The Rebel on the Range

Henry Allen in the WSJ on the film I consider to be the first revisionist Western:

Only “High Noon” can explain “High Noon.” It is no more explainable than Michelangelo’s David, a world in itself, self-defining. The artistic genius of the movie is that somehow we utterly support Kane, though we can’t say why.

It shows us what existentialism called “authenticity.” Kane defines himself by what he does rather than what he is. If his motive is honor, it’s an honor so foolish as to be dishonorable. No psychoanalytic agonies drive him—he takes sole responsibility for himself and the people affected by his decision.

With Amy taking up a gun too, Kane wins the fight.

There is no better expression for existentialism than the Western. The Western throws a spotlight on the person by himself on a vast and empty stage, a dry and thirsty landscape haunted by bad men. And yet — Kane is saved by his formerly pacifist wife. In Once Upon a Time in the West, Harmonica has his vengeance on Frank only after working with Cheyenne and Jill to eliminate Frank’s gang. There’s no army to help either man; there’s no tin-starred justice or the weight of the state to put things right. They ate their vegetables and paid their taxes but nobody cares. It’s just the individual, alone — alone except for the commitments made to others who’ve found themselves dropped into the same bleak universe.

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