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High Noon

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The First Punch

By Amir Faress • 12/25/19

Having failed to muster up support among fellow townsmen to join him in resistance against Frank Miller’s gang of killers who are about to enter the city at noontime, Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) goes to a stable and contemplates leaving town. While there, he weighs the two terrible choices before him: he could a) stay and fight an uneven war, or b) leave and let Miller’s gang wreak havoc in town (the coffin seller already ordered some extra coffins in anticipation of the widely expected mayhem).

As the marshal tries to make up his mind, his gutless deputy (played by Lloyd Bridges), who fears confrontation with the Miller gang, joins him at the stable in an attempt to pressure him to leave town. When the marshal refuses, the deputy resorts to force, punching him in the face. The two soon find themselves in a tussle.

This scene has three important takeaways:

  • When one sets out on a noble course, as does the marshal, against an ignoble enemy, the first punch often comes not from the enemy’s side (the Miller gang) but from one’s own crowd (the Marshal’s deputy).

  • The deputy found the marshal at a moment of weakness. In fact, overwhelmed by foreboding and doubt, this might be the marshal’s weakest moment in the film. Cowards are extremely adept at smelling fear.

  • The marshal is not a super-hero but a human being with all the trepidations and anxieties one may experience when faced with a legitimate danger. We would have doubted the marshal’s sanity had he not at least considered leaving.

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