- Year: 1980
- Director: Jerry Jameson
- Starring: Lee Majors, David Carradine, Pernell Roberts
Anyone who has seen the original High Noon has to do a double take at the title of this one. The Return of Will Kane? The dramatic crux of the original film was not Gary Cooper’s serious-minded hero gunning down his enemies (with the help of his new wife) but rather him throwing down his marshal’s star immediately after and leaving the town in disgust. Without careful care and attention, this one could fall apart before it even gets going.
High Noon is often considered one of the greatest westerns of all time, and while western is not a genre I usually find myself drawn to, I definitely get the appeal of this one. Instead of gunfights and light moments of comedy, High Noon focuses on Will Kane realizing he might be living the last minutes of his life. He can’t run away from the outlaw who wants him dead, and no one will back him up. We constantly see clocks counting down the minutes, and while we see the villains loading up their weapons, we see our hero writing his last will and testament. It’s arguably as much a psychological drama as it is a western, and Gary Cooper offers a stellar performance as the stoic but distressed hero.
High Noon II (I’m not repeating that ridiculous title every time) came out in 1980, so unsurprisingly none of the original actors (or cast… or crew… or fans) returned. It’s also a TV movie, so they rounded up the best they could get, including Lee Majors, David Carradine, Katherine Cannon and Pernell Roberts. However, my hopes went up a bit when I saw the thing was written by Elmore Leonard, an actually well-known and competent writer. Maybe there was hope for this thing after all.
The film starts with Will Kane (Lee Majors) and his wife Amy (Katherine Cannon) returning to the town of Hadleyville, a year after the events of the original. Upon returning, Kane discovers that the town is now in the hands of a new corrupt and trigger-happy marshal J.D. Ward (Pernell Roberts).
So he’s returning because there’s trouble right? NOPE. He just comes back to the town to run a horse ranch on a whim I suppose, and then he discovers that the town is corrupt.
The set-up for a believable plot is staring you in the face! What if an old acquaintance contacted Will and explained what was going on? At first he would have no interest in returning after what they did to him, but in time he would come around. Maybe he would find out later that the marshal had killed someone, and Amy would have to be the one to convince him to return. You’d have to keep the character a bit cynical after his development in the first, but I think you could make a believable (If not groundbreaking) sequel without sacrificing most of what made the first so great.
Instead, Will just rolls into town, and the ending of the first film is just waved off as old business. When he first gets to town, he meets up with his old buddy Virgil (Britt Leach).
Why, you remember Virgil from the first film right? OK, you know where this joke is going. There was no Virgil in the first film, yet these two chat like old friends, and Virgil talks about how bad he and everyone else feel about abandoning Will the last time. There were a lot of characters in the original High Noon! Why couldn’t this just be Lloyd Bridges’ character, or at least somebody who was actually in the thing? Did they not have the rights to all the characters from the original?
Honestly, we’re at the 9 minute mark and this point, and I don’t care one iota about what’s going to happen in the rest of the movie. By bringing Will Kane back to the town for no reason, especially when a reason could easily have been written into the plot, they have effectively undone everything great about the original. Instead of continuing the bittersweet note the original film ended on, we are back to square one character-wise (not plot-wise, as there is still a new marshal).
I don’t care. Really, honestly, I don’t care what happens. This is a slap in the face to the original film. If the movie had something involving the above hypothetical plot, it would still not likely come near the moral complexities of the first, and that’s fine. It could still be competent, and it wouldn’t undo everything in a matter of minutes.
So is there an interesting plot that at least somewhat gets my mind off this insult? I think you know by the way I’m asking this question that there isn’t. In fact, it may very well be the most boring thing I have watched for this blog.
The new marshal J.D. Ward is a bounty hunter who will do anything to get his prey, including kill cattle. Ben Irons (David Carradine), a wanted criminal who’s actually innocent, comes into town and Ward tries to kill him, even though he knows the truth.
After a shootout twenty minutes into the film (even though the original saved its only gunfight for the end), Ward pursues Irons out of town. Kane teams up with Irons after barely deliberating at all, but Ward shoots Irons, and he dies of the wound back in town.
Ward obviously has the same plans for Kane, but upon discovering that Ward knew Irons was innocent, the town’s court instead puts out a warrant for Ward’s arrest. Kane puts his marshal’s star back on, and in a final shootout (at like 8 AM because who cares at this point?), Kane kills Ward. It’s done under the ruse of pulling out a search warrant, but of course he knew that Ward was about to pull his gun, so he shoots first.
It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill western plot, but if the characters were more interesting, we wouldn’t have as big of an issue. There are times David Carradine or Pernell Roberts threaten to give an inspired performance, but they never follow through, and Lee Majors… ugh, Lee Majors is just boring. As I said above, Gary Cooper did try to remain calm, collected and stoic in the original, but we saw the struggle play out on his face, especially in his scenes where he was alone. Here, there’s no struggle and Majors just doesn’t care.
Not for one moment does this feel like it’s set any time other than 1980. Sure, it takes place just a year after the first, but no one here is even trying. I mean, Lee Majors has multiple shit buttons undone to display his chest hair… in the 19th century!
Keeping with the whole laziness theme, I have a hard time believing Elmore Leonard wrote these lines. At one particularly low moment, David Carradine’s character tells his associate “You’re just gonna show what a booger you are all by yourself.” Blazing Saddles had more period-authentic dialogue!
There’s a whole subplot involving a black deputy working for the overtly-racist marshal. If this was handled subtly, it could be interesting, but instead the marshal just says the n-word over and over, and we wonder why the deputy doesn’t just quit right away.
The music switches from barely-there to hilariously overblown. There’s one scene where we get a whole suite of spy music, something out of a romantic drama, western standoff music, and a Wizard of Oz-sounding swell all in about 30 seconds. The original film overused “The Ballad of High Noon” a bit, but it was still poignant. This is just ridiculous.
Let’s check out the final score. This isn’t worth saying much more about.
Story (6/30 Points)
It has the bare-bones structure of a typical western. I’ll give it a few points for that, but it is absolutely insulting to the story and characters of the original classic.
Returning Characters (2/15 Points)
Will Kane shows absolutely no emotion throughout, and he loses any development he gained in the first. His wife Amy has gone from saving the day in the first to being simply a neutral character with no purpose. It seems like the hotel manager is supposed to be the same character as in the first, but that’s about it for returning characters.
New Characters (5/15 Points)
I think David Carradine and Pernell Roberts are trying, because there are moments where it feels like they are about to become interesting characters. However, they never really do and just remain bland ones who feel right out of 1980.
Experience (3/20 Points)
High Noon II boasts awful music, no atmosphere, and it never feels like it’s set in the Old West. At least the sets of the town kind of feel like the original… a bit.
Originality (4/20 Points)
It tells a different story than the original. I guess that’s something.
FINAL SCORE: 20%
It comes 28 years after the original, re-casts its hero terribly, and insults the legacy of the first. The best thing about it is that it made me appreciate the original more.