High Noon (1952)
Incredibly tight, uniformly accepted quintessential western classic from Fred Zinneman, whose ability to acknowledge and interpret the psychological depth and relevance of Carl Foreman's pondering script made High Noon an immediate hit as well as an important, genre-altering film. What's interesting with High Noon is that, although it has the same stance regarding the conflict between the burgeoning urbanization of the new world and the freedom of the lone rider as the films of Sergio Leone or John Ford, its point of view (even sympathy, if you like) lies on the other end of the scale. Even Will Kane realizes that, although he will remain the good guy, he is about to impose a way of life back onto the society he represents that has been deemed surplus to requirements and antiguated. Gary Cooper's thoughtful, sad eyes front a deep and harrowing character study, and Lloyd Bridges is perfect as his intermediate adversary - the representative of the common man's ambivalence and inability to grasp the complexity of the situation. It's not the showdown that makes High Noon, it's the depth and universal validity of the brilliant preface. And the film's technical achievement is the perfect intensifier - from the ticking, real-time clocks to the allegorical images. A film to put on the reading-list for more than one university course.