High Noon - Leadership and Ethics
High Noon (1952)
- Frequent images of the town clock showing the countdown to noon when a vengeful killer will arrive by train
to fight the marshal (played by Gary Cooper) who convicted him.
- Its allegorical attack on Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt during the
early 1950’s, known as McCarthyism. The film’s cowardly townspeople represent the people in Hollywood who
failed to support accused colleagues (like the accused, Carl Foreman, pictured right below,
the film's writer).
- Making Grace Kelly a star (she later became Princess Grace of Monaco).
America around 1870.
Fred Zinnemann (pictured right).
- best song ( Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’ which was a big hit for Frankie Laine
Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the marshal.
Amy (Grace Kelly), his wife (pictured right).
Will Kane, the marshal of Hadleyville, a small town in New Mexico, USA, has just married a
pacifist Quaker, Amy (pictured right below).
He is just about to leave his job and become a storekeeper, when he hears that Frank Miller, a
- will arrive on the noon train (seeking revenge for his murder conviction by Kane five
Miller's three gang members wait for him at the station. Kane leaves town, encouraged by Amy and the
townspeople, who don’t want a gunfight, because it would hit the town’s businesses.
- turns back (determined to face up to Miller and his gang).
- reclaims his marshal’s badge.
But no one will help him (pictured right) including:
- the people in church (the mayor, Jonas Henderson, first compliments Kane and then tells
him not to fight Miller to protect the town's businesses).
Amy threatens to leave on the noon train, if he stays, but he stubbornly refuses to give in.
The only person to support him is his ex-lover, the saloon owner, Helen Ramirez. So he has to
face Miller alone, when Helen gets on the noon train that brings Miller into town.
Amy, after boarding the train, gets off when she hears gunfire. After Kane kills two gang members, she shoots
another one, sacrificing her religious principles for Kane.
- takes her hostage (pictured right).
- offers to trade her for Kane (who agrees and comes out into the open street).
- claws his face with her nails (forcing him to release her).
Kane (pictured right) kills Miller and embraces Amy in the
In front of the cowardly townspeople (who have now come out of hiding), Kane:
- contemptuously throws his marshal’s badge in the dirt
Lessons for leadership and ethics
1. Courageously defend what’s right
Kane and Amy both risk their lives to defeat Miller and his gang, unlike the cowardly townspeople.
Nobody listens to their mayor's plea:
“We've gotta have the courage to do what we think is right, no matter how
hard it is”.
Kane tells Amy that he isn’t trying to be a hero, only an ordinary guy who wants to
- listen to his conscience.
He shows that there are things worth dying for.
2. Ethics involves choices and responsibility
Amy has to choose between her pacifist religious beliefs and defending Kane. He puts his duty to face Miller
first before Amy and his own safety.
The people of Hadleyville feebly reject their mayor's advice that it's their responsibility to stand up to
Miller. “It's our problem because this is our town”, the mayor (Jonas
3. Let resolution triumph over temptation
Kane refuses to take the easy way out and leave town. He tells his deputy, Harvey:
“I’m tired of being shoved”
4. Empathy is everything
Kane’s ex-lover, Helen, understands why he must fight Miller. Amy isn’t so empathetic until the sound of gunfire
makes her realize Kane’s life and principles are worth fighting for.
5. Character is more important than beauty
Helen and cowardly Harvey (pictured right) have a relationship, but she compares him unfavourably with the
courageous Kane, despite Harvey’s good looks.
Helen says to Harvey:
“It takes more than big broad shoulders to make a man”,
6. Hate hypocrisy
Kane desperately tries to get help from the people in church, appealing to their Christian duty. Some of them
want to volunteer.
But they are dissuaded by the influential businessman, Jonas Henderson, who doesn’t want a gunfight because
it would badly affect the town’s businesses.
7. Principle before profit
Henderson wrongly puts profit and prosperity before the principles that Kane is prepared to die for.
Key quote on
I’ve never run from anybody before, Kane.
Key quote on
I’m tired of being shoved, Kane.
Key quote on
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, Martin Howe,
Key quote on influence
I’m not trying to be a hero. If you think like this, you’re crazy, Kane (to Amy).
Key quote on ethics
We've gotta have the courage to do what we think is right, no matter how hard it
is, Jonas Henderson.
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)