From Noon Till Three

From Noon Till Three.
United Artists 1976.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve probably seen Charles Bronson in things before, but I don’t really recall him, and I don’t seem to have a tag for him. He is playing very against type in this movie, but I don’t really have a bearing on what that is other than “macho”.

I’m also not really clear on what this is about, since every summary I’ve seen seems to pick a different thread to focus on. There’s a bank robber who leaves his gang, there’s a widow whose story becomes a famous book, and it all starts with a life-changing three hours they spend together, and this is in some way a comedy. I hope I can keep my synopsis coherent.

After watching the movie:

Graham Dorsey’s horse breaks a leg as the gang of robbers he rides with heads into town for a job. Needing a replacement, the gang stop at the only ranch between there and the town and try to commandeer a horse, but the widow Amanda Starbuck claims there are no horses. The gang leaves Graham behind, promising to come back for him at about three, after the job. As Amanda leads Graham through the house so he can be satisfied there’s nobody else around, he attempts to assault her, though she determines to frustrate him by giving no response. After an interruption, Graham claims that his first stirring in years has passed and he has no hope of reclaiming it, which causes her to insist on trying. Among other things, they spend the time talking over their past lives and future dreams, falling in love in the space of a couple of hours. Graham decides to quit the gang, marry Amanda, and become a banker, but when word reaches them that the gang was captured at the bank and will hang soon, Amanda insists that Graham put aside his love for her and act on the noble impulse he surely has to go rescue them. Evading a posse, Graham steals a traveling dentist’s clothes to evade them, only to get arrested for the dentist’s swindling and sentenced to a year in prison, while the posse kills the dentist, leading Amanda to believe her love is dead. A year later, the novel of her romantic story From Noon Till Three has become a worldwide, multimedia sensation, and Graham returns from prison to find the happy ending he’s been waiting for can’t hope to compete with the legend that grew out of that afternoon.

At first I didn’t see what the talk of Bronson playing against type was about, because Graham in the beginning really is that tough guy type for the most part. But then, the first half of the movie, in that afternoon, is halfway playing its tropes straight so that the second part can completely subvert them. Bronson doesn’t get to break out of that type much until the second half, the lover out of prison ready for his deferred happily ever after, and following.

Amanda seems to be one to get married to ideas more than to the men in her life. She married Mr. Starbuck when he was an old man out of necessity, and until she becomes enamored with Graham, she’s married to the idea of being a widow living in a museum of the effects of the man she pledged her life to. After the publication of the novel, she’s even more than a widow, she’s consigned herself to living the tragic end of the story that was built up in romance tropes far beyond what reality can hope to live up to. In the beginning, Amanda lives in a tomb dedicated to Mr. Starbuck of her own making. In the end, Graham finds the entire world is his own tomb as she built it for him. I don’t think Amanda fell in love so much as she found a better story to tell herself about her life.

This movie was billed as a comedy, but it’s more of a tragic satire. Very little of it was actually something to laugh at. The main humor I found in it was during the transition passing the year, through Graham’s mistaken arrest and the exaggerations of the truth (and of the lies that he told her) that come out in the excerpts of the novel that we hear. It’s ultimately a grim irony more than laugh out loud comic misfortune. Definitely the kind of complexity (so many details I couldn’t leave out!) that marks it as an adaptation of a novel rather than an original screenplay. It’s not a fun movie, but it is a fascinating story.

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