The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Cowardice à la carte

No. 2,566
cow·​ard·​ice |  ˈkau̇(-ə)r-dəs  , dialectal -(ˌ)dīs 
Definition of cowardice
of courage or firmness of purpose
I never mind all the
political “Red Scare
info surrounding “High Noon” (released 1952), nor the conflicts between Carl Forman and  Fred Zinnemann,
the associate producers. What fascinates me about the film is not the gun
fights, but rather the variety of  expressions
of cowardice and of the betrayal of Will Kane, (played by Gary Cooper ) the
marshal of the town of Hadleyville in the Arizona Territory, as he prepares to
face a gang of killers who arrive to kill him. He can find no one willing to be
deputized to help him face the gang. He experiences hostility, indifference,
and hatred,
The cowardice evokes  for me the current cowardice of Americans who
are willing to submit to the COVID-19 panic and are willing to don face masks
and buckle into “social distancing” in their behavior. They are willing to wear
face masks even during their personal, one-on-one  encounters.
The kinds of cowardice dramatized in the film are many,
varied and pathetic. 
They are based on fear, and expedient rationalizations and what they deem as needless risks
to their lives. (over-estimating the potency of the gang). The first volunteer,
Herb, appears and puts on the deputy badge, then leaves for a while. When he
returns, and Kane tells him he has not been able to find anyone else, Herb replies
to him it would be suicide for just the two of them to face the gang, pleads
his kids, tosses the badge on Kane’s desk, and leaves. In disgust, Kane angrily
sweeps it off his desk. The next coward is the judge who sentenced Frank Miller
to hang for murder; H e rides off with his law books telling Kane he is being stupid not to leave.
Many of the subsequent cowards  previously attended Kane’s wedding, including
the mayor and Kane’s retired hero, wishing him and his bride well (before the
station master arrives and  gives Kane a
telegram about Frank Miller’s release). Kane goes to the church and asks for
volunteer deputies. 
The mayor of Hadleyville praises Kane for having cleaned up the town,  but tells him to
leave. “It’s good for you, good for all of us.” Kane leaves, saying to the
mayor, “Thanks.” It is not an expression of gratitude. 
One of the town’s councilmen
sees Kane coming to his house, and instructs his wife to tell him that he was
not home. The wife succeeds an turning Kane away, but she sees her husband’s spinelessness..
“Do you want to see me get killed?” he asks her in response to the wife’s look
of contempt.  Kane visits the retired
marshal, who pleads arthritis and  adds that
people “just don’t give a damn.”

The only residents who volunteer to be deputized
are the town drunk and a 16-year-old boy. Kane turns them down; knowing that
they would be more a liability than of help, and probably would be shot by the gang.

Kane defeats the gang, with the help of his pacifist bride. They leave town after he tosses the marshal’s badge to the ground.

Civilazation is saved by one man and his courage, while the town he leaves is left to its cowardly devices.




Cowardice II


  1. revereridesagain

    I never did understand why those townspeople did not just tell the Kane's to take off on their honeymoon with the gratitude and well-wishes of all and not to worry about Frank Miller and his thugs because when they swaggered into town they would be unaware of the armed citizen hiding on every roof, behind every large tree, and keeping the horses company in the stable. The resulting fight shouldn't top 30 seconds.

    But then there would have been no point to the movie.

  2. Edward Cline

    Agreed. But fear plays odd tricks on minds that fear thugs, especially on writers who have to make the story work. There might have been political reasons for the way the story progressed. I'm not that familiar with the Red Scare overtones of the era.

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