Last night I was going through my DVD collection (ahem when I probably should have been writing). Anyway, I came across High Noon, one of my all-time favorite movies. I remember the first time I watched it in one of Professor Drew Casper’s cinema class. The storytelling style is spare and elegant. You know so much about every character without any prologue or voice-over. It is one of those films that says so much with so few words.
High Noon is about Will Kane (Cary Grant) who has married Amy, a beautiful Quaker woman (Grace Kelly) and is retiring his post as town sheriff. But as soon as they say their vows, he finds out that a ruthless criminal he put in prison is on the next train to even the score. Amy wants him to leave immediately; she does not condone violence of any form. The townspeople refuse to stand up to the bad guy, leaving Will to face his enemy alone.
But for me the highlight of the movie was Katy Jurado. As Helen Ramirez, she is Gary Cooper’s ex-lover. While polite society has rejected her – she’s Mexican, lives in gaudy splendor above the town saloon and takes young lovers she can manipulate – Helen happens to be the wealthiest person in the town. Not the wealthiest woman, the wealthiest person who has invested in almost all of the town’s businesses.
Unfortunately for her, she is also the ex-lover of the ruthless bad guy. Will tells her to leave town and begins cashing out her businesses, determined to get on the next train out.
One of the best scenes in the movie – other than the infamous crane shot of Gary Cooper as he walks down the abandoned main street – is the confrontation scene between Amy and Helen. This is from their exchange (courtesy of IMDB):
Helen: 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.
Even though Amy is technically the heroine of the movie, Helen is one of those characters whom you want to know more about. She’s a survivor, she’s self sufficient and yet, there is a tragic tenderness inside of her. She has been abused and thrown away by so many men that she will never allow herself to be ruled by another one. But if Will hadn’t married Amy, if he’d married Helen instead, she would’ve given her life for him.
Too often, us romance and women’s fiction writers fool ourselves into thinking we have to create perfect, virtuous heroines. Or, we’re told by certain agents and editors that the heroine is too bitchy or too experienced. The heroine’s flaws are usually based on her insecurities or a wrong done to her that she carries from the past, while the men get to be rakes, men of the world or even man ho’s. And do you ever notice that in most romances, the men are almost always wealthy?
That’s a whole topic in of itself.
As I become a little more courageous in my own writing, I’ve noticed that my heroines are becoming more dimensional. They’re not so nice and they don’t always do the smart thing. But like Helen Ramirez, deep inside the hard shell, there is a tenderness and need to trust.
Who are the awesome fictional heroines that inspire you?