an original, engaging and authoritative slice of cultural-political history
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 4 July 2017
This is an original and engaging slice of cultural-political history. High Noon was a dramatic and seminal one-man-against-the-rest film, which went against the grain of Westerns - due to the self-doubt of the hero. The film was made at the same time that its main creative force, the writer Carl Foreman, was being persecuted for his former, leftist political associations.
There are three stories here: how the film was made and how it fared; the revolting build-up to the blacklist of various lefty Hollywood creatives by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which conducted a witch-hunt during 1947-56 (narrowly pre-dating Macarthy's infamous hearings during 1950-54); and the lives of the main people behind the great film itself.
Four lives are examined: Carl Foreman, who wrote the script, and who was hounded by HUAC for his former membership of the Communist Party (during WW2) and for refusing to 'name names'; Gary Cooper, the laid-back, conservative, ageing and self-depreciating mega-star, who stood by Foreman when all others dropped away (though Cooper pulled his money from another Foreman film project, when the pressure got too intense); Fred Zinneman, the lively director, who parted company with Foreman; and Stanley Kramer, the producer, who fell out with everyone.
There are many interesting aspects:
- the press-driven power of the anti-communist witch-hunt, which had no legal basis (and this eventually proved its undoing, thankfully);
- the generally (but not universally) craven blacklisting by the Studios, driven by public opinion;
- the right-wing bigotry of some celebrities, notably John Wayne and Walt Disney;
- the self-aware weakness of Grace Kelly's casting and acting in this, her first major role;
- how the story itself came to be written and how it evolved;
- the attractively louche character of Gary Cooper;
- mini-vignettes of many other famous Hollywood characters, such as Kirk Douglas and the powerful gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper;
- how much money was made, and by whom;
- and how London became a refuge for various socially-concerned Hollywood writers and directors in the 1950s.
The book is extensively researched and referenced, and has a wise tone, which makes it authoritative - though it does not fully lay to rest various ongoing controversies about who did what, particularly regarding the film's editing. However, for me, this work needs considerable pruning. For example, there are far too many plot summaries of other films; and we are given too much detail about other prosecutions by HUAC which are not directly relevant to High Noon.
Conversely, I would have liked more broad political, socio-cultural and and filmographic context.
Do watch the film - again. There is nothing quite like the real-time build-up in the last hour before noon, when the chief baddy is due to return in order to kill the sheriff (Gary Cooper). One by one, the sheriff's friends desert him, even his new young wife (Grace Kelly). Finally, the lone lawman, uncertain of himself and distressed by his wife's desertion, heads out at noon to face his enemies.
4 people found this helpful