A WESTERN set in the 1800s would seem to have little or nothing in common with a Christmas movie set in the 1940s. One is about a dangerous outlaw seeking revenge on the sheriff who sent him to jail. And the other is about an angel getting his wings. So I would have thought up until last Monday night. That’s when I saw–for only the second time in my life–HIGH NOON, the 1951 Fred Zinnemann classic, and began comparing the two films (as well as realizing I was surely not the first moviegoer to do so).
Maybe it was the appearance of character actor Thomas Mitchell (playing a trusted friend in both films) early on that made me think of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Or maybe it was seeing a happy couple having their wedding day abruptly interrupted. In NOON’s case, the imminent run-in with a dangerous outlaw; in LIFE’s case, a dangerous run on George Bailey’s father’s bank. A curious coincidence. But then there are other similarities–some more obvious than others–between the two.
The hero is an American everyman. A man with ideals, character, and dreams–dreams of romance with a lovely, wholesome woman (Grace Kelly–a Quaker; and Donna Reed), unhappy with his life in the small town.
Trouble ensues, as stated before, and decisions must be made. Leave with his bride, or stay and fight it out. The people who he depends upon at first seem willing to help. But then later on circumstances cause them to decline. Even the most trusted friends (Mitchell) fail him. He becomes desperate, at his wit’s end. Former love interests appear (Katy Jurado and Gloria Grahame). The clock ticks towards the 12 o’clock hour–in one case midnight, in the other, high noon.
(Added: The familiar melody of Buffalo Gals plays in both films.)
At the conclusion, the hero’s friends and townspeople gather. Cooper and Kelly, and Stewart and Reed, will now have a chance to begin their lives, and they and the people they touched are the better for it.
I’ve placed still frames from both movies side-by-side below. Other similarities exist, no doubt, and–as I said above–have been covered previously by others (I didn’t search for any so as not to be influenced). Please feel free to share your observations in the comments.
About to be married…
Dangerous passions from the past…
A trusted friend (actor Thomas Mitchell) fails…
A plea for help and understanding…
Desperate–just before high noon, and just before midnight…
A crowd gathers at the end…
Whoa, very astute — I never drew the comparison — I think it’s time for me to review both films. Thank you.
I haven’t seen HIGH NOON, but this comparison is interesting to me because I’ve always thought IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a darker movie than its reputation indicates. Take away that bit of divine intervention, when the angel shows George Bailey what his town would have become if he had left to pursue his dreams, and you have the story of an increasingly desperate and isolated man who is called on to be heroic one more time. The happy ending is earned.
I agree with Vickie. Fascinating and insightful comparison.
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Terrific comparisons, Dave, of “High Noon” (one of many classics I omitted from my hastily assembled favorite flicks list) and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (Another inexcusable omission). Thomas Mitchell was one of those character actors who seemingly popped up in almost every classic film. He was a member of Capra and Ford “stock” companies. I still haven’t tallied how many films Mitchell did in that legendary Hollywood year, 1939. Duke Wayne’s “Rio Bravo” was supposedly a “hawk” reply to Coop’s ‘Dove’ “High Noon”. Good stuff, Dave!