A lesson about men for marriage-minded women from the movie “High Noon”

Marine prays with his wife on their wedding day
Marine prays with his wife on their wedding day

One of my favorite movies for explaining the differences between men and women is “High Noon” (1952).

Here’s the summary from IMDB:

Former marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is preparing to leave the small town of Hadleyville, New Mexico, with his new bride, Amy (Grace Kelly), when he learns that local criminal Frank Miller has been set free and is coming to seek revenge on the marshal who turned him in. When he starts recruiting deputies to fight Miller, Kane is discouraged to find that the people of Hadleyville turn cowardly when the time comes for a showdown, and he must face Miller and his cronies alone.

The main theme of the film concerns Amy’s decision to break her wedding vows the very day that she makes them. She tells her new husband that he must bow to her will, and give up his male role as protector. When he explains his reasons for standing his ground to her practically (Miller will hunt them down) and morally (he has a duty protect the town), she dismisses both. She tells him that if he doesn’t run away from Miller and his gang with her, that she will get on the train and leave town by herself.

The intro of film shows the member’s of Miller’s gang assembling, and the words of the song explain the central conflict between husband and wife:

Here’s the part of the lyrics we care about:

The noonday train will bring Frank Miller.
If I’m a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer
Or lie a coward, a craven coward,
Or lie a coward in my grave.

O to be torn ‘twixt love and duty!
S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty!
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon.

He made a vow while in State’s Prison,
Vow’d it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death, but O,
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me O my darlin’
You made that promise when we wed.
Do not forsake me O my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, I can’t be leavin’
Until I shoot Frank Miller dead.

What’s interesting is that his new wife Amy apparently does not understand the meaning of wedding vows or the natural roles of good men as protectors of the weak, and fighters against evil. Although she vowed to stick by him and help him, the minute anything threatening appears that makes her feel unhappy, she abandons her vows and abandons her man. Let’s break down her mistakes now, using actual conversations from the movie.

First, she doesn’t understand or respect the man she married as a man:

Kane: [while riding out of town] It’s no good. I’ve got to go back, Amy.

Amy: Why?

Kane: This is crazy. I haven’t even got any guns.

Amy: Then let’s go on. Hurry.

Kane: No, that’s what I’ve been thinkin’. They’re making me run. I’ve never run from anybody before.

Amy: I don’t understand any of this.

Kane: [after looking at his vest watch] Well, I haven’t got time to tell ya.

Amy: Then don’t go back, Will.

Kane: I’ve got to. That’s the whole thing. [He turns the buggy around and rides back into town]

Her feelings and her desires for the world to be a happy place for her are so strong that they cloud her judgment.

Second, she doesn’t understand the threat posed by evil men:


Kane: I sent a man up five years ago for murder. He was supposed to hang. But up North, they commuted it to life and now he’s free. I don’t know how. Anyway, it looks like he’s coming back.

Amy: I still don’t understand.

Kane: He was always wild and kind of crazy. He’ll probably make trouble.

Amy: But that’s no concern of yours, not anymore.

Kane: I’m the one who sent him up.

Amy: Well, that was part of your job. That’s finished now. They’ve got a new marshal.

Kane: He won’t be here until tomorrow. Seems to me I’ve got to stay. Anyway, I’m the same man with or without this. [He pins his badge on his vest]

Amy: Oh, that isn’t so.

Kane: I expect he’ll come lookin’ for me. Three of his old bunch are waiting at the depot.

Amy: That’s exactly why we ought to go.

Kane: They’ll just come after us, four of ’em, and we’d be all alone on the prairie.

Amy: We’ve got an hour.

Kane: What’s an hour?…What’s a hundred miles? We’d never be able to keep that store, Amy. They’d come after us and we’d have to run again, as long as we live.

Amy: No we wouldn’t, not if they didn’t know where to find us. Oh Will! Will, I’m begging you, please let’s go.

Kane: I can’t.

Amy: Don’t try to be a hero. You don’t have to be a hero, not for me.

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

Instead of recognizing how her feelings are deceiving her about the threat and trusting her husband, she tries to force him to accept her mistaken view of reality by threatening to abandon him.

One of Kane’s ex-girlfriends has a talk with Amy, which helps her to understand who Kane is, and what is expected of her:

Amy: That man downstairs, the clerk, he said things about you and Will. I’ve been trying to understand why he wouldn’t go with me, and now all I can think of is that it’s got to be because of you…Let him go, he still has a chance. Let him go.

Helen: He isn’t staying for me. I haven’t spoken to him for a year – until today. I am leaving on the same train you are…What kind of woman are you? How can you leave him like this? Does the sound of guns frighten you that much?

Amy: I’ve heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn’t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That’s when I became a Quaker. I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for people to live. Will knows how I feel about it.

Helen: I hate this town. I always hated it – to be a Mexican woman in a town like this.

Amy: I understand.

Helen: You do? That’s good. I don’t understand you. No matter what you say. If Kane was my man, I’d never leave him like this. I’d get a gun. I’d fight.

Amy: Why don’t you?

Helen: He is not my man. He’s yours.

Helen understands the need for a wife to stand by her man. But Amy’s response to evil is to shut her eyes and focus on feeling good and being happy. Notice that her “better way” is unspecified – it’s just a feeling she has that pacificism and no-violence will somehow “work” to stop evil. But in reality, pacifism is not a “better way” of dealing with evil – it does not work. Her pacifist response not only does not make evil go away, it actually encourages more evil. Weakness emboldens evildoers, and laying down your arms provokes them to do more evil. Will Kane knows this, but she won’t listen to him.

You can watch the final gunfight here, as well as Amy’s final decision:

So, this is why I really recommend this movie as a discussion-starter when you like a girl and are thinking of marrying her. It clarifies the essential problem with many young women today not being ready for marriage. To be fair, most women come around to respect their husbands and his different roles after they get married. However, the risk of divorce is so dangerous that it makes sense to bring it up for discussion before the marriage happens. Marriage is supposed to be an engine to serve God, and the success of that enterprise cannot be left to chance. You can’t just rely on the fact that she says the words of the vow, you have to check to see if she has a habit of keeping her promises when it goes against her own self-interest.

Ask yourself: Who are you, as a man? And does your woman accept that you have obligations to stand up to evil and do good ? Will she support you in your battle against evil, or will the marriage just be about her feelings and desires? I would especially beware of women who think that God is speaking to them through their feelings and desires. Look at her friends: are they practical and successful? Or are they irresponsible, unaccountable and reckless? Look at her father: does he have a plan for her, and does he lead her to be practical, frugal and hard-working? If you are not going to get an ally and a supporter in a wife, then you will not be able to serve God well, as a married man. Think about it.

8 thoughts on “A lesson about men for marriage-minded women from the movie “High Noon””

  1. Reblogged this on Patriactionary and commented:
    Excellent post.

    A few years back, I did a short review for a Reformed magazine of High Noon:

    A Western classic, High Noon portrays a town sheriff who has to face an unrepentant criminal just released from jail; the sheriff finds himself increasingly isolated, as the townspeople turn away in fear. Not a Christian movie per se, High Noon nevertheless should strike a chord with Reformed viewers, with its portrayal of the universal wickedness of humanity (shown as afflicting even the most upright and decent citizens, in terms of their moral cowardice in the face of evil), but also, in terms of the sheriff’s heroic unwillingness to compromise with evil, standing on principle, regardless of the cost. An entertaining, thought-provoking movie.

    But I don’t think I gave much thought to the wife’s character, just seeing it as part and parcel of the general cowardice of the townspeople, though still remembering that ‘a man’s foes shall be they of his own household’, as well. Whereas I think if I saw the movie for the first time now, that might be the first thing I’d notice, the wife’s refusal to stand by her man, to be a proper help-meet.

    There are indeed many lessons to be learned from ‘High Noon’, as well as it being an entertaining Western.

  2. that’s why I love my man. As Lovelace said “I could not love you as much, loved I not honor more.”

  3. Concur with Will, fantastic post WK, as usual.

    “Her feelings and her desires for the world to be a happy place for her are so strong that they cloud her judgment.”

    This, to me, is the key point. Her solipsism couples with her Quaker tendencies to blind her to reality. But first, solipsism: It’s clear her concern is about her–she is fearful, her security is threatened, she may lose a high-ranking partner in a gunfight. Her new beau faces a mortal threat–but she is hardest hit.

    Then there’s also human nature and evil, and her willful blindness to both The threat that Kane must deal with will follow them wherever they go, and running from it now just means that they (more accurately, Kane) will have to face it later…possibly when said evil is more emboldened by what it interprets as cowardice. Amy fails to realize this.

    “And does your woman accept that you have obligations to stand up to evil and do good ? Will she support you in your battle against evil, or will the marriage just be about her feelings and desires?”

    I would go further here and assert that a woman also has an obligation to stand up to evil and do good, whether or not she’s married, but particularly when she’s married to someone whose job it is to be the sheepdog charged with keeping the wolves at bay. Thus Helen is a more fully formed woman than Amy, the more mature helpmeet in this case. Amy may get to Helen’s level of maturity,

    It also occurs to me that, not having seen the movie in question, that Amy is more sheltered than Helen. If this is indeed so, then we can easily see how Helen, much more grounded in the reality of the human condition and between good and evil, would much more readily appreciate Kane’s stand for good and opposition to evil.

    “You can’t just rely on the fact that she says the words of the vow, “

    Trust what a woman does, and who she surrounds herself with, not what she says. Not a bulletproof assurance by any measure, but a strong indicator.

    1. “I would go further here and assert that a woman also has an obligation to stand up to evil and do good, whether or not she’s married, but particularly when she’s married to someone whose job it is to be the sheepdog charged with keeping the wolves at bay. ”

      I’m chatting with a woman I used to mentor on Skype right now, and it made me think of your comment. She went in and did a presentation on pro-life material to a bunch of students. She has her own ministry, her own way of fighting evil. Her husband also taught recently on intelligent design in the church.

  4. Great post Wintery Knight.

    Glad to see you Elusive Wapiti…I’m sure I speak for many when I say I miss your blog.

  5. Thanks Stig, WK.

    While I do miss the outlet, I don’t miss how much time it required for proper care and feeding, time that was and is better spent leading my family.

    Nowadays, I lurk…and appreciate the content produced by those who do it better than I (such as, for instance, the host of this blog).

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