HIGH NOON to me is one of the great westerns yet until the very end it has little in the way of out and out action. Instead, the film is a very tense thriller that literally uses a ticking clock leading up to an explosion of violence. Instead the movie is a tense character study of what makes a hero.
The film was done on a modest budget ($750,000) on a 31 day shooting schedule, by a behind the camera team who had never done a western before. The modest film upon release became the 8th most profitable films of 1952 (in a year that gave us SINGING IN THE RAIN(MGM), THE BAD & THE BEAUTIFUL (MGM)THE QUIET MAN (Republic), and THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (Paramount).
Then fifty-one-year-old star Gary Cooper was in poor health (yet continued to star in 14 more films and one uncredited cameo over the next nine years) and took a pay cut for a percentage of the profits when he took the role of Sheriff Marshall Will Kane. His 22-year-old leading lady (Grace Kelly) had made only one film prior (and several TV roles) to starring with this cinematic icon, yet her personal charm kept her from becoming a merely decorative character.
The filmmakers surrounded the leads with marvelous supporting players, such as veterans like Lon Chaney Jr (in one of his most subtle and moving performances that it still surprises me that he was not even nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar) and Thomas Mitchell as well as rising character performers as Jack Elam (here playing a town drunk) and making his film debut in a silent but important role, Lee Van Cleef.
The production partnership of Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman, as well as writer Herbie Baker, publicist George Glass formed Screen Plays, Inc. in 1947. Their first film SO THIS IS NEW YORK (MGM,1948) flopped but their second CHAMPION(U.A.,1949) was a big hit both critically and financially. CHAMPION won an Academy Award for film editing as well as nominations for star Kirk Douglas and screenplay writer Carl Foreman (both of their first two films were Foreman’s adaptations of two Ring Lardner stories).
The team went on to produce HOME OF THE BRAVE(U.A.,1949), the first of the social dramas that Stanley Kramer would be known for and again written and co-produced by Foreman. Next came THE MEN(U.A.,1950), with an original screenplay by Foreman and the first time that Kramer would work with director Fred Zinnemann. Their string of hits continued with CYRANO DE BERGERAC (U.A.,1950), based upon the 1897 Edmond Rostand, translated by Brian Hooker and a screenplay by Carl Foreman and an uncredited Orson Welles. The film flopped at the box office but earned an Oscar for star Jose Ferrer.
Columbia Pictures offered the production team a five-year contract to form a production unit to make films of their choosing for roughly a million dollars each movie. The offer was accepted but first they had to complete their final independent production,
HIGH NOON.Ironically, for a film about a man who stands up for what he believes in as others abandon him, Kramer abandoned his partner Carl Foreman and his personal ideals for commerce. Foreman had been a member of the Communist Party ten years earlier and was called before the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC). He was considered an “uncooperative witness” by the committee. To save his deal with Columbia, Kramer dissolved their partnership. He still gave Foreman credit for his screenplay, but did not let him get a producer’s credit.
Kramer went on to be a major Liberal voice in his films until 1979, making many films that have become classics of cinema. His treatment of his former partner is a black eye to his memory, though, to be fair, few could stand up to the monster that was HUAC. The partners never spoke again. Foreman took his family to England, as did many who were blacklisted, and continued to write screenplays for such classic as BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (ironically for Columbia ,1958, and Foreman was only awarded his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay posthumously).
(producer Stanley Kramer)
The film’s story is simple enough. Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald, who had appeared in WHITE HEAT, WB ,1949, as the truck driver who recognized undercover agent Edmond O’Brien), a criminal whom Sheriff Will Kane (Cooper, looking world weary) sent away is being released from prison and will be arriving in the small town that day on the noon train. He has vowed to kill Kane in revenge. Kane has also just married his Quaker wife Amy (Grace Kelly) who urges him to leave the town. Kane wants to stand his ground, and ties to organize the townspeople to stand up to the criminal and his gang. However, the town is more than willing to leave Kane handle things alone if it will ultimately bring peace to the town. Only a shaky eye patched man is willing to stand by Kane and he of course would be of little help. The former sheriff, Martin Howe ( Lon Chaney Jr )would like to help but his illnesses prevent him from being of any use either. Kane sends his wife away as the time for the confrontation draws near. The sheriff now must stand alone against the murderous outlaws as the time arrives.
The simple description above does not do justice to this wonderful film. The acting, the direction by Fred Zimmerman , the cinematography (by Floyd Crosby, who won a Golden Globe for his work on this classic, later ended up lensing a lot of A.I.P.’s horror and science fiction classics, and by the way is the father of David Cosby of THE BYRDS fame), the editing and the music all work perfectly to tell this tale of courage.
Critics at the time were rather mixed in their reception to the film. Even John Wayne (who turned down the role of the Sheriff) attacked the film, and often said that he and Howard Hawks made RIO BRAVO (WB,1959) in response.
Audiences, however, flocked to the film, and the film made $3.4 million dollars on its $730,000 investment. The film also won many awards, including four Oscars (Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Music (Dimitri Tiomkin) and best song (Dimitri Tiomkin & Ned Washington for “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’”, sung by Tex Ritter). Incongruously, John Wayne accepted the Oscar for Gary Cooper. Here is a clip from the 25th Academy Award, held March 19,1953, and the first one televised:
The film was nominated for but lost Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing/Screenplay. Katy Jurado won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Helen Ramírez, the first Mexican actress to receive the award. Crosby’s cinematography also was a Golden Globe recipient.
The OLIVE FILMS BLU RAY reviewed here puts CRITERION on notice that there is another company that knows how to give classic films the Deluxe Treatment they deserve. HIGH NOON and JOHNNY GUITAR (not seen by this reviewer) are the premiere films from Olive Films’ Signature series, and if this film is any indication, film lovers will be happily paying to get these collectible treasures for their collections.
HIGH NOON has been beautifully presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. You will note black bars or both the left and right side of the screen but after a few moments, you will cease noticing them. The 1080p 4 K scan brings out the very rich black and white details, letting you see the beads of sweat on Cooper as he desperately seeks out his posse, as well as detailing in the costuming and the sets clearer than they have been seen in years.
The sound is presented in its original mono audio in a hiss free DTS-HD Master Audio track. Whether using the television sound or outside speakers, the sound is rich and clear. The yellow subtitles are clean and follow the action and dialogue perfectly.
The work above would make the Olive Films Signature Release worth having, but they have added some superior extras.
Inside the cardboard cover is a clear digipack slipcase containing the single disc. The cover art can be reversed and used with a panoramic view of Cooper walking the town’s empty streets.
Besides the disc is a nice little booklet written by Nick James of Sight & Sound Magazine called ‘Uncitizened Kane “wherein it talks about Cooper in THE VIRGINIAN (Paramount,1929) and the Cooper in this classic film. This is also available on the disc to read by skimming through using your directional arrows.
Also on the Disc:
“A Ticking Clock” – Director (THE PUNISHER, New World,1989) / Editor Mark Goldblatt talks in detail about the importance of the editing of HIGH NOON.
“A Stanley Kramer Production”-Producer Michael Schlessinger (DARK & STORMY NIGHT, Shout Factory,2009) talks about Producer/Director Kramer and his career.
“Ulcers & Oscars: The Production History of High Noon” – the late Anton Yelchin (Chekov in STAR TREK: BEYOND, Paramount ,2016) narrates this marvelous behind the scenes story.
Trailer – Not the original 1952 trailer (“Stanley Kramer’s Masterpiece of Suspense!”, Presented by World Entertainment Corp.), this gives you an idea how the film used to appear before the painstaking restoration.
The only quibble (am I too greedy?) that I had is that I wish that they had found and added the 2 hour PBS documentary “Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents “(PBS,2002), though it was made when all the people involved were long dead, and perhaps unable to defend themselves against various charges (it was not very favorable to Kramer). Perhaps someone will release the documentary as its own separate disc.
Still, this is a must have for any collector of classic American Films.
There have been indirect sequels and remakes for television, and it was recently announced that Relativity Pictures is remaking the film, though setting it Present Day. http://variety.com/2016/film/news/relativity-remaking-high-noon-present-day-1201862842/
However, none of these have come close to the film that was the first film selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Rush out and get the Olive Films Signature Release of HIGH NOON.
-Kevin G Shinnick