"You risk your skin catching killers and the juries turn them loose so they can come back and shoot at you again. If you're honest you're poor your whole life and in the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star."
Will Kane is the long-serving marshal of Hadleyville. He gets married and retires all in the same day when he hears that newly acquitted murderer Frank Miller is due in on the noon train. Kane has good reason to worry as he sent Miller to jail and now his gang is waiting at the station to seek revenge against Kane. The marshal tries to gather a posse from amongst the townsfolk but no one seems interested; in fact, they want him to leave. Even his new wife Amy sees no point in him staying to confront Frank Miller. Time runs short as everyone seemingly deserts Kane in his hour of need.
Cooper is amazing in this film. It's hard to believe he was 51 at the time it was made. Moral to a fault he feels it's his duty to defend the town. He even turns down help when it goes against what he believes is right. As time runs out his brave facade begins to crumble and frustration turns to anger. One of the great shots of the movie to illustrate Cooper's predicament shows him in the middle of the street. The camera pulls back and you see he's all by himself, creating this profound sense of isolation and loneliness. The theme keeps him company throughout though and is cleverly inserted in unlikely places. For example, watch for one of Miller's gang (Lee Van Cleef) to play the tune on his harmonica.
If Cooper looks concerned throughout the film, it's not just the acting. He was dealing with physical ailments like hip problems as well as the breakup of a three year affair with Patricia Neal. His portrayal was well-liked though, as he won an Oscar for his role as Will Kane.
The film takes place in real time creating tension everytime Cooper looks at a clock and realizes how late the hour is. This movie is very quiet in terms of action and yet pulls you in and makes you pay attention. You also see Western morality turned on its head. Most movies in this genre portray townsfolk as the innocent sheep who get caught in the crossfire. Here, one deputy tries to bargain for his services, one man hides from Kane and a one-eyed drunk wants to help. Even the church congregation doesn't seem to know what they should do. Everyone has an excuse and yet the theme of the movie is about to taking responsibility and what happens when you do and when you don't.
At times though, I felt Kane seemed somewhat too stoic. I would have liked to see more emotional progression from his wedding day to his escape to when he realizes no one wants his help and no one wants to help him. He seems so serious and unhappy when he gets married. It would have had more impact to see a change before and after he'd heard about Frank Miller.
Grace Kelly is very pretty in her role as marshal's wife but comes across as somewhat bland. She brings nothing to the character but I suppose I can excuse her as this was her first major role.
This is a 'Must Rent' for westerns though I wanted more from the ending. If you're a fan of classics though, you will definitely enjoy this movie.