Daddy Film School #8: High Noon (1952) & public service

We watch this because it’s free on Comcast.

CHARLIE (12) is immediately engrossed.

FINN (9) chooses Pokemon on Nintendo DS, but stays in the room to insert comments.

HIGH NOON’s critically regarded as one of the best (if not THE best) Westerns, and among the greatest dramas ever made. The movie is a master’s class in tension, unseen conflict and character development.


  1. Sorry, Kiefer. 24 was not the first REAL-TIME thriller. The movie runs 84 minutes and is based on roughly 90 minutes of time.
  2. How does the world get built so well and so quickly? The depth of each character is established through dialogue and action. The wedding. The long, sauntering walks to and from the train depot. Reactions of townsfolk. CHARLIE “gets it” immediately.
  3. Film is entree to the indomitable Lon Cheney, Jr. which opens doors to classics like The Wolf Man, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and even Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London. 

Cheney’s role is small, but his character is the emotional core of the film, and it carries a timely message:

A deadly killer with a score to settle returns to town, bent on killing Gary Cooper’s (Wil) newly retired, and newly married (Grace Kelly is becoming a DFS staple), sheriff.

The lawman, with an hour or so to prep for the outlaw’s arrival, has a hard time finding support from a town he’s spent his whole life protecting.

In the scene (see link above), Lon Cheney Jr (Martin) plays the previous sheriff: an old, broken- down former lawmen and Wil’s mentor.

Cheney’s character calls the job of “sheriff”-ing “meaningless.”

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.

ME: (reacting to the monologue) That sounds A LOT like being a teacher.

CHARLIE: I want to be a teacher.

ME: Please don’t say that.

CHARLIE: Why? You’re a teacher.

ME: I know. But I want better of you.

CHARLIE: It’s not a good job?

ME: It is. But it’s not a wonderful job. It’s not the perfect job. I want you to go out and be something wonderful. Do something perfect. Make art. Be happy. Or, if you’re not happy, at least make lots of money.

FINN: I’m gonna be a pilot weather man. That’s the perfect job for me.

CHARLIE: But you told (insert name of past student turned education major here), ‘it’s the greatest job there is.’


FINN: Except, I’m afraid of weather…

ME: Yeah, but I don’t love him.

FINN: …and flying

Martin’s speech reviews the perils of public service: the “tin star.” The public servant lives to protect and serve, knowing full well she will never “fix” the system. The system, by its very design, always wins, always evolves in its complexities and needs. The best public servants work their whole lives only to be chewed up and spit out. The lesser, give up way before the end of their tenure, resigned to the superiority of the system. Injustice outlives the best of us.

It outlives our tenure. Despite our best efforts. Just ask this guy.

“When Wil Kane dies, this town dies with it.” Wil doesn’t die by the outlaw’s hand in the end, but he also won’t live forever.

In many ways, this the life of the mid-career public servant. Keep fighting for fighting sake. Determined to find solace in the torch-passing. Or move on. Tackle something consummate. Something in which your efforts do not live only in a vacuum.

I’m proud of what I do each day, but I’m sensible enough to want better for my kids.

“People gotta talk themselves into law and justice before they’ll do anything about. Maybe, cause down deep, they don’t care. They just don’t care.”

Funny cause it’s true. It certainly feels like that sentiment landed us squarely in the Trump administration. Then again, maybe this is less true today than ever before. 

 ME: So what did you think about the movie?

CHARLIE:  It was really good. Amazed me.

FINN: It was boring. I didn’t like looking at that guy.

ME: What guy?

FINN: The fighter man (at the time of writing I still have no idea who he means).

CHARLIE: Shut up, Finn. It was good. The movie makers did so much by showing so little. I like that.

FINN:  You know what, maybe I’ll just be an artist. Would that be ok, Dee Dee?

ME: That would be perfect.






  1. George Brelsford says:

    Love this, Charlie is wise beyond his years
    Fin cracks me up


  2. George Brelsford says:

    Sent from my iPad



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