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High Noon - Leadership and EthicsHigh Noon - Leadership and Ethics


High Noon (1952)


Famous for...

  • Frequent images of the town clock showing the countdown to noon when a vengeful killer will arrive by train to fight the marshal (played by Gary Cooper) who convicted him.
  • Its allegorical attack on Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt during the early 1950’s, known as McCarthyism. The film’s cowardly townspeople represent the people in Hollywood who failed to support accused colleagues (like the accused, Carl Foreman, pictured right below, the film's writer). High Noon - Leadership and Ethics
  • Making Grace Kelly a star (she later became Princess Grace of Monaco).


Set in...

America around 1870.

 High Noon - Leadership and Ethics


Fred Zinnemann (pictured right).



Four including:High Noon - Leadership and Ethics

  • best actor (Gary Cooper)
  • best song ( Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’ which was a big hit for Frankie Laine pictured right).


Key charactersHigh Noon - Leadership and Ethics

Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the marshal.

Amy (Grace Kelly), his wife (pictured right).


The story

Will Kane, the marshal of Hadleyville, a small town in New Mexico, USA, has just married a pacifist Quaker, Amy (pictured right below).High Noon - Leadership and Ethics

He is just about to leave his job and become a storekeeper, when he hears that Frank Miller, a psychopathic killer:

  • has just been pardoned.
  • will arrive on the noon train (seeking revenge for his murder conviction by Kane five years before).

Miller's three gang members wait for him at the station. Kane leaves town, encouraged by Amy and the townspeople, who don’t want a gunfight, because it would hit the town’s businesses.

But Kane:High Noon - Leadership and Ethics

  • turns back (determined to face up to Miller and his gang).
  • reclaims his marshal’s badge.

But no one will help him (pictured right) including:

  • his deputy, Harvey Pell.
  • the people in church (the mayor, Jonas Henderson, first compliments Kane and then tells him not to fight Miller to protect the town's businesses).

Amy threatens to leave on the noon train, if he stays, but he stubbornly refuses to give in.

The only person to support him is his ex-lover, the saloon owner, Helen Ramirez. So he has to face Miller alone, when Helen gets on the noon train that brings Miller into town.

Amy, after boarding the train, gets off when she hears gunfire. After Kane kills two gang members, she shoots another one, sacrificing her religious principles for Kane.High Noon - Leadership and Ethics

Miller then:

  • takes her hostage (pictured right). 
  • offers to trade her for Kane (who agrees and comes out into the open street).

But Amy:

  • struggles with Miller.
  • claws his face with her nails (forcing him to release her). High Noon - Leadership and Ethics

Kane (pictured right)  kills Miller and embraces Amy in the street.

In front of the cowardly townspeople (who have now come out of hiding), Kane:

  • contemptuously throws his marshal’s badge in the dirt
  • leaves town with Amy.


Lessons for leadership and ethics


1. Courageously defend what’s rightHigh Noon - Leadership and Ethics

Kane and Amy both risk their lives to defeat Miller and his gang, unlike the cowardly townspeople.

Nobody listens to their mayor's plea:

“We've gotta have the courage to do what we think is right, no matter how hard it is” 

Kane tells Amy that he isn’t trying to be a hero, only an ordinary guy who wants to

  • listen to his conscience.
  • do the right thing.

He shows that there are things worth dying for.


2. Ethics involves choices and responsibilityHigh Noon - Leadership and Ethics

Amy has to choose between her pacifist religious beliefs and defending Kane. He puts his duty to face Miller first before Amy and his own safety.

The people of Hadleyville feebly reject their mayor's advice that it's their responsibility to stand up to Miller. “It's our problem because this is our town”, the mayor (Jonas Henderson) says.

 High Noon - Leadership and Ethics

3. Let resolution triumph over temptation

Kane refuses to take the easy way out and leave town. He tells his deputy, Harvey:

 “I’m tired of being shoved”



4. Empathy is everything

Kane’s ex-lover, Helen, understands why he must fight Miller. Amy isn’t so empathetic until the sound of gunfire makes her realize Kane’s life and principles are worth fighting for.



5. Character is more important than beautyHigh Noon - Leadership and Ethics

Helen and cowardly Harvey (pictured right) have a relationship, but she compares him unfavourably with the courageous Kane, despite Harvey’s good looks.

Helen says to Harvey:

“It takes more than big broad shoulders to make a man”,


 6. Hate hypocrisyHigh Noon - Leadership and Ethics

Kane desperately tries to get help from the people in church, appealing to their Christian duty. Some of them want to volunteer.

But they are dissuaded by the influential businessman, Jonas Henderson, who doesn’t want a gunfight because it would badly affect the town’s businesses.


7. Principle before profit

Henderson wrongly puts profit and prosperity before the principles that Kane is prepared to die for.


Key quote on success

I’ve never run from anybody before, Kane.


Key quote on assertiveness

I’m tired of being shoved, Kane.


Key quote on society

People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don't care. They just don't care, Martin Howe, ex-marshal 


Key quote on influence

I’m not trying to be a hero. If you think like this, you’re crazy, Kane (to Amy).


Key quote on ethics

We've gotta have the courage to do what we think is right, no matter how hard it is, Jonas Henderson.


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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