I was – at least as far as emotional maturity is concerned – a baby when I first saw High Noon, and I didn’t care for it much then. Not that I wasn’t fond of Westerns; I adored Westerns. In book form, in cinema, in song. For me, the genre was all that was gloriously outdoorsy and never-say-die: cowboys and Comanche, Monument Valley, smoking barrels and rearing horses, the good versus the bad in that final gunfight. High Noon turned all of that on its head, and left me feeling uncomfortable and disappointed.
I didn’t realise till much later that that disappointment was not the disappointment of watching a film that was bad. Rather, it was the disappointment of discovering that what I’d been rejoicing in till then was not the ultimate in a genre. Some growing up had happened.
I have rewatched High Noon since then, and I’ve come to appreciate this film deeply. I still do like hard-core Westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Stagecoach and The Magnificent Seven a lot – but High Noon is in a class all by itself.
I have no compunctions about admitting that when it comes to cinema, frivolity is right up my street. Comedy (even slapstick), romance, war, noir, Western, musical, sword and sandals: all is grist to my mill. Happy endings, the vanquished villain, the long fadeout on the kiss between the beautiful heroine and her handsome hero, and I’m happy too.
Which is why I was surprised at my own reaction to Not as a Stranger. It isn’t frivolous, not by a long shot; the heroine and the hero are ill matched; and the hero (maybe protagonist would be a better word) isn’t even a particularly nice character. Despite all of that, I still liked it—a lot.