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High Noon (1952)
Topic Started: Nov 26 2016, 07:09 PM (174 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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High Noon (1952) Dir. Fred Zinnemann

Congrats to Mr. and Mrs. Will Kane; the long-time marshal of Hadleyville is hangin' up his tin star to marry a lovely Quaker. Alas, before he even gets a chance to kiss the bride, bad news arrives: three vicious gunmen, portending the arrival of a guy named Miller, who had been sent to the gallows by Kane and the town judge, only to be pardoned and set free to return on the noon train and exact his promised revenge. Kane pins his star back on, to his new wife's chagrin, but neither his deputies nor anyone else in town is willing to step in and help him. Kane's got about an hour to either rustle up some assistance or figure out which way he wants his tombstone facin'.

Stanley Kramer's take on Westerns (did he make any others?) is reviled in many quarters these days, although a major hit in its day and winner of several Oscars (including one for leading man Gary Cooper). Reportedly both Howard Hawks and John Wayne were appalled by it, although it's hard for me to see why, exactly. Wayne thought the film was "unamerican," although if he described why he thought so, that's lost to history. I suppose in Wayne's America, either Cooper doesn't need any help - he's the hero, after all! - or the townsfolk are only too glad to run to assist him.

A truly fine supporting cast includes Grace Kelly in her second film, as the young bride (30 years Cooper's junior); Katy Jurado as Helen Ramirez, ex-lover to Miller, Kane, and Kane's deputy(!); Lon Chaney, Jr., as the former marshal; and townspeople Thomas Mitchell, Otto Kruger, Harry Morgan, Sheb Wooley, and Jack Elam. Ian MacDonald shows up at the end to play Miller, and Lee Van Cleef in his film debut is the beady-eyed henchman. Lloyd Bridges is memorable as the deputy who won't help.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Ms. Jurado to Mr. Bridges: "And as for you, I don't like anyone to put his hands on me unless I want him to. And I don't like you to anymore."

Told in real time, although heavy editing was done after a disastrous preview (scenes were cut, including most of he comic bits with Jack Elam, and several renditions of the notorious theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling" were snipped); clocks (and a swinging pendulum) are on display through the film to help us along. I'm not particularly a huge Westerns fan, which is maybe why this one and Shane and others that are a bit off the beaten trail have always been such favorites of mine.

The Olive Signature edition includes several featurettes on the background of the film, mostly dealing with the blacklisting era that caught up co-producer and writer Carl Foreman, who was fired from the film and never spoke with his ex-partner Kramer again. Balcony pal Michael Schlesinger contributes a 14 min. piece on the career of Stanley Kramer. One of the things I love about the Olive Signature editions are that they include pieces like this, fan-friendly offerings that are much more accessible than the oft-stuffy Criterion bonus material: The Production History of High Noon is a case in point, a simple log of how the film was put together and shot, illustrated with production stills. Every classic film should have a 10 or 12 min. piece like this.

The film, incidentally, was mastered from a new 4K restoration and is absolutely, positively gorgeous. Truly the ultimate edition of this great movie.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Bert Greene
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I always appreciated the filmmaking qualities of "High Noon," and ranked it quite highly when I first viewed it as a teen-age film buff on a late-show. But as the years have gone by, I've more fully grown to understand why it hit a sour note with some, and I've become less enchanted with it myself. It has to do with the old ethos of the western genre. Having now viewed over a hundred silent western features, nearly a thousand b-westerns, read a modest share of stories from pre-Depression era stories from "Wild West Weekly" and "Ranch Romances" pulps, I've become a lot more cognizant of that ethos. And while single, heroic protagonists are the norm, there's always that undercurrent of people on the frontier banding together to survive, whether from the elements, the Indians, corrupt officials and land-barons, or some villainous owl hoot that comes down the pike. A community spirit, amidst the ruggedness and harshness. Along with some dollops of Victorian-era romance. I used to detect this same mentality in my own grandfather and his friends and peers, all of whom lived in a Texas town that had only been founded a couple of decades earlier.

From these eyes, I can more fully understand how completely strange and foreign (and probably even distasteful) "High Noon" would have struck them. The tired, cowering and 'world-weary' attitudes and actions of the townsfolk... it just wouldn't compute. Not to those older generations, who themselves were still much closer to the era and environment depicted. Indeed, when I see the film nowadays, it just always strikes me more as a distinct kind of post-WW2 cynicism at play. A stepping-stone to the increasingly inward-leaning and inward-obsessing 'psychological' western of the 50s and depressing nihilism of the 60s. All things that gradually obliterate the elements I found attractive about the genre as a whole.
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