Film criticism for movie fans who want to think again about their Western adventures.




Apart from Psycho there is no Hollywood B Movie as polished or as crafted as High Noon. The simple plot of High Noon was why the film lasted no more than 82 minutes. Later the work of director Fred Zinnemann became dull and worthy but even on a mammoth middlebrow bore like A Man For All Seasons his technical skills and intelligence prevailed. Before he became fashionable, Zinnemann made two fine low budget crime movies. Kid Glove Killer is slight and light but has irresistible charm. The two heroes reflect the decent values that made Zinnemann a civilised individual. Their relationship hints at the possibilities that exist for the principled and capable.  Act Of Violence is a dark film noir. The great Van Heflin stars in both films. In High Noon Grace Kelly may be too young, beautiful and East Coast upper class for a one horse western town but most of the time Zinnemann recognised a talented actor. Marlon Brando was one of many offered the part of Sheriff Will Kane in High Noon. Brando would have been fabulous and he was the right age for the part of Kane. Gary Cooper was not only old; he was not well. But despite his physical limitations Gary Cooper is perfect as Sheriff Will Kane.


High Noon is neither the best film nor the best Western that Cooper appeared in but, as always, he mixes anxiety and strength to reveal a limited but honourable man of practical violence. His virtues are inspiring and transcendental. Kane is patient, cautious, able to weigh options and to be courageous.  Sheriff Will Kane does not use the word integrity but he understands the meaning of responsibility. One scene deserves to be mentioned. His single enthusiastic volunteer discovers that Kane has been unable to acquire more men to help face the Miller gang.  Now aware that there is a real possibility that he could be killed the volunteer hands in his temporary badge. Kane says little about the betrayal but thanks to the subtle changes in the expressions on the face of Cooper we watch a lonely man understand his own limitations, recognise the weaknesses in others and appreciate his fate and the conspiracy that is beyond human betrayal.



High Noon would have had more political resonance if the townspeople had applied pressure to a Quaker wife who had persuaded her husband to renounce violence. Kane is neither a moderate nor a pacifist. Carl Foreman wrote the script and, because he had been a member of the Communist Party, he was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Russian Government, though, condemned High Noon as same old American individualism. Stalin had his faults but, as Eisenstein discovered, he could analyse a movie. The old monster may have had a point.

But, despite the reservations of Uncle Joe, High Noon still works both as an account of the struggle between pragmatism and integrity and as a commentary on what was happening in Hollywood. Will Kane is normally a self-sufficient Sheriff but against the Miller gang he needs help.  Kane thinks his decision to face Frank Miller is common sense. If he does not, Miller will be able to follow him to another town. At least if he stays put Kane has friends and those obliged to be loyal because of his previous work as a Sheriff. The people of the town have a choice, back Sheriff Will Kane against the Miller gang but risk death and injury or accommodate the villains and sell them food and drink to make extra money. This metaphor makes sense both as an explanation of what movie folk did to preserve their careers and of how we accept the iniquities of capitalism.


The resistance to Kane exists amongst the outsiders, the ordinary people who just want to have fun and enjoy life and the moralists who like to think they have a conscience and understand decency. The outsiders consist of an ambitious and troubled Deputy, the Quaker wife of Kane, and his ex-mistress who may or may not have been a whore before she acquired the saloon. There is an ambiguous moment in a conversation. The pause refers either to the Mexican nationality or the dubious past of the mistress. It is an elliptical highlight in an economical script. The people who want to have fun are the men in the bar who prefer to be left alone to have a drink and who are not too particular about their drinking partners. These are the willing dupes of the men who view the arrival of the Miller gang as a business opportunity. ‘We’re gonna have a big day today,’ says the barman. Kane is abandoned by the outsiders and dismissed by the fun lovers in the saloon. Life is too short for anything but fun, and the drinkers do not want to be interrupted. Kane confronts the moralists and the thoughtful in the church. These people are willing to debate the issue.  The congregation is persuaded by the speech of the Mayor. The speech is impressive because it presents an alternative view to that of the filmmakers. Unable to counter the eloquent arguments of the Mayor, Kane leaves to prepare for a violent contest that is likely to result in his death. As he leaves the church, children are playing a tug of war. At the end of their game all the children collapse on the ground. Debate is important but it is always undermined by self-interest and partisanship.  The church appears to have little to do with religion but is merely a place where the timid can huddle together and pretend they have principles.

Kane the virtuous man is more of a threat to the order and lives of the townspeople than the criminal elements. The immoral can be distanced by social hierarchy and utilised for business and profit. Instead of being shamed by Kane the townspeople dismiss his integrity as stubbornness. Even the original movie poster was ambivalent. It hailed a ‘man too stubborn to leave town’.


Jeremy Corbyn has also been described as stubborn. His friends and admirers regard him as principled and resolute. Others have described him as narcissistic. This is an easy accusation because integrity will always have its narcissistic element. Integrity depends on the mirror and what we are prepared to accept when we face our reflection. Cooper is admirable in High Noon because his resistance requires personal strength but he also has a figure that looks good as it strolls a dusty boardwalk. We like the way he looks. The protests of Corbyn against an economic system that has been reshaped by neoliberals have been resented by many MPs in the Labour Party.   These MPs have sounded like the drinkers in the saloon in High Noon, people who argue that change may spoil their fun.   The economic system may be unfairly balanced against the powerless but life is too short to be interrupted by serious protest.

The principles and values of Corbyn have never been compromised by the fear of defeat. His work ethic is impressive, and his commitment and energy are a match for any self-made man. In the 2017 election it appeared until the exit poll as if he would suffer a humiliating result. Prior to the campaign he had been mocked and attacked by a hostile British press. The lies about his character had been relentless. Corbyn persisted against entrenched levels of resistance. He behaved as if he was a key figure in the progress of history. In the 2017 election Corbyn campaigned on a manifesto that aimed to stimulate economic growth and contained proposals that would benefit working families. Nothing in the manifesto, though, suggested revolution or the weakening of the capitalist hegemony on British society. If it was radical, it was only because all the other politicians and mainstream journalists had huddled in their church and pretended that their supposedly informed debate had consequence and merit.


Corbyn may appear to have the demeanour of a revolutionary but his ambition appears to consist of nothing more than improving lives. His message has been described as cuddly socialism, and it is an apt phrase because Corbyn has more cuddles than most. He is not like normal politicians, those who prosper in huddles around utilitarian arguments.   Like Will Kane, he has been obliged to walk alone along the dusty boardwalk, knowing that others have ridiculed and condemned him. He may not have had to face death at the end of the street but for most of his life his efforts, which have been considerable, have resulted in predictable defeat.

Kane is victorious at the end of High Noon. His victory requires luck, mistakes by his adversaries and assistance from someone who does not share his principles. Brexit divided the Labour Party but it helped Corbyn to attract some Remain voters, which is why some journalists have said Corbyn was lucky. The psychological chaos that is Theresa May ensured her campaign was error driven, and there were more than a few people who voted for Corbyn despite having a real antipathy to anything that suggests change and a refusal to compromise.


Corbyn has not yet won an election but he achieved a result this year that has transformed British politics. No one can have faith in the judgement of the British electorate and its decision-making. The effort and integrity of those interested in social and economic change may make little difference to the history of Britain. Corbyn and his followers, though, have the satisfaction of treading a boardwalk that others have sidestepped. Sometimes there will be dust to taste in the mouth. Most of the time, though, the air should feel fresh and clean.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.









‘I know one thing. The rule of law has left, and the gorillas have taken over.’

In this way Spencer Tracy describes life in the isolated town of Black Rock. The local head gorilla is played by the great Robert Ryan and called Reno. The name implies that this gorilla is a bigger phenomenon than Black Rock.  The 1955 script is clear. The country contained too many small hidden towns where the rule of law could be ignored.   In Bad Day At Black Rock Reno has killed a Japanese American who had thought it would be a good idea to settle in the American West. Other men in the town have helped Reno.  The film has three violent confrontations but the memorable scene is a conversation between John J McCready, the character played by Spencer Tracy, and Reno. This takes place at a garage and next to the petrol pumps. The movie has pictorial widescreen elegance throughout, and the scene by the petrol pumps is in a setting that evokes the Edward Hopper painting Gas. Obliged to lead routine lives and surrounded by claimed but unconquered landscape these settlers are baffled by the world and their own lives.


‘Japanese American,’ says Reno. ‘That’s a laugh. There’s a law in this country about shooting dogs but when I see a mad dog I don’t wait for it to bite me. To me this is our West, and I wish they would leave us alone.’

‘To do what?’ says John J McCready.

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

For the xenophobic person, hatred is more important than having plans for the future. The word fascist is never mentioned in Bad Day At Black Rock. But John J McCready has fought in the Second World War, and it is because of the military expertise he acquired in fighting fascism that he is able to defeat Reno.   If democracy and the rule of law are to survive, his fight and struggle will have to continue in his homeland.  Their uniforms, social theories and economic ambitions may change between countries and the ages but fascists do not go away.   More than a few appeared last weekend in Charlottesville.

Train Bad Day At Black Rock 1955

The sheriff in Bad Day At Black Rock is feeble and drunk. Lone sheriffs are important representatives of the rule of law in Hollywood Westerns. Rio Bravo has been described as a right wing riposte to High Noon but both movies share a respect for the rule of law and democracy. There is a paradox. In left wing High Noon Gary Cooper stands tall against criminal roughnecks. In Rio Bravo John Wayne and three able but ordinary men are obliged to resist the power of a local rich ranch owner and his hired militia. The films may have opposing views about the American spirit but neither gives fascists approval. No matter whether American history is interpreted critically or positively there is nothing in either sheriff to suggest anything other than ordinary decency.


In Key Largo and Casablanca Humphrey Bogart played heroes who had been chastened by the experience of war and Europe. The bullies in Key Largo are gangsters, symbols of capitalist greed and excess. Major Frank McCloud in Key Largo is not self-destructive but he is wary. He is an unusual man and the only hope against relentless bullies. His heroism does not provide optimism. In Casablanca Bogart, as Rick Blaine, has to confront German Nazis. Before Blaine joined the struggle against fascism he was wasting away under alcohol and self-pity.

McCready is even more extreme than Rick Blaine. He not only seeks exile but isolation from the human race. He tries to escape Black Rock and avoid confrontation. The engine in the hearse that he uses for his escape fails to start. McCready has been fortunate. He will fight the fascists of Black Rock and avoid the spiritual death that Rick flirted with in Casablanca before Ingrid Bergman made her never forgotten entrance. The fight against fascists may not save the world but whatever the eventual result the struggle is important.   The American journalist Chris Hedges has written ‘I fight the fascists not because I will win. I fight the fascists because they are fascists.’  Because human nature is so damned complicated the fascists will often win. And they may even prevail. But if we cannot save the world, we can at least save our souls. And that is what happens to McCready in Bad Day At Black Rock.


The likelihood is that Donald Trump, like most Americans, has seen all three movies. The man is rumoured to have a short attention span. If he did watch those films, he missed the point.   Otherwise he would not have snapped about there being blame on both sides at Charlottesville. Not everyone will accept that what happened in Charlottesville was a clash between fascists and honourable resistance.   Some will have registered the events as a confrontation between white patriots and liberal subversives. There are people who have sympathy for Reno and his desire to be left alone even if he has no idea what he will do in his racially pure paradise. And not every liberal or African-American who encounters a group of fascists will be thinking about preserving the rule of law in those moments. But last weekend there were a lot of men carrying weapons and wearing military uniforms. The symbols of oppression and violence were where anyone with any sense would have expected them to be, gripped tight in the hands of the fascists.


This, of course, assumes that the word fascist is understood. George Orwell struggled to define fascism.  Unlike communism it is not explained by Marxist theory or an economic system. Indeed the mixed economy, the great symbol of a progressive liberal democracy, is a feature of formal fascist political theory.  Fascist societies have variations, and the word fascist is used as a term of abuse by almost everyone against, when the abuses are aggregated, almost anyone.   We know some fascists took part in the march in Charlottesville.  The Mein Kampf quotes on the t-shirts and the swastika tattoos on bare chests are sufficient evidence. Yet not everyone who participated in the march was a Nazi. Some prefer the term white nationalists. Many Americans believe in the unfettered American Dream, so we can assume that a good percentage of American white nationalists would be hostile to the economic theories of Mussolini, the man who said, ‘John Maynard Keynes is a useful introduction to fascist economics.’

Orwell admitted defeat in defining fascism but justified the use of the word in certain circumstances. Fascism to Orwell meant ‘something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working class.’  Orwell fought fascists, so his comments deserve respect but we are entitled to have doubts about the definition. His comments describe the far right of the British Conservative Party rather than fascists. That makes sense because Orwell once said that there were no conservatives in the Conservative Party; they were either liberals or fascists. But fascism is not just about the British. Look at the Orwell list again, and what we see are the sins and follies of mankind, the reasons why almost every generation of humans has created genocide somewhere on the planet.


My own view of fascism is less sophisticated.  Most of us accept the need for utilitarian pragmatism but we vary in how we sympathise with the casualties. We argue about who those victims should be and how they should be treated. There is a dark side to utilitarianism.  Some have no sympathy for the casualties and have an aggressive desire to make them suffer. They feel entitled to not just ignore the suffering of victims and the unfairness to the excluded but also relish it as a victory. Once that line is crossed we have fascism. It exists on the left and right and even in the so-called centre. Moderates are often people who are passionate about preserving the status quo. They will bully and ridicule those who argue for change. And not all fascists are victors. Denied victory some victims believe a campaign to vanquish the different is their only hope for salvation.


And that leads us back to the notion that fascists never go away. Damaged or thwarted humans can seek fascist power in two ways, either as exceptional powerful individuals or as members of a predatory herd. In Bad Day At Black Rock John J McCready meets both a powerful individual, the troubled, strong and violent Reno, and his dopey amoral mates, the embryo of a predatory herd. That flaw in our nature is permanent, which is why McCready has two Christian names and both begin with the letter J. There is no victory, and the resistance continues because it cannot end.  ‘I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.’  Donald Trump is like Reno. Economic success has meant that the flaw in his nature has been soothed with personal power. And now he has found his predatory herd.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.