The thesis will analyze the impact and implications of a song or a musical score as a narration device for the movie High Noon. The movie is a landmark film in that it pioneered the trend of opening a movie while playing the theme song during the starting credits. The movie’s theme song plays an important role in that it captures not only the actual story but the underlying messages that were interpreted by various critics of the film.
The screenplay in High Noon has often been interpreted as a morality play or parable, or as a possible metaphor for threatened Hollywood blacklisted artists facing with political persecution from the HUAC during the McCarthy era due to actual or imagined connections to the Communist Party (Dirks 2006). Short History of the Work Surrounding High Noon Carl Foreman wrote the screenplay for the movie, and prior to High Noon he was blacklisted in Hollywood circles for alleged Communist involvement.
This was his last Hollywood film before his blacklist exile to London, soon after his work on Home of the Brave (1949), Champion (1949), and The Men (1950). The screenplay for High Noon was written during the politically-oppressive atmosphere in the early 1950s when McCarthyism and political persecutions were rampant. Foreman’s blacklisting was temporarily prevented by the lead star Gary Cooper, one of the most virulent anti-Communists in Hollywood during that period (Erickson 2006; Dirks 2006).
John Wayne, another notable showbiz right-winger and hero of many Western movies himself, was so appalled at the notion that a Western marshal would beg for help in a showdown that he and director Howard Hawks made a film that countered this notion called Rio Bravo (Erickson 2006). Wayne and Hawks protested to the liberal preachiness of High Noon, which they denounced as “un-American” film due to the cowardly townspeople who refused to stand up against the four bandits who Cooper’s main character (Marshal Will Kane) had to contend with. Rio Bravo (1959) was made as a no-nonsense, right-wing rebuttal to High Noon (Dirks 2006).
Before High Noon was released, few dramatic films featured songs, much less opened with a song that narrated the events in the movie. Theme songs were used either for both marketing and narration. With High Noon however, the theme song was used both as a marketing and narration device. High Noon set a new standard for effective cross-promotion by use of a song or musical score, and this technique prompted many imitators. The popularity of a theme song was more acutely recognized as important in promoting a film. The song “Do Not Forsake Me” won the Academy Award for Best Song (Allison 2003).
After High Noon, many dramatic films opened with a theme song during the credits. In the US, 13% of American feature films used this device between 1950 and 1954. Over the next five years, the percentage grew to 22% and by the late 1960s, it was up to 9% (Allison 2003). Scene Analysis The opening scene shows the film’s credits, with the title song “Do Not Forsake Me: The Ballad of High Noon” played simultaneously with the credits. The opening scene shows three gang members gathering at the outskirts of the small, quiet town of Hadleyville in the west. It is a hot summer day.
The gang members ride by the town’s church where the church bells are ringing. An old Spanish woman is shown, and there is recognition in her face as she sees the three gang members riding past; the old woman makes a sign of the cross. A fireman and other local people are also seen outside the Ramirez Saloon, and they too recognize the gang members. The unbridled horse of Sheb Woolley, one of the gang members (played by Ben Miller), rides uncontrollably towards a sign that says “Marshal”. This signifies one of the conflicts around which the movie revolves.
There is a celebration going on in the church, Hadleyville’s former marshal, Will Kane (played by Gary Cooper) is getting married to a beautiful young Quaker girl called Amy Fowler (played by Grace Kelly). We see how word spreads quickly in the town of the gang members’ arrival. In a parallel scene it is shown how the gang members themselves ride through the town to get to the deserted train platform where they are awaiting of the arrival of their gang leader, the outlaw Frank Marshall (played by Ian McDonald).
The theme song “Do Not Forsake Me” succeeds in summarizing the plot of the movie. It outlines the main story elements, including the initiating events, the back-story, and the main conflicts that must be played out at the film’s climax (Allison 2003). In short, the song gives the viewer an idea of what the conflicts will be, but not the details of their development. The line “I must face that deadly killer” in the song tells us about the anticipation from Marshal Kane of the arrival of the notorious Frank Miller.
The song helps to build up the drama and anticipation with the line “Look at that big hand move along, nearin’ high noon” since Miller was set to arrive on the noon-time train. “Do Not Forsake Me” also tells us the back story – that Marshal Kane was the man responsible for sending Miller to jail – “He made a vow while in State’s Prison” – and this tells the viewer that Miller is back for revenge against Kane (Allison 2003). The line in the song that goes “O to be torn ‘twixt love and duty! ” tells us of the dilemma that Kane must face.
He wants to start his life anew with his new bride and to keep her safe. And initially, Kane does indeed flee. He takes his new wife and leaves town. But his sense of duty and fidelity to the town is something he cannot deny. Kane stops half-way and decides to go back to save the people in Hadleyville. His wife Amy tries to dissuade him, reminding him that he is no longer the town’s Marshal, and that he shouldn’t try to be a hero. But Kane explains to her as well as to the audience his moral compulsion to return. His friends are there. It is his town.
The movie culminates into a showdown at twelve noon wherein Kane must face the four gang members by himself. The townspeople have fled, in fear of Miller and his gang. Kane succeeds in killing two of the band members, while Amy, despite her Quaker religious background, comes to his aid and kills the third band member. Miller himself takes Amy as hostage, but she escapes, and Kane succeeds in killing Miller. At the end of the movie we see how Kane throws down his marshal’s star in the dirt, and finally leaves town with his wife to continue their interrupted honeymoon (Wikipedia 2006; Allison 2003)).
This plot synopsis parallels the lines as narrated from the theme song. The ending of the movie also indicates that Kane was able to resolve the conflict between choosing between love and duty. He initially chose duty – his duty to the town as the Marshal who provoked Miller’s vengeance. But love in a sense still prevailed, for Amy still stood by his side, and in the end, Kane got to have both – fulfill his duty and keep the love of his life. They both walk away alive, and Kane emerges as the hero but disillusioned by the people he served.
The song seems to be addressed not to the viewer but to Kane’s wife, Amy, but it does give the viewer a background of the conflict and what is to unfold due to the conflict. The message of being torn between love and duty in the song is common for many other Western films that came subsequently to High Noon (Allison 2003). The theme song allows the viewer to get a view of what to expect from the movie, and makes the viewer look forward to the climax of the film. In sum, High Noon revolutionized changes in the style of film scores as well as the ways in which they were marketed.
In the film, the song “Do Not Forsake Me” was used not only as a marketing device but as a narration device as well. Argument for the Film’s Genre Generally, the movie High Noon has been classified as a Western (Internet Movie Database, Inc. 2006). The film however departs from the classic Western film of that period in that it uncharacteristically tackles a social problem about civic responsibility. Unlike traditional Western classics, High Noon did away with frontier violence, panoramic landscapes, or tribes of marauding Indians (Dirks 2006).
The film has expanded the concept of the traditional Western movie in that it has been regarded as morality play or parable, depicting political persecution and blacklisting of Hollywood artists who have actual or imaginary links to communism (Dirks 2006). The theme song “Do Not Forsake Me” also departs from musical genre embodied in classic Western films – the cowboy song – since “Do Not Forsake Me” has been described as the “adult Western. ” Unlike the traditional cowboy song, “Do Not Forsake Me” narrates the film and sets not only the movie’s narrative but mood as well (Allison 2003).
“Do Not Forsake Me” is deemed an “adult Western” in its sophisticated usage of the title or theme song as laying out the important themes and conflicts of the film at the start of the movie (Allison 2003). Thus, it is in this sense that High Noon departs and goes beyond the traditional Western film genre. Not only does it encompass social issues and avoids elements common to other Western movies, but the importance of its theme song in narrating the film makes the film more sophisticated than the typical cowboy movie.
Allison, Deborah. 2003. “Do Not Forsake Me: The Ballad of High Noon” and the Rise of the Movie Theme Song.Senses of Cinema. http://www. sensesofcinema. com/contents/03/28/ballad_of_high_noon. html (accessed September 14, 2006). Dirks, Tim. 2006. High Noon (1952). Film Site. http://www. filmsite. org/high. html (accessed September 14, 2006). Erickson, Hal. 2006. High Noon. All Media Guide, LLC. http://www. allmovie. com/cg/x. dll? p=avg&sql=AV||||22384 (accessed September 14, 2006). High Noon. 2006. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/High_Noon (accessed September 14, 2006). High Noon (1952). 2006. Internet Movie Database, Inc. http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0044706/ (accessed September 14, 2006).