This is gonna sound crazy, but HIGH NOON PART II: THE RETURN OF WILL KANE, a 1980 TV movie with Lee Majors replacing Gary Cooper as the hero from the 1952 classic, is a damn good sequel in my opinion. It’s directed by Jerry Jameson, who IMDb says was an uncredited director on that Burt Reynolds movie I like, HEAT. I don’t know what the story is on that, but he definitely did AIRPORT ’77 and a bunch of TV shows ranging from The Mod Squad to Walker: Texas Ranger.
So it’s some TV guy directing. More significant in my opinion is that the teleplay was written by Elmore Leonard, and it shows. It has his knack for interesting language and casual conversation, humor in the face of danger, bonding between lawmen and outlaws, and a sort of rambling turn of events that reflects something about the ridiculousness of life. In the original HIGH NOON the freshly-retired marshal got into trouble because his arch-nemesis had been released and was coming into town for revenge. In this one the trouble starts because he and the Missus (Katherine Cannon, THE HIDDEN) are trying to buy some horses.
It’s a year after he shot Frank Miller and left, and he comes back to Hadleyville for this transaction. At the same time Ben Irons (David Carradine) and his men just got off a train, probly the same one the bad guys came in on last time. We know they’re trouble because a deputy recognized Irons’s face and went to check out the wanted posters. They show up wanting to buy the same horses that Kane just paid for, and they try to convince him to let them have them. It’s a tense conversation because Irons tries to act friendly, but Kane lets him know he remembers him from his days in law enforcement.
“Must’ve been during my wayward youth,” Irons says.
“It was a couple of years ago,” Kane says.
Both of them are tough guys, so they stay in their chairs and act calm. But Tracy Walter (you know, Bob the Goon:
comes in and Irons lets him know this guy won’t let them have the horses, and the kid’s ready to draw over it.
Except then Irons starts laughing and tells his friend this is Will Kane, so he backs down and starts calling him “Mr. Kane.” Irons was really just fucking with him, and the genius of the scene is that all this conversation that played as bad-guy-pretending-to-be-friendly-to-intimidate was actually just a guy being friendly. Even when he got off the train and said “Mornin’, deputy” it was probly a sincere greeting, not a taunt. He’s actually a nice guy!
Tell that to Marshal J.D. Ward (Trapper John M.D.‘s Pernell Roberts), though. He’s Kane’s successor who makes you wish he would’ve given his star to Lloyd Bridges after all. This guy’s dangerous aggression really lays out for us what a good, principled lawman Kane was. When Ward shows up with a posse to arrest Irons for murder, Kane doesn’t want a bunch of bullets flying around with his little lady there, so he goes back and forth between the parties as a messenger to negotiate a surrender or something. Irons says he didn’t do it, he was never in Van Horn, and in fact Kane knows he’s telling the truth because he knows he was in Yuma Prison at that time. But before it can get any further the posse starts shooting.
“Wait a minute, talk to the man!” Kane pleads. It’s kind of like an outraged citizen witnessing police over-reaction, but it also happens to be the last guy who had his same job. So it’s that tension of the veteran thinking the new guy’s doing it wrong, and the new guy being stubborn about wanting to do it his way. Out of my way, old timer.
So Ward and his boys do their law enforcement the new fangled way, which is that you just shoot everywhere and miss most of the guys you’re trying to hit while hitting all of the horses that Kane just fucking bought. A classic Elmore Leonard bit is when they kill a guy first before figuring out if he’s wanted or not. A deputy has a dead body draped across the back of a horse. Ward lifts the head up by the hair to look at the face.
“Is this one anybody?” he asks.
“Don’t recognize him from none of the pictures. What do I do with him?”
“How should I know? Virgil, why don’t you bury this somewhere, huh? Unless you want to,” he says, looking at Kane. He just killed a man for no reason and he’s referring to him as an inanimate object, and using him to get in a dig at Kane.
“If you don’t know him, why’d you shoot him?” Kane asks.
So, shit. Kane is out $1500 he just spent on horses. The guy that sold it to him offers to pretend the sale didn’t go through, but Kane is too honest and doesn’t want a working man to take a fall for him. He goes to talk to the judge (M. Emmett Walsh), who won’t do anything about his lawman shooting the horses “acting in his official capacity.” He says it’s Irons that owes him the money. He did, after all, run near the horses while running from a crazy fucking asshole trying to execute him on the spot for a crime he didn’t commit.
So Kane decides on a plan: he’s gonna go find Irons before Ward kills him so he can serve him a subpoena and bring him to claims court.
“If Irons owes me $1500 he ain’t no good to me dead, is he?”
You can read it different ways, but in my opinion this is Kane having to rationalize doing the right thing as doing something in his own self interest. He’s still kind of in dutch with the wife from a year ago so he has to pretend it’s strictly a legal and financial matter. He can’t admit that he wants to serve justice and save the life of an innocent man.
As always Leonard has great dialogue, sometimes in a subtle way. These characters have no respect for each other and they get their digs in passive-aggressively. So when Kane comes across Ward’s camp with all kinds of equipment and luxuries set up he doesn’t say “Jesus Christ, why are you such a pussy? I did this job for years and we never needed all this shit!” He simply says “Just like home, huh?” And when he finds the black and Native trackers going after Irons while Ward kicks it back at the fancy camp he doesn’t straight up say that he’s a lazy racist asshole making them do all the work and taking credit for it. He says, “You run the hounds and then Ward comes in for the kill. What does he do then, throw you a bone?”
That really is Ward’s philosophy. He believes in shooting from a distance. He’s a sniper, basically. He thinks that Frank Miller “got too close,” he would’ve shot him from far away like a man. Kane is the opposite. When he teams up with Irons and has a chance to take Ward out from the hills he gets him in his crosshairs but he just can’t pull the trigger. That’s the difference between the two. I tell you, these marshals today.
Actually, John Wayne would hate to hear this, but Kane really doesn’t like shooting people. He says he didn’t have a choice with Miller. “It was either that or run,” and he wasn’t gonna run. But getting a chance to shoot this asshole in the back, he’s not gonna take it. And Irons reveals that he doesn’t like shooting either. That’s how he got arrested, he had a man in his sights, but he lowered.
“A couple of deadly killers, ain’t we?” he jokes.
Another one of the many joys of the movie is watching the resentment growing on the tracker Alonzo (J.A. Preston, THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, REMO WILLIAMS). He’s just doing his job like a professional, and then Ward sends him in with a white flag to talk to Kane and Irons, but then he starts shooting. Not only is it a bullshit coward thing to do, but Alonzo could’ve been shot in the crossfire like a horse. And do you think he’s gonna stay loyal after that? Also there’s the part where Ward calls him “boy” and he hesitates before answering. Considering how long he has to put up with this shit.
Man, I love all the tough guy talk in this. When Alonzo is parleting with Kane Irons says “He’s shoveling some kind of load.”
Alonzo is annoyed that the other guy is interrupting, and asks, “He do the talking, or you?”
“I’m listening,” Kane says. “You haven’t said anything yet.”
Eventually they all come back into town so we can once again test the mettle of the people of Hadleyville. See if they pussy out again. The judge and a bunch of people know that Irons is wounded and hiding in the hotel, and they’re in the saloon arguing about whether to man up and help Kane or not. Then Ward comes in and says no one can leave until they apprehend Irons, so Walsh says “Well, it’s out of our hands now.” Saved by the bell.
The part of Amy Kane was pretty weak in the original. She’s the wimpy Quaker who tries to stop Kane from doing the right thing. In this one she gets to do a little bit more. She tells off Ward to his face and shames the whole town for never helping her husband. But she still gets a raw deal because at the end Kane puts on the damn star again. And she does not look like her opinion on this matter has changed.
“Oh honey, we’re just going into town to buy horses, we’ll be in and out in a half an hour, I swear!” Never should’ve fuckin listened to him.