It’s Judgement Day — Where are the Men? (High Noon Video Essay)


22 February 2018

Stories are the master teachers. If we pay attention, we can learn a lot from them. One of the good stories comes from the 1952 western High Noon, a favorite of several US Presidents.

In High Noon everybody’s sweating. It’s Judgment Day.

We think judgment day is something for another life, but in fact, judgment day comes all the time.

And when it comes, you’re exposed and you’re naked. You’re seen for who you really are.

In High Noon Judgment day arrives in the form of deranged outlaw Frank Miller. The town Marshall, Will Kane and some deputies arrested Miller a few years back and the judge sentenced him to hang. But he was released up North and now he’s coming back—due on the train at High Noon.

What’s Frank Miller come to judge? The town. Society. In particular the men. Are there any men? And are there any women who will demand a correct version of manhood.

Will Kane is the man. When he’s married to his pacifist Quaker wife at the beginning of the movie, it’s not “husband and wife,” but “man and wife.”

Kane has agreed to hang up his star and move away for a more tranquil domestic life, but that’s because Miller was taken care of. When news reaches the town that he’s coming back, his friends rush him out of the town and say to get going on his new life, and not to worry about Miller.

But Kane is a man. And he knows something about his friends back at the town. They say they’ll face up to it. But they won’t face up to it, and Kane knows it.  

There’s a problem that needs to be confronted, and nobody else is going to do it, and so he’ll do it. He’s a man.

So Kane returns.

And people aren’t happy he’s returned. Nobody is. Especially his wife.

Amy Kane: “Don’t try to be a hero, you don’t have to be a hero, not for me!”

Will Kane: “I’m not trying to be a hero, if you think I like this you’re crazy!”

With Kane out of the picture, there was the hope that judgment day could be avoided, and many even preferred Miller to Kane. A man like Kane forces the issue. And many people don’t feel comfortable around him.

Kane’s task should be easy. Miller only has three men with him. Kane only needs a dozen men out of hundreds of males in the town to help him. The rest of the movie shows what happens in real time as he sets off to round them up.

If you haven’t seen this movie. I don’t want to ruin it for you. I’ve left you most of the movie to see what happens next.

But I do want to say something about two of the characters.

Kane’s deputy is Harv Pell, played by a young Lloyd Bridges. Of everyone, Harv has a duty to help Kane. But he’s bitter and resentful. When it was learned that Kane was moving away, Harv wanted his job as Marshall, but the town council passed him up for someone else, and Harv thinks Kane didn’t speak up for him.

Watch Harv in this movie. He’s important. Kane is his idol. His ideal. But he’s not Will Kane. And it’s very interesting to see how he acts when he’s reminded of it, again and again.

Helen Ramirez to Harv Pell: “I’m going to tell you something about you and your friend Kane. You’re a good looking boy. You have big, broad shoulders, but he is a man. It takes more than big broad shoulders to make a man, Harvey, and you have a long way to go.

That’s Helen Ramirez played by Katy Jurado, who delivers perhaps the best performance of the movie. She’s a woman who has experience with the world. You can tell that her life has been filled with both mistakes and successes, and she’s learned something from them.

And what she’s learned is the value of correct manhood. She knows the difference between false manhood and the real thing, and she knows the value of the real thing.

She thinks the man is going to die. And she knows a lot rides on that.

Ramirez: “You want to know why I’m leaving? Then listen. Kane will be a dead man in half an hour, and nobody’s going to do anything about it. And when he dies, this town dies too. I can feel it.

Manhood isn’t like womanhood. Womanhood is inherent. We don’t debate who’s a woman and who’s not (well, not in the way I’m talking about).

Manhood is different. It’s a status. And it’s a fleeting status. It imbues in those when they live the principles of manhood, and it escapes males when they don’t. Males don’t get to choose if they’re men, it’s determined by their actions on judgment day.  

Judgment day will come, and when it arrives, one thing it will ask is, “Where are the men?”.

If nobody’s there to respond. The town dies.