This is another example of a film that I have not seen for a long time but which has stuck with me ever since I did just for its oddness. I’m not doing any research for this post – everything I write here comes just from my memory.
To be clear, I have never even seen the entirety of From Noon Til Three – but I think I have seen the second half a couple of times on TV. My purpose in writing this is not to try to convince you that you should see this movie, nor is it to convince you to stay away. It’s just to tell you about the film, and then you can decide if it’s something you ever want to seek out and watch. But the responsibility for that choice is entirely your own.
From Noon Til Three stars Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland, who were at some point married in real life. It must have come out in the late 60’s or early 70’s. Bronson of course is probably most famous for Death Wish and its sequels, but I remember him most clearly as the guy who is in The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, and The Great Escape. In two of those large-casted films, he is one of the few survivors, while in the third he is amongst the many to die. He survives From Noon Til Three, but in a bittersweet way, which is part of the film’s strangeness.
Jill Ireland, on the other hand, is best known to me as the main guest star in the Star Trek classic series episode This Side of Paradise, which is the one in which Spock is infected by alien happy-flowers, which causes him to frolic in the trees with Ireland, and in which Kirk must trash-talk Spock and Vulcans in general to get him to snap out of it.
Anyway, as near as I can piece together from my memory and from reasoning faculties, From Noon Til Three starts with the story of Graham Dorsey, an old-West outlaw whose gang gets captured in the middle of a crime. Dorsey either abandons his gang or simply escapes, and takes refuge in the home of well-to-do beauty (Ireland). Perhaps she is a widow, I’m not sure. But she is alone, and he basically holds her hostage.
Of course their relationship is acrimonious at the start, but over the afternoon that they are together they soften toward each other and eventually become passionate and fall in love. Dorsey knows a good thing when he sees it and he intends to leave his gang permanently and start a new life with this woman. But she has a less practical, more romantic view of Dorsey than he has of himself. When she discovers that his gang is captured and due to be hanged, she insists that he attempt to rescue them. He wants nothing to do with it – he knows that such a plan is doomed and he basically wants to be rid of his fellow outlaws anyway.
To assuage her, he agrees to make an effort to rescue his gang, but his real plan is to just hide out for a while in the wilderness until it is too late, and then to return to her, pretending that he has failed. He finds a traveling salesman or a traveling doctor (I don’t recall which) and takes his identity, in order to bide the necessary intervening days. I don’t remember if he just robs the guy or if the guy accidentally dies, or even if, more cruelly, Dorsey actually kills him. In any case, he adopts the guy’s role, and the bounty hunters who are tracking Dorsey (for the original crime) end up finding the Salesman (now in Dorsey’s clothing) and either kill him or shoot his already dead corpse, thus believing they have killed him. They take the body back to town, passing Jill Ireland’s home. Ireland comes away from the encounter believing Dorsey to be dead (she never sees the body’s face).
Dorsey meanwhile drives his cart into another town and finds to his dismay that the man whose identity he has stolen is a crook and a charlatan, and the people in the two are not too happy to see him again (and not too clear about what he looked like). Dorsey is arrested for that man’s crimes, and spends the next year or more in jail!
So to summarize, Dorsey is in jail, counting the days until he can serve his sentence and return to his rich, beautiful love. But that love fully believes Dorsey is dead, killed in a noble attempt to rescue his fellow gang members, sacrificing his life and their love in the process.
Somehow, in that time Dorsey is in jail, his story becomes famous. Jill Ireland finds new hope and new life in being an inspiration to people all over the country and even internationally. She receives letters from people asking advice about love. Her home becomes a museum, where people travel to see the actual sights where she and Graham Dorsey fell in love. Their story becomes a book, a song, a play, a legend…all called From Noon Til Three, reflecting, presumably, the hours that they spent together.
To this day, I can hum the tune of this song, which we hear several times in several different arrangements through the movie, including a barbershop quartet. Here are the lyrics:
Some have a lifetime
Some just a day
Love isn’t something that matters that way
Nothing’s ever forever
Forever’s a lie
All we have is the time between “Hello” and “Goodbye”
It’s not how long the song
It’s not how wide the sky
It’s just how sweet the time between “Hello” and “Goodbye”
Anyway, of course this whole story is told only through Jill Ireland’s perspective. And so the Graham Dorsey of legend becomes quite a different person than the Graham Dorsey of real life.
Eventually, Dorsey is released from jail. Knowing nothing of his own fame in the meantime, he eagerly returns to Ireland’s home to be reunited with her, but his reaction is not what he had hoped for. Ireland is terrified by his appearance, thinking he is a simple intruder, and failing to recognize him for who he really is. She insists that Dorsey was taller, more handsome, more perfect than the man in front of her. Dorsey’s attempts to prove himself by sharing their intimate details are fruitless as their story has by now become so famous that he could have easily read it all in the book. She runs from him in terror as he chases her through the house. Finally, she pulls out a gun, threatening him. But he begins to get through to her, and convince her of who he is, that the report of his death was a mistake.
But the truth is too much for her to bear. She has survived on his myth, and on the love and devotion she has experienced from the many who have found inspiration in her story. Rather than face the truth and be reunited with the man whose love she claims has defined her, she takes her own life.
Devastated, Dorsey leaves, and becomes a destitute wanderer. He stumbles from place to place, with constant pop-culture reminders of his exaggerated tale haunting him wherever he turns. Eventually, he finds a musical theatre rendition of From Noon Til Three, and he storms onto the stage as the fictional version of Graham Dorsey bravely volunteers to give up everything out of loyalty to his gang, crying out to anyone who will listen the truth of the matter.
He ends up arrested and suspected to be insane. After all, he consistently claims to be a famous and dead celebrity, with no way of proving his true identity. Nobody believes him, and he is committed to a mental asylum.
Entering the asylum, he is greeted by typically odd and vague-acting collection of fellow patients. One of them asks him what is name is, and he answers slowly, uncertainly, “Graham. Graham Dorsey.” The man smiles back at him, and says, “Welcome Graham.” Graham returns the smile and joins the little community, at last happy to find someone who will acknowledge him.
And that’s it! Feel free, if you want, to check out this odd little Western romantic tragedy (an under-utilized genre if ever there was one).
After some basic research, I find that the actual title of the film is “From Noon Till Three” (note the double-L in “Till”) and that it actually came out in 1976, a bit later than I thought. Bronson and Ireland were married at the time, and the film was directed by Frank D. Gilroy, who actually adapted it from his own novel. Also, the movie was apparently one of several “off-beat and revisionist” Westerns that came out that decade (so maybe it wouldn’t have made the original viewers go “Wha–!?!?!??!??!!!?” as much it made me).
If you really want a taste f this odd bit of cinema, you can watch the last four minutes of the movie on Youtube, including the fact that some of the details of the bittersweet ending are different that I’d recalled. This also gives you a chance to hear the title song, which was apparently sung by Jill Ireland, and includes many lyrics I did not list (as well as at least one correction to the ones that I did).