20 May 2014

High Noon: The Disintegration of Kane and Harv

This was written for a class 
so it might come off a bit more academic than a usual essay/article.

I figured since I'm working on a Western, I might as well post some essays about some of the better films in the genre.  I've got a couple involving High Noon and one about Unforgiven.  I really like the Unforgiven one, so I'll save that for a bit, which means I'll be setting the table with some takes on High Noon.

It's best with the Oscar-winning song.
One of my favorite Westerns -- rather, favorite films overall -- is Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952).  There’s so much story and plot that happens in just less than 90 minutes that you wonder how the filmmakers did it.  Among the many plots woven into the intricate narrative is the deterioration of the mentor-mentee relationship between Will Kane, the former/current Marshall of Hadleyville, and his deputy Harvey “Harv” Pell.

"Mmm... breakfast..."
The first hint of a problem between Kane and Harv is introduced while Helen and Harv are eating breakfast in her room at her hotel.  The first shot of this scene shows a clock reading 10:53, and both Helen and Harv know that Frank Miller is arriving on the noon train.  Helen turns from the clock and hints that Harv should be looking to help Kane, but Harv is more focused on his meal.  “You’re really sore at him?” she asks.

“Wouldn’t you be, if you were me?” Harv replies.  And so we now know that something isn’t right between Harv and Kane.  As Harv finishes his coffee, though, he appears to get an idea and smiles.  He springs into action, tells Helen he’ll be back, and leaves, but not before she turns away from a kiss.

Almost immediately following the above scene, Kane and Harv meet outside the Marshall’s office.  Everything appears all well and good between the two, but things get complicated when Harv lets Kane know that while he’s aware of Frank Miller’s imminent arrival he isn’t ready to help Kane yet -- “This ain’t really your job, you know?”
"You look like that guy from Airplane!"
Harv says, blocking Kane’s entrance into the office.  “This is the way I see it,” he continues, “If you’d gone, with the new Marshall not due here until tomorrow, I’d be in charge around here, right?”

Kane agrees, but he doesn’t seem to understand where Harv is going.  Then, looking smug and perhaps even impressed with himself, Harv asks, “If I’m good enough to hold down the job when there’s trouble, how come the city fathers didn’t trust me with it permanently?”

“I don’t know,” Kane answers.  But Harv isn’t convinced, saying that Kane probably had some input on the decision on who the new Marshall would be, an accusation that Kane doesn’t answer directly:  “Maybe they thought you were too young.”

This response turns Harv in another direction:  “Do you think I’m too young?”

“You sure act like it sometimes,” replies Kane, stepping past Harv to enter the office.

Once in the Marshall’s office Kane starts checking the guns.  Harv saunters in, glances at Kane’s chair behind the desk, and promptly sits in it.  Although Kane is the dominant figure in the shot – he’s standing in the foreground, dressed in black and holding a gun -- it is Harv, seated and laid back, who carries the power.  Harv wants to be the Marshall and doesn’t know why he was passed up.

“If you don’t know it’s no use me telling you,” Kane informs the deputy.  At this point Harv has made up his mind that Kane was against Harv being the Marshall from the start – and blames it on Kane’s jealousy about Harv and Helen.  Kane didn’t know about their relationship, still Harv implies that Kane is still jealous, only now of someone else being Marshall.  A glance at the clock shows it’s just after eleven o’clock.

Kane tries to dismiss Harv and sits at his desk, but Harv decides now is the time to reveal his master plan – “You want me to stick you put the word in for me, like I said.”  Harv is offering Kane is help, his loyalty, for the job he so desperately desires.

“Sure I want you to stick,” Kane insists, “but I’m not buying it. 
"This thing's harder to take off than a bra..."
It’s got to be up to you.”  In this exchange, the roles have reversed from the beginning of the scene – Harv towers over the seated Kane, but now he has no power.  And then Harv makes his decision.  With just a flicker of his eyes of delay, Harv removes his star and gun -- all the while looking Kane dead in the eyes -- and leaves the office.  Kane watches Harv go, fingers the forsaken star, and realizes he’s on his own.

The next plot event keeps the plotline going as Harv is back in Helen’s room, divulging his conversation with Kane to Helen.  Helen laughs at Harv, telling him he needs to grow up, echoing Harv’s youth and immaturity mentioned in the previous event.  “I’m getting tired of that kind of talk,” Harv threatens.  He then furthers his accusation that Kane didn’t make him Marshall because he’s sore about Harv and Helen.

The final event/scene in this plotline takes place after Harv follows Kane into the livery.  Harv encourages Kane leave town, saddling a horse for the Marshall -- for the first time he’s showing some maturity and concern for his mentor.  Of course, one could also interpret Harv’s actions as a way to assuage his guilt over not helping Kane fight Frank Miller, a “if Kane runs it’s okay that I quit” type of thinking.

High Noon is great and all,
but why, oh why, would you shoot from this angle?
Nevertheless, Kane decides to stay in Hadleyville, much to Harv’s dismay.  So Harv punches Kane, knocking him out momentarily, and attempts to toss him on a horse.  But Kane recovers and the two fight with Harv landing the majority of the blows.  Kane, though, proves to have more determination and lands the knock-out punch, leaving Harv face-down in the hay.  Before departing the livery Kane pours a bucket of water on Harv, a sort of baptism into maturity and adulthood for Harv.

The final image of the plotline, and Harv for that matter, is of Harv lying motionless on the livery floor, broken and alone – the physical embodiment of what Kane is feeling.

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