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Additional Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Other Sections:
      Bridges To Reading
      Links to the Internet
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

Additional Helpful Background — The Red Scare of the Late 1940s and Early 1950s

The charcter of Will Kane is a symbol for those Americans who stood up to Senator Joseph McCarthy and to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is also a criticism by contrast of American political and business leaders, and every day Americans, who failed to support people who were targets of the Red-Baiters. Like the townspeople in "High Noon" most of the country stood by and kept silent, permitting McCarthyism to flourish, and demonstrating once again that all that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men and women to do nothing.

After the Second World War, as the Cold War with the Soviet Union took hold, Senator Joseph McCarthy, the HUAC and those associated with them used tactics of guilt by association and character assassination to persecute Americans who had left-wing political beliefs. Since that time, political tactics by which people attack their opponents using unfounded accusation and innuendo have gone by the name "McCarthyism".

The McCarthyites said that they were trying to remove Communists and their sympathizers from positions of influence in society and government. However, the charges were usually undocumented and the assertions that the targets of the investigations lacked patriotism were almost always false. In reality, the Red-baiters, as they came to be called, were using the fear of Communism for their own political and economic gain by grossly exaggerating the influence of Communists in the U.S. In the process they ruined the careers and damaged the lives of many innocent Americans whose only offense was to disagree with the politics of the Red-baiters. (There were a few cases in which the charges turned out to be true. Perhaps the most celebrated example was Alger Hiss, a State Department official. When the records of the Soviet KGB were opened in the 1990s it was revealed that Hiss had actually been a Soviet spy.)

McCarthyism worked in the following manner. People who held left wing political beliefs were accused of being disloyal to the country. They were investigated and questioned about their past political associations. Some were required to appear before Congressional investigating committees. The investigations didn't focus on what a person may or may not have done, but only on their political associations. The HUAC and McCarthy's senate investigating subcommittee would require witnesses to identify people who belonged to various legal political organizations and name those who had attended left wing political meetings. Witnesses who gave names and disowned their former political associations would be deemed "rehabilitated." Those who did not cooperate would be labeled as "Communist sympathizers" who were disloyal to the United States. Often the names of people who did not cooperate would be placed on a blacklist. They would lose their jobs and would not be able to find other work in their chosen occupation. It was not only membership in the Communist Party (which has never been illegal in the U.S.) but also association with certain labor unions, political organizations seeking better conditions for the poor or for immigrants, Civil Rights organizations, and fraternal and social organizations, that could result in a person being investigated and blacklisted.

Some people refused to testify before the HUAC, citing the right to free speech and political association guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The government prosecuted many for contempt of Congress. A few people went to prison. Some Red-baiters started charging companies a fee for investigating their employees. In this way, they came to have an economic as well as a political interest in keeping the Red Scare going.

The McCarthyites paid special attention to the movie industry. Their intimidating tactics caused the creation of a particularly notorious blacklist that prevented many talented people from working for decades. The movie studios caved in to the demands of the Red-baiters by enforcing the blacklist. The rancor caused by the McCarthyite investigations lasted for decades. In 1999, some 45 years after the Red Scare was over, there were angry protests when the Academy of Motion Picture Artists gave an award to the talented director, Elia Kazan. During the Red Scare Mr. Kazan had saved his job by giving testimony against his friends and former political associates. For more on Mr. Kazan and this dispute and on the Red Scare generally, see TWM's Learning Guides to "The Crucible" and "On the Waterfront".

President Truman, most members of Congress, and the heads of both political parties did not condemn the overreaching and oppressive tactics of McCarthy, the HUAC, and their associates. President Eisenhower didn't do much better after he was elected in 1952. In 1954, McCarthy attacked the loyalty of soldiers in the U.S. Army, again using innuendo and unsubstantiated charges. In nationally televised hearings, McCarthy's brutal, irresponsible and dishonest tactics were exposed to the nation. The American people turned against him; McCarthy was later censured by the U.S. Senate and died in disgrace.

Martin Niemoeller, a German Lutheran pastor who lived during the Second World War gave a famous quote about the importance of protecting the rights of others.

"In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

See Actor Gary Cooper: Testimony to House Un-American Activities Committee. It is hard to believe that Mr. Cooper was unaware of the political implications of the film. Most likely, by 1952, like many other Americans, Mr. Cooper realized that the Red-baiters had gone too far and needed to be stopped.

This movie was inspired by a short story "The Tin Star" by John W. Cunningham. The story is much different than the film. The story is currently published in A Century of Great Western Stories: An Anthology of Western Fiction edited by John Jakes. Many of the stories in this anthology are excellent.

There are many documentaries on the Red Scare and Senator Joseph McCarthy. They include: "The Edward R. Murrow: The McCarthy Years" and "Point of Order". "Good Night and Good Luck!" is an excellent fictional treatment.


Additional Discussion Questions for U.S. History and Government Classes

1.  Just as many townspeople in Hadleyville thought that they could live with the Miller gang, many people in the U.S., during the late 1940s and early 1950s, believed that they could live with the Red-baiters. After all, most people were not targets of the investigations. In addition, people were afraid to speak out against the false accusations and guilt by association used by the McCarthyites; objecting to the tactics of the Red-baiters was a quick way to get on a blacklist. Could the United States have kept the civil liberties of its citizens if people had learned to "live with" McCarthy and the Red-baiters? Justify your conclusion. Suggested Response: If the civil liberties of one person are compromised, it is easier to take away the civil liberties of the next person and eventually the liberties of everyone. This is expressed forcefully in the famous quote from Martin Niemoeller.

3.  Why isn't guilt by association a valid way to make judgments about people? Suggested Response: Guilt by association is a logical fallacy which states that if, in a particular group of things or people, some of them have an attribute, then everyone in the group must have the same attribute. In the context of the Red Scares, the argument went that because some Communists were not patriotic then anyone who was a Communist or who associated with Communists in any political endeavor, such as supporting a minimum wage for workers or universal health care for all citizens, was also unpatriotic. This is patently untrue, but it is what McCarthy and the redbaiters had convinced many people. Note that a person's associations may be reason for some suspicion and may give an investigator an lead that needs to be followed up, but no conclusion can logically be drawn from mere association. But it is never proof of anything.

Now, it is true that there may be particular groups of things or people which all have the same attribute. However, that is not because of the mere fact of association. It must be due to some other factor.

4.  In the movie, each of the townspeople has a reason for doing nothing to help Kane. Describe some of the reasons. Are any of them valid? Suggested Response:

  • One of the selectman argues that a gunfight between Kane and the Miller gang would spoil the town's reputation as a peaceful place in which to live and do business. This is short term thinking. Of course, there will be conflict as the town resists an invasion by criminals, but in the long run the town will be more peaceful without the criminals than with them.
  • The deputy marshal allows his anger at Kane to govern his conduct, rather than fulfilling his duties as a public servant. The deputy as been paid to protect the town in good times and in bad. Turning in his badge just before the fight with the Miller gang is an evasion of responsibility.
  • The judge allows fear to overcome his obligations. His situation is the same as that of the deputy; he is paid to be the judge in the good time and in the bad as well. In addition, if Miller had killed Kane, the judge would have lived in fear the rest of his life, worried that Miller would come after him.
  • Some of the people in the church claim that Kane's fight with Miller is a personal dispute and that Kane is worried that Miller will pursue him into his new life Their point begs the question. People who do the right thing can do it for a number of reasons. Just because they gain an advantage for doing the right thing doesn't mean that it is the wrong thing to do. The important point is that the town will be better off if Miller and his gang are stopped. These people are just evading responsibility with a specious argument.
  • Then there is the friend who states that he will help Kane only if others stand with the marshal, but that he will not be the only one to be at Kane's side. He states that he has a responsibility to his family. There is some force to his point, but just about everyone has someone for whom they are responsible. By this logic, no one would ever agree to be the first to stand with anyone else in a difficult situation. In addition, this friend and his family would not be safe in a town run by outlaws. What this friend should do is find others to help Kane.
  • Kane's mentor, the former marshal, claims that his arthritis would make him a liability in a gun fight. It may be true that his arthritis would hamper his effectiveness, but Kane asks for his support for a reason. The old man's support might rally others and his lack of support may be seen as a signal to others that they can remain on the sidelines.
  • Mrs. Ramirez does help Kane by encouraging Amy to stand by her new husband. However, Mrs. Ramirez refuses to help Kane directly. Perhaps it's because she was still angry with Kane for leaving her. But that's no reason to let the man die. Mrs. Ramirez claims that she owes nothing to the Hadleyville community because it never did anything for her. That is only partially true, because she has made money on her business interests in the town, even if she has had to disguise some of them. But who will stop Miller from coming after Mrs. Ramirez if Kane is killed?

All of the excuses that people in Hadleyville used to avoid helping Kane are in one way or another self-serving and short sighted. All of them evade one type or responsibility or another. See the quotation from Martin Niemoeller.

5.  Was Kane popular with everyone in town? What does this tell us about the Red Scare? Suggested Response: Remember that there were friends of the outlaws in the bar and the hotel clerk didn't like Kane at all. He remarked to Mrs. Kane that it was time for Kane to get his comeuppance. There was a lot of support in the country for the Red-baiters and many people didn't understand the problems with the tactics of guilt by association and smear by innuendo.

6.  Kane's mentor, the former sheriff said, "People have to talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it." What did he mean by this? Suggested Response: Law and order is an abstraction and people have to have some imagination to understand that it will yield benefits in the future. Very often people wait until someone is hurt or there is some tragedy before they are motivated to act.

Social-Emotional Learning


1.  Did Amy Kane do the right thing in abandoning her belief in nonviolence to help her husband? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. Clearly, the movie takes this position, but a strong answer will note that marriage should be a partnership, a give and take, in which the principles of each partners should be respected. One partner should not be required to sacrifice core beliefs. Then again, married people need to support one another. Perhaps these people shouldn't have gotten married.


2.  What do you think of Will Kane's leadership skills? Suggested Response: They were pretty poor. He didn't understand the townspeople well enough to know how to motivate them.

3.  What does a good leader do when there is a job that needs to be done and the troops will not follow? Suggested Response: He must find a way to motivate them. This is perhaps the hardest part of leadership. Sometimes, if he can't motivate his people, he must go on alone, as did Will Kane.


4.  Will Kane was afraid. Did this mean he lacked courage? Suggested Response: No. Courage is doing something dangerous when you are afraid. Doing something just because it is dangerous is simply stupid. People who are about to enter into a dangerous course of action need to make sure that the values served by the course of action outweigh the values that will be sacrificed by undergoing the danger. Kane made the decision that the risk of death (i.e. the risk of sacrificing the value of life) was outweighed by the importance of the value of upholding the law and protecting what he had fought for years to create, a town safe from this band of criminals. In addition, Kane doubted that leaving town was a practical solution. He thought that the criminals would come after him wherever he went and facing them in town, as he thought at the time, the backing of the townspeople, was the safer course of action. This leads to the next question.

5.  Was Will Kane acting courageously in staying in town and facing the gang? Answer this question in light of the following facts: Miller had a grudge against Kane and would have probably tried to catch up with Kane had Kane tried to leave town. In that event, Miller and his gang would have had the advantage of surprise. When he decided to fight the outlaws in the town, Kane thought he would improve his chances of surviving, especially since, initially, he expected the townspeople to stand by him. Suggested Response: It always takes courage to face death directly. Kane was courageous to return to fight Miller and Kane acted courageously when he didn't leave after he found out that the townspeople wouldn't stand by him. The fact that Will Kane benefited from his decision to stay and fight Miller in the town, didn't make his decision any less courageous.

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
(Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner"
and  usesThe Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.)


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

See questions 1, 2 and 4 above, relating to the use of this movie in U.S. History and Government classes.


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)

See questions relating to the use of this movie in U.S. History and Government classes. Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

Additional Assignments

  • Students can write an essay relating to any of the Discussion Questions.
  • Students can write an essay comparing this film to "Good Night and Good Luck" or any of the other films about the Red Scare.
  • Students can research and write an essay about the Red Scare, about the effect of the Red Scare on Carl Foreman, about the career of Senator Joseph McCarthy or about the legacy of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
See also, Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

Additional Parenting Points:

"High Noon" is a classic western about loyalty and determination; it is also about love and the sacrifices made on its behalf. Your child may be interested in some of the background information that opens the film to another level of understanding. In addition to being a classic Western, "High Noon" is one of the few movies created in the U.S. in which the film's true meaning was disguised because the filmmakers could not get the studios to make the movie if they had stated their points directly. What were these controversial points? They were a protest against the excesses of the red-baiting in the McCarthy era and the failure of the people who were in control of the studios to stand up against the infamous blacklist that ruined many careers. Check out the information contained in the Student Handout.

Bridges to Reading:

This movie is based on a short story "The Tin Star" by John W. Cunningham. This story is currently published in the book A Century of Great Western Stories: An Anthology of Western Fiction edited by John Jakes, 2000, A Forge Book, New York. See also The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

Links to the Internet:

Common Core State Standards that can be Served by this Learning Guide
(Anchor Standards only)

Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.") CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards:   1953 Academy Awards: Best Actor(Cooper); Best Editing; Best Music; Best Song; 1953 Golden Globe Awards: Best Actor (Cooper); Best Supporting Actress (Jurado); Best Score; Best Cinematography; 1953 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Zinneman); Best Screenplay. "High Noon" is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" film. This film is ranked #33 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006).

Featured Actors:  Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, and Grace Kelly.

Director:  Fred Zinneman.


In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • The American Western by Stephen McVeigh, 2007, Edinburgh University Press; note TWM disagrees with much of the analysis of "High Noon" in this book;
  • Encyclopædia Britannica articles on "Joseph R. McCarthy," "United States" [Accessed May 27, 2002]; and
  • CNN Profile on Senator Joseph McCarthy. This is Learning Guide was written by Mary Red Clay and James Frieden. This Guide was first published on August 6, 2012

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