The sheriff is in trouble. Bad guys are due to arrive in town on the next train; bad guys who are coming for one purpose, and that is to see him dead. He can't run. He can't hide. He has to face them down; but none of the townspeople will help him.
Will he survive?
You will be forgiven if the above immediately has you thinking of the 1952 Fred Zinneman-directed classic Western High Noon, starring Gary Cooper. But it's not.
Nope, this is Outland. Written and directed by Peter Hyams, released in 1981, Outland is the story of one William O'Niel, the aforementioned sheriff. And instead of taking place in the New Mexico of the Old West, it takes place on Jupiter's moon Io, sometime in the future. O'Niel, whose marriage is strained by his accepting postings to desolate outer-system Company facilities, is the new head law enforcement officer at a titanium mine on Io. A true Company town, the facility runs to the beat of the mine shift clock, with hardened miners working hard and blowing off steam on their offshifts, creating all the familiar problems of the saloon town.
But something's wrong at the mine. Workers are dying, and not all of them are dying of accident or fatigue. O'Niel will investigate, and find something the Company would rather he not - and he will eventually hear the Company director requesting that hit men be sent to the facility to deal with him.
The clocks of High Noon are replaced, here, with the brilliantly lit digital clock in the main Rec area showing the time to the next arriving shuttle - and soon, everyone in the facility knows what will happen when it does arrive. Only the bitter, isolated chief physician - played with dangling cigarette by Frances Sternhagen - is willing to be seen allied with O'Niel.
Outland is a hard science fiction movie. There is very little that is not relatively sober extrapolation of technology; space travel is slow and expensive, Io has low gravity, and the expense of maintaining the mine means that the pressure to produce is high. There are no high-tech weapons - shotguns and pistols, perfectly familiar to viewers, are all that is in evidence. A great deal of thought and effort went into the set design and set dressing, and it shows. Although the CRT-and-chrome of 1980s science fiction is certainly on view here, it is muted with scuffed and battered-looking functional consoles, furniture, corridors.
O'Niel is played by Sean Connery, gruff as ever. Peter Boyle plays the Company director antagonist. The story itself is somewhat simplistic, but that doesn't seem to be a negative; the story isn't complex, but it's solid, and it does have a point. Like its recent predecessor Alien, this movie is out to scare you with dangerous situations and killings in deep space, where there is no escape, but unlike Alien this film is quite clear that the real thing to fear out there is us, because people out there will be just the same as the people we know here on Earth.
But out there, there's even less recourse, even less justice; unless, like in the Old West, an idealist is the one wearing the badge.
Directed by Peter Hyams
William O'Niel: Sean Connery
Mark Sheppard: Peter Boyle
Sgt. Montone: James B. Sikking
Dr. Lazarus: Frances Sternhagen
Tarlow: John Ratzenberger