Film of the Week

There are only a few films which get better and better with repeated viewings: High Noon is one of them, and I was very pleased to see it for the third time earlier this evening. The excellent theme song, the action shot in almost-real time; the film’s reticence about just what did happen in the town when Frank Miller was around and before Amy had arrived in Will Kane’s life; the almost complete lack of dialogue after the clock finally does strike noon; and, above all, the complex moralities presented by the drama, lurking behind the simple good guy – bad guys opposition. (To scratch the surface of these matters, when the gang leaves the station, Frank Miller is in possession of a legal pardon, and Kane admits that he can’t do anything about the rest of his posse, since they haven’t broken the law. Yet Kane is the first to shoot, when he kills Ben Miller, with only the barest warning.)

But here’s a thing: the music is clearly the greatest Hollywood theme tune of all time — but why are there two separate versions floating around? In the film, the first verse contains the lines, “The noon day train will bring Frank Miller / If I’m a man I must be brave / And I must face that deadly killer…”, whereas the version I learned once upon a time goes, “I do not know what fate awaits me / I only know I must be brave / and I must face a man who hates me…”. Similarly, in a later verse, what I first knew as “You made that promise as a bride / Do not forsake me, oh, my darling, / Although you’re grieving / Don’t think of leaving / Now that I need you by my side.” is sung in the film with “… when we wed” rhymed with “until I shoot Frank Miller dead”. Clearly a song can be published in one version and performed in another – but in this case, why the changes?Incidentally but unsurprisingly, I see that High Noon references are already being incorporated into the discourse surrounding the War On Terror. Alastair Cooke — still alive, apparently — discussed the film in a recent of his past-their-sell-by-dates “Letters from America”.

Dan writes [7.10.2002]: Finally you address pop trivia. I believe the difference between the two versions is that a “single version” was recorded for commercial release, which sought to omit the film specific references. Certainly this is the suggestion here, which notes, “The “single” version of the song was rewritten as a more generic, and certainly less dramatic, western-pop ditty.” Doubtless this is not the only time such a thing as happened, although I can’t think of any other examples. Fans of (either of) Tex Ritter’s versions of the song may enjoy this page. Fans of the film itself are possibly best advised to avoid this one, certainly if Dr Henry S. Itkin’s analysis is correct…

Chris replies [7.10.2002]: I didn’t realise Dan’s domination of the Oxford pub quiz pop trivia scene would extended to movie soundtracks. This is splendid stuff. Since one of Dan’s other consuming passions is Kantian moral theory, I now have an exuse to mention something I remembered this morning, which is Christine Korsgaard’s wonderful essay, “Taking the Law into Our Own Hands: Kant on the Right to Revolution”, which was published in Reclaiming the History of Ethics: Essays for John Rawls, edited by Reath, Herman and Korsgaard (Cambridge, 1997). For people who like their cowboy films washed down with a dose of sophisticated moral theory, this is the place to look for a splendid attempt to show that Immanuel Kant really does defend a right to revolution (even though he consistently said that he didn�t in his published writings), by reference to the thrill we experience in the cinema when the hero in the Western picks up the gun in order to, er, take the law into his own hands. It�s improbable, imaginative, exhilarating, important stuff, and a very powerful argument — even if she didn’t quite convince me that it’s one of Kant’s.

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