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Blu-ray Review

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High Noon (1952)
(2019 4K Restoration)


Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Lon Chaney, Otto Kruger and Lee Van Cleef
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £27.99


Certificate: U
Release Date: 16 September 2019

High Noon is commonly billed as one of the greatest westerns ever made. It is more than that, it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. A Hollywood factory product done in twenty eight days on a cut rate budget of $730,000. Even in 1951 this was the bottom of the pond. Cooper must have got the biggest pay check. The lead filmmakers may have got enough to buy a Cadillac but certainly not a Bentley. The cast must have mostly got scale. We’re talking about a $600,000 movie here, if that.

Eureka’s rich bundle of extras tells how screenwriter Carl Foreman was completing the script in 1951 when the thought police from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee came knocking at his door. Two choices: either testify as a friendly witness and name names or go into the Federal slam. Foreman did what any artist of principle would: he did his art, with a vengeance. Rewriting his script, he slanted it to reflect the individual who stands alone against tyranny, getting no support and treated with disdain from his community. Foreman’s community was the studio employers, the bosses who spoke strong talk for First Amendment rights but folded like Kleenex. The tyrants were a rogue faction of government who wanted to galvanize the American public with the best red flag of all, the Commie Reds from Russia. (See the High Noon profile in Wikipedia

Nobody on the set, except for the filmmakers and the worldly-wise Cooper, realized this was a legend in the making, not just a quickie western done to fulfil contract obligations. (See Behind the Scenes Photos not to be confused with Eureka’s excellent extra, Behind High Noon but worth your perusal).

Going against the interpretation of High Noon borne out of its time and place, I offer that it is a universal story, beyond the western genre. An individual of principle standing against a bully crowd, be they politicians, religio-zealots, round table oligarchs or corporate boards, to fight the good fight. People who know nothing of the 1950s pod politicians (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955), seem familiar, anyone?) still see all the factions of the upstanding community who don’t stand up for Gary Cooper’s Will Kane when he asks for volunteers. Holier than thou Christians, oath takers for law and order, brave talking barroom muscle-jaws, even the local judge, all squirm away when asked to stand shoulder to shoulder with their marshal.

They remind him he’s not their marshal anymore. He’s just retired and married Amy, the luminously beautiful Grace Kelly, in her de facto motion picture starring debut. She is a Quaker. Opposed to all violence. In the nearly real time story, they are married 10:30 in the morning, having well wishers congratulate them when the chilling news comes. Frank Miller, the well connected killer Kane had arrested and sent to prison, has got a commuted sentence and release. Word is, he’s coming to Hadleyville to settle with Kane, coming in on the train at noon. It’s hastily decided that Will and Amy should leave now by buckboard and they do.

Once on the road, Will stops the horses. He can’t run, he tells Amy. They’ll be overtaken by Miller, his brother and two other gunmen (Lee Van Cleef in his movie debut, who though he doesn’t speak a line steals the show from his cohorts, Robert J. Wilke, no small trick with this snarling villain or Sheb Wooley and Ian MacDonald – the greatest quartet of homicidal psychopaths on horseback Hollywood has ever seen. If you had to time-travel back into the real west, I say take these arseholes with you. And feel safe). On the road, Will tells her, they’ll be easy prey, the only thing to do to keep his bride safe is to go back to Hadleyville, form a posse and make a stand.

All the standard exegesis about the Red scare notwithstanding, I think High Noon is a universal story, not just as a western or an allegory of the butthead 1950s but one for all time. Certainly I respect Carl Foreman’s personal interpretation and that of all the other people hurt in that witch hunt insanity. I am saying that Foreman wrote, Zinnemann directed and Cooper acted in a story for men and women of all seasons. High Noon is as applicable today as are the classic books The Organization Man by William H. Whyte and The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. (See the Eureka special feature The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by author cinephile Glenn Frankel or his lecture to Montana Historical Society ( But neither should you miss the essay by film scholar Gary Nuilla on the issue of responsibility (

Only married an hour Will and Amy are already at odds. Over religion. Will grits his teeth and turns around. Amy stops talking and begins to leave him.

Hadleyville is not glad to see Will back in town. The town citizens unravel one excuse after another as to why they can’t or won’t help their former marshal. Responsibility is in short supply. Will’s sense of responsibility is too radical for most of them. The few who are willing to help are too old, inept or double-tongued. Will is alone, waiting for the train to arrive at noon in what becomes a nearly (17 minutes off) minute by minute countdown to high noon. Clocks abound in the art direction by ace production designer Rudolph Sternad. Perennially, audiences find themselves checking their own watches. See if you do. I still do, after more than fifty viewings.

Real time as opposed to virtual time is and was almost unheard of in film. The existential pressure is palpable. It will affect your heart rate if you have any blood in your veins at all. (See Jeff Terrell on A Million Movies - Watching the Clocks – and subscribe – for an insightful tour of the High Noon timeline (

High Noon overflows with talent. It was Zinnemann and Foreman’s talent of choices made we must pause to salute:

Cinematographer: Floyd Crosby. Known for his award winning documentaries for the Roosevelt New Deal (The River, 1936 -; Power and the Land, 1936 - Crosby, father of singer David Crosby was nearly ruined by the McCarthy goons. He was still able to work though (Attack of the Crab Monsters, 1957 -; X The Man With X Ray Eyes, 1963 -

Gary Cooper: He won an Oscar for this and it was grudgingly accepted for him by John Wayne, who was bitter that he didn’t get the Will Kane role for himself. Wayne proved to be one of the chief Hollywood cooperative rats, one of the witch hunters, (number 6 on J. Edgar Hoover’s most loyal list. Guess who was number 1: Uncle Walt) who forced Dalton Trumbo to go to prison and Foreman to bail out to the U.K. Cooper appeared before the McCarthy thugs, including Senator Richard Nixon and legal aid Robert F. Kennedy. Oh the ironies we weave when we practice to believe.

Cooper would live ten more years. His last feature is a failed Hitchcock-like piece, The Naked Edge (1961 - which premiered weeks after he died.

Only a week before he died, he finished hosting and narrating a documentary near and dear to his heart, The Real West, (1961 -

Carl Foreman: went on to make great films in Europe, working out of London. His scathing view of World War II day by day life, The Victors (1963 - is rarely seen or written about today.

Foreman’s interview in the Eureka Special Features is to be heard for what is said and not said between the lines.

Dimitri Tiomkin: In the same year he wrote the super-charged score for Howard Hawks’s The Thing (1951) the composer went all out with his percussive metronomic masterpiece soundtrack for High Noon. Percussive beats mount in gradually increasing volume toward orchestral cacophony and deafening alarm. Tiomkin’s most driving use of ramping threnody comes with the clock’s pendulum scything off the last minutes before noon (in four-four time with the cuts) while Zinnemann and Crosby survey the sweaty faces of the whole town that has deserted Kane; and his wife and former lover, Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado in her immaculate American film debut) preparing to leave Hadleyville on the same train that will bring in Frank Miller. Tiomkin’s symphony rises to unbearable tension then ceases abruptly when the approaching train whistle shrieks. Tiomkin paints with sound. His music is another actor. (With gratitude here for the musical information to singer, musician and composer, Mark Costigan).

Tex Ritter: A lot of singers wanted to cover the famous song but the former singing cowboy star was available at the right price. His distinctive low toned registry bridges the gap between cowboy movies of old and afterwards forever changed by High Noon. Ritter’s son, John, said his dad told him, singing the song for the Oscars was the peak of his career. I saw him perform on stage once, the crowd demanded the song and he complied. A hallowed moment for all in the desiccated cultural desert of Kansas City, Kansas. See Tex in his prime, in a poverty row classic and Dave O’Brien, star of Reefer Madness, 1936, to boot, I rest my case before this house:

Tex and Dave in Marked For Murder (1945 -

The Columbia Ranch (

Located in beautiful downtown Burbank at the corner of Hollywood Way and Oak, the old six acre cowboy set was designed to optically look bigger than it was. If you look closely at the high crane shots of a diminutive Cooper all alone on the street, you’ll see utility poles of the city in the background.

The titles: What…? Yes, the titles. In keeping with their micro-budget, Zinnemann had to shave costs wherever possible. This meant no custom title fonts but bargain basement art, probably a freebie, sans serif white lettering close, if not the same as for Republic Serials of the era, or even a Rex Allen oater. When kids saw this serious adult western with their parents there was a déjà vu in those titles. We may not have known this was from hunger but our unconscious did.

This is proof, if it was needed, that talent, ingenuity and a great screenplay transcends all. One of the greatest movies of all time. Thank you Eureka.


John Huff

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