Kelly). On the day of their wedding he is feted by the town as a hero and the pillar of the community, loved by all. But when a telegraph comes through that an old nemesis of his, a deadly gunslinger, has been released from jail and is on his way to the town with a gang of gunman to kill the marshal for sending them to jail, a different tune begins to be sung. Insisting that he face the gunmen personally he alienates his young bride whose religion abhors violence and she abandons him. Assuming that the town will back him and together they will easily handle the gang, the marshal begins recruiting only to learn that the town is full of cowardice, agendas, and lies, even that he is resented by many in the town in which he thought he was beloved, who think they are less prosperous under his law and order than they were under the chaos when the gunmen ran the town. This culminates in a surprising town meeting in the church as the marshal learns that he might be the only person of real virtue in the whole town.
Meanwhile, as desperation mounts and he realizes that he will likely be dying alone in the street, the clock is always ticking, ticking toward High Noon when the gunmen's train will arrive.
The film is very effectively built and succeeds both with its narrative execution and its subversion of the genre (for the time). Much has been made of the innovative cinematography by Floyd Crosby, which caused producers to nearly fire him mid-shoot.
Notably, the recurring song, written for the film, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling" is often cited as the progenitor of theme songs to films. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Gary Cooper won Best Actor for the role of Will Kane, the marshal, a role which had been turned down by John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Charlton Heston.
Wayne, an aggressive supporter of blacklisting in Hollywood, who had turned down the role because of the obvious anti-blacklisting overtones of the film, accepted the Oscar on Cooper's behalf, disingenuously quipping that he was going to go talk to his agents about why HE hadn't played Will Kane.
Wayne, an obvious asshole, later said he considered High Noon "the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life", making Rio Bravo in response to the film. What a dick.
Finally, one cannot talk about High Noon without mentioning that the film's run-time is exactly the story's run-time, frequently pointed out by shots of clocks around town making it clear that we are seeing the story unfold in real time, quite an innovation for the time.
In summation, despite Roger Ebert's assertion that the film is extremely overrated, I found that this was yet another Classic that yielded the desired result when I finally brought myself to see it and that it has helped to continue opening the door for me to watch these films more readily.