A vitally stirring western unlike most westerns of its time
I can’t think of a film that does a more electrifying job of showing the choices people make when doing what’s right requires a frightening act of bravery. In “High Noon”, with its spellbinding, magnificently produced “beat the clock” narrative, no one is spared a moral dilemma. This timeless film is in essence a morality play about courage, told in a unique western style. It is a film you don't want to miss. With its sparsely orchestrated title song played over soundless action, from the first frame you know this film is going to be different. It sets the stage brilliantly for the rest of the film - right away there is a feeling of quiet loneliness on top of growing tension. Devoid of typical western film action, horse chases or damsels in distress, and with starkly stunning black and white photography and an atypical western hero, this film was like a breath of fresh air going against the grain of most westerns of its day. It is one of a few films almost shot in real time, and clocks pretty much become a leading character. It is a gritty, emotional and suspenseful tale of being alone while surrounded by loads of people. “High Noon” stars Gary Cooper in his comeback role, and features newcomer Grace Kelly, who would go on to become a legend. In addition, it is brimming with a huge assembly of superb character actors.
“High Noon” is one of the top films to come out of classic Hollywood. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards (including “Best Picture”), ended up winning four, and can often be found on the greatest movies of all-time lists.
Fred Zinnemann, director of “High Noon”, was one of Hollywood’s preeminent directors, and one of the first to strive for realism and insist on shooting on location. He began directing in the early 1930s with short films and moved to directing features (mostly “B” pictures) in the early 40s. Born in Austria, many thought he was a bad choice to direct “High Noon” since he was a foreigner and westerns were such an American genre. Producer Stanley Kramer (mentioned below) hired him regardless and Zinnemann did a truly outstanding job. The direction in this film is phenomenal. This was Zinnemann’s first and only western. His background in low budget “B” films and a desire for more realistic films paid off, making “High Noon” very original for its time. He earned a “Best Director” Academy Award nomination for this film, one of 10 career nominations (in various categories). He won four Oscars during his career (one each for directing "A Man for All Seasons" and "The Sundowners", one as a producer, and one for a short film). He directed many fantastic films including "A Man for All Seasons”, “Oklahoma!”, and “From Here to Eternity”, which I will definitely include in this blog. Fred Zinnemann died in 1997 at the age of 89.
The star of “High Noon” is Gary Cooper, who plays “Marshal Will Kane”. Gary Cooper (also known as “Coop”) was one of the most popular, top Hollywood stars of his time and was voted number 11 of the men on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years...100 Stars” list of the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends”. He stood very tall at 6'3", and was known for his understated, held back acting style along with an honest, no pretense manner on and off-screen. He had a slight limp from a car accident from when he was a teenager which was responsible for his unique horse riding style. It’s been said that while filming he seemed so deadpan you couldn’t tell if he was even acting, but when you saw the footage you could see a lot going on emotionally with him. Coop often played the tough guy or the awkward shy type - but either way always a hero. With his “common man” persona of honesty and near nobility he came to be known as the “Quintessential American Hero”. Just like all top stars, he protected and worked on his persona, and is even quoted as saying to a screenwriter writing a part for him, “Just make me the hero”. Coop left Montana for Hollywood in search of a job as an illustrator and instead found work as a stunt horse rider in western films. That lead to extra and bit parts in silent films in the mid 20s and a small role in 1927’s “Wings” (the very first film to win a “Best Picture” Academy Award) which launched his career. Cooper became a star in 1929 with his first sound film, “The Virginian”, a western in which he originated the famous line “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us”. He appeared in over 100 films, many of them westerns, including several classics which will be on here eventually. Among his classics are "Sergeant York", "Meet John Doe", "The Pride of the Yankees", "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", and of course, "High Noon”. At one point, Gary Cooper was the highest paid man in the US. By the time “High Noon” came around he was an aging star in somewhat poor heath, and at a career downturn. This film revived his star status, and awarded him with his second “Best Actor” Academy Award (his first was for 1941's, “Sargent York”). His two Oscar wins were out of a career total of five nominations. In 1961 he was given an Honorary Oscar for his body of work as an actor. He was married only once, to a socialite from 1933 until 1953 when they separated, but they never divorced. Coop had a famous affair with actress Lupe Velez, and another with Patricia Neal (who you saw in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”). He was known to have affairs with nearly all of his leading ladies (including Grace Kelly from this film, who was almost 30 years younger). Gary Cooper died in 1961 at the age of 60.
Grace Kelly, who plays “Amy Fowler Kane”, became a top Hollywood star, award winning actress, a real life princess, and a legend. She came from a prominent Philadelphia family (her father was a multiple Olympic Gold Medal winner), and she began her acting career in 1950. She appeared in theater and television in the early 1950s, and “High Noon” was her second film. Her third film, “Mogambo” (which was a loose remake of “Red Dust”, featured on this blog earlier) made her a star. One of the screen’s most stunning beauties, she was particularly known for playing classy, “icy blonde” types who usually had a sultry sexuality just under the surface. The “icy blonde” type was a favorite of director Alfred Hitchcock (director of "Notorious", film #3 on this blog) and they made three films together ("Dial M for Murder”, "Rear Window", and ”To Catch a Thief”) for which she is probably most remembered as an actress. Grace won a “Best Actress” Academy Award for the 1954 drama, “The Country Girl”, in which she is fantastic playing against type. She received one other Oscar nomination for “Mogambo”. She was voted number 13 of the women on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years...100 Stars” list of the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends”. In 1955, while filming “To Catch a Thief” in the French Riviera, she was asked to participate in the Cannes Film Festival. During a photoshoot she met Prince Rainier III of Monaco and they married in 1956. Grace was 26, a major international star, and had made only eleven Hollywood films. Upon her marriage, she retired from acting to fulfill her duties as Princess Grace of Monaco. She loved acting and missed it (as Princess she wasn’t permitted to continue her acting career). Hitchcock kept begging her to come back and appear in another one of his films, which never could or did happen. Princess Grace had 3 children, Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stéphanie. In 1982, while driving with her daughter Stéphanie along the famous steep cliffs and sharp turns of the French Riviera (rumored to be the same road on which she drove with Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief”), she suffered a stroke and her car drove off a cliff. Princess Stéphanie survived and Princess Grace died after being in a coma. She was 52 years old. Being a huge fan of hers, when I heard the news of her death I was shocked and devastated. Long ago, when I first watched “High Noon” I wasn’t particularly taken by her performance but over the years watching it again (and again), I can now appreciate that she did a pretty wonderful job.
Lloyd Bridges, who plays “Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell”, was a popular actor with over 200 appearances in film and TV. He started in films the late 1930s with mostly uncredited and small parts in “B” films, along with some classic films including “Talk of the Town”, “Rainmaker “, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, "Home of the Brave”, and “A Walk in the Sun”. He was blacklisted briefly during the Hollywood “Red Scare” (which I talk about below) for being part of the Actors’ Laboratory Theatre with which some members were linked to the Communist Party. Lloyd was a cooperative witness, admitting to being a member of the theater, and was later cleared by the FBI and able to continue his career. He became a huge star as the lead in the TV series, “Sea Hunt” in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He is also remembered for film roles late in his career: the 1980s film spoofs “Airplane!” (and its sequel); and “Hot Shots!” (and its sequel) in the 1990s. He was nominated for two Emmy Awards. He had four children, two of which became very successful actors and stars themselves, Beau and Jeff Bridges. Lloyd Bridges died in 1998 at the age of 85.
Another aspect that makes “High Noon” unusual is the role and casting of Katy Jurado as “Helen Ramírez”. Katy was already a known actress in Mexico appearing in films during what is known as the "Golden Age of Mexican Cinema”. “High Noon” was her second Hollywood film and it was scarce in Hollywood films to have a Latina play a fully rounded character integral to the story, let alone play a successful independent businesswoman. Katy was a talented actress who usually played strong, sexy, seductive types. She worked in both Hollywood and Mexico throughout her career. She was the first Latin American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award (for “Best Supporting Actress” in 1954’s “Broken Lance”). She won three Ariel Awards (the Mexican equivalent of an Oscar) and was awarded a fourth in 1997 for her body of work. She also won a “Golden Globe” as “Best Supporting Actress” for “High Noon” (the first Latina to do so). She was married to Mexican actor Victor Velázquez, as well as US actor Ernest Borgnine, and had a famous affair with Marlon Brando. Her best known films include, “High Noon”, “Vera Cruz”, “One Eyed Jacks”, “El bruto”, and “Nosotros los pobres”. She is always exciting to watch. Katy Jurado died in 2002 at the age of 78.
Thomas Mitchell, who plays “Mayor Jonas Henderson” is another very fine character actor gathering over 100 film and television credits during his career. If you watch all the films recommend on here you will surely start to recognize him, as he has appeared in so many classic films including, “Stagecoach” (for which he won a “Best Supporting Actor” Academy Award), “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "Only Angels Have Wings”, and in the role of Scarlett O'Hara's father in "Gone with the Wind”. Thomas Mitchell died in 1962 at age 70.
“High Noon” was produced by Stanley Kramer, a major Hollywood producer and often director who left his mark on cinema producing many top Hollywood films that often dealt with social issues of the time (topics most of the studios stayed away from). His films still resonate today. Films he produced include "Judgment at Nuremberg", "Inherit the Wind", "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?", "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World", "The Defiant Ones”, "On the Beach”. and many others. He was nominated for nine Oscars (including one for producing “High Noon”), eventually being awarded the Academy’s honorary “Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award” in 1962. Many of the films he produced and/or directed have become classics and you will see many of them recommended on this blog in upcoming entries. Stanley Kramer died in 2001 at the age of 87. I was fortunate enough to go to his memorial service which was filled with lots of old-time Hollywood royalty. It was quite a moving experience in many ways.
Another groundbreaker about “High Noon” was its use of music, in particular its theme song, “The Ballad of High Noon” (also referred to as "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’"). The song is used during the opening credits and repeated throughout the film, while its lyrics expand on the film’s story and themes. Almost like a lullaby, it evokes a quiet lonely feeling alongside all the extreme, clock ticking tension. Using a song in this manner was something fresh and new at the time. The song was sung by country music star Tex Ritter (father of actor John Ritter) and it won the Academy Award for “Best Original Song”. It was written by Dimitri Tiomkin (music) and Ned Washington (lyrics), two giants in film music. Dimitri Tiomkin, one of Hollywoods top film composers, would win two Oscars for “High Noon” (one each for song and score), and received two additional wins out of his 22 career nominations. Other films for which he composed music include "Giant", "The Alamo", “Dial M for Murder”, ”The Old Man and the Sea", and "55 Days at Peking”. Dimitri Tiomkin died in 1979 at the age of 85. “High Noon” gave a third Oscar to lyricist Ned Washington, whose previous Academy Awards were for the animated Walt Disney classic, “Pinocchio” (one for the film's score, and for the lyrics for the song “When You Wish Upon a Star”). He was nominated for 12 Oscars in his career. Ned Washington died in 1976 at the age of 75.
Completely compelling and filled with vibrant suspense, plot, performances and music, this film will keep you glued to the screen from beginning to end. Don’t miss one of the most stirring and greatest Hollywood films, let alone westerns, ever made. Enjoy “High Noon”!
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BRIEF INFORMATION ABOUT McCARTHYISM, HUAC, AND THE “RED SCARE”
In the 1920s, an American Communist Party was formed attracting many people who thought the Communist Party was a Party of social justice and equality. As time went by most realized that was not the case and left the Party. The “House Un-American Activities Committee” (HUAC) was originally created to investigate communist and fascist organizations as well as left-wing groups during the Great Depression. Just after World War II, with the rise of tensions between the US and Russia and the start of the Cold War, there was a perceived threat in America of a communist takeover. Real or not, HUAC began to investigate and summon citizens to testify in very high-profile hearings before Congress. Anyone believed to be (or that had been) a member of the Communist Party or even a sympathizer, was subpoenaed and subjected to bullying, intimidation, and brutal interrogation. Cooperative witnesses were required to confess and inform the Committee of other communists and sympathizers whom they worked or knew, past or present. The alternative was not to speak and plead the Fifth Amendment which would be perceived as a plea of guilty, insuring blacklisting, losing your job and friends. At the same time, Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin followed HUAC’s example and ran his own tyrannical anti-communist campaign in the Senate. Because of his ferocious tenacity and merciless style he became one of the most powerful and feared men in America. His name and style of using personal attacks to accuse someone of subversion without regard for evidence, have since become synonymous with this era, Government workers and Hollywood liberals were major targets, as well as homosexuals, and with little or no evidence of being subversive, and/or refusing to name names, thousands of people lost their jobs and some went to prison. Over three hundred Hollywood actors, actresses, writers, directors, musicians, producers and more were blacklisted, again often only for refusing to name names. Among them were Charles Chaplin, Burgess Meredith, Lena Horne, Arthur Miller, John Garfield, Dashiell Hammett, Edward Dmytryk, Dalton Trumbo, Pete Seeger, Lee Grant, Langston Hughes, Leonard Bernstein, Dorothy Parker, Paul Robeson, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Dolores del Río, Kim Hunter, Luis Buñuel, Herschel Bernardi, Eddie Albert, Ruth Gordon, Burgess Meredith, and Orson Welles. Some such as Charles Chaplin and Orson Welles, left the US. It stopped and destroyed the careers (and often lives) of many innocent and incredibly talented people. It also forever changed and divided America, filling it with fear and distrust. A shameful time in American history that had a terribly negative impact on the country. Its impact was immense in the film industry as well, as you can probably see by how many times I’ve referred to this period in my blog entries thus far. .
Though “High Noon” can be interpreted in many ways, the screenwriter Carl Foreman was being subpoenaed by HUAC at the time he was writing the script. He rethought the story and based the protagonist “Kane” on himself and what he was facing by being subpoenaed. For him, “High Noon” became an allegory about the blacklist, with the gunmen representing HUAC wanting to kill “Kane”, and the townspeople representing most of Hollywood who just stood by and watched. Foreman testified that when he was young he was a member of the American Communist Party but quit long ago. He would not give names of fellow Party members and thus was an “uncooperative witness” and was blacklisted. Even so, he did receive an Academy Award nomination for writing “High Noon”.
Even with all of that, “High Noon” transcends the blacklist allegory and is essentially about morality, courage, and choices when faced with doing what’s right. It can't help but make us all stop and wonder what choices we'd make if our lives were at stake. It is certainly an important timeless film and a true classic.