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You're own your own, mate
One of the all-time great westerns is also one of the most thematically and stylistically rewarding, a film that broke genre rules and revitalised the career of its star. Slarek revisits the superb HIGH NOON on Eureka's magnificent Blu-ray and finds whole new layers of meaning to explore and appreciate.
 

Some years ago I was asked to teach genre to A-level media students. Certain elements of the course had already been set before I came on board and were almost a matter of tradition by this point. When it came to picking a specific genre to study, for instance, I was given two choices – the western or horror movies. Both had their advantages. A key plus for opting for the western is that its codes, conventions and iconography are so instantly recognisable. Show anyone a promotional still from almost any western and they instantly know in which genre the film belongs. Horror, on the other hand, was and still is an absolute goldmine for socio-political subtext, a feature that is not so prominent in westerns, though there are a select few that that seem to invite you to look beneath the surface for secondary meaning. Just occasionally that subtext would be sharply defined enough to raise a few hackles. I'll be coming back to this a little later in this review.

The 1952 High Noon, written by Carl Foreman and directed by Fred Zinnemann, is on the surface a film of bewitching purity, beneath which sits a work of captivating structural and thematic complexity. That surface minimalism is signalled up front by a title that consists of two single-syllable words, which used together once denoted what we now call midday. In common with a number of celebrated westerns, the title gives no indication of the genre or subject matter. This uncluttered simplicity is carried over into a story that can be easily summed up in a single sentence: a vengeful killer is released from prison and heads back to the town of his capture to kill its newly married marshal, who delays his retirement to confront the man and his gang, but is forced to do so alone when none of the once supportive citizens are willing to offer their help. There is, of course, so much more to it than that, and this really is a film in which the devil is in the detail.

Lee Van Cleef as Colby in the film's opening shot

Right from the off there are ways in which High Noon breaks with genre convention, at least as it stood in the early 1950s. First, at a time when colour was becoming a genre standard, it's in black-and-white, a pared-down palette that acts as a visual reflection of the film's fat-free storytelling, which is emphasised further by intentionally undramatic lighting and blankly cloudless skies. Next, instead of opening with the splash of the main title and a loud orchestral cue, it begins with a wide shot of a lone cowboy sitting contemplatively in a landscape that he almost seems to have become part of, the scene gently underscored by a musical pulse beat. This is Jack Colby, played wordlessly here in his first screen role by later genre star Lee Van Cleef. It's only as Colby gets up to keenly observe the approach of a second figure that the titles begin and that opening pulse breaks into The Ballad of High Noon, a song more commonly known as Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling. Sung by Tex Ritter,* it's not your typical western opener, a mournful piece whose lyrics effectively outline what is soon to play out and encapsulate some of the film's themes. As the titles and the song unfold, Colby meets up with comrades Jim Pierce (Robert Wilke) and Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley), and the three head towards the town of Hadleyville like three horseman of the apocalypse to await the arrival of a fourth in the shape of Ben's Brother Frank, who has been recently pardoned for murder and is due on the noon train.

As the three bandits ride slowly through town, the reactions they prompt from those who see them tell us all we need to know about these men. One man stands up in his carriage and looks at them in shock, an old woman crosses herself, and a fireman stops polishing his vehicle and rushes inside. As they ride past a group of men gathered outside a saloon, the film's first words of dialogue are spoken, and even then they don't really count as exposition. When the men pause briefly and purposefully outside of the currently vacant Marshal's office, we learn that they're not in any hurry to conclude their business, whatever it may be. Then, in the first of a whole string of extraordinary shots you'll find in the film, we watch the three men from the inside of a building as they trot past a window, only for the camera to pull rapidly back and Judge Percy Mettrick (Otto Kruger) to step into shot with a magician's timing to begin the officiation of Marshal Will Kane's marriage to his granddaughter. Sorry, that's not remotely fair, given the preponderance in Hollywood movies of years past of couples where the man is clearly two or three decades older than his female partner. What's interesting here is that the thirty years that very visibly separate Kane from his new wife Amy (played by the 21-year-old Grace Kelly in her feature debut) is partially balanced by what most seem to agree was intended to play as a second age-gap relationship between Mexican businesswoman Helen Ramírez (a bewitching Katy Jurado) and Kane's Deputy, Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges). Here we are encouraged to believe that Harvey is Helen's junior by several years, despite the fact that Bridges was actually 11 years older than Jurado. Yet he's definitely cast as Helen's toy boy here, a likeable and doubtless virile young man who Kane is happy to see wearing the deputy's badge, but whom he believes is still too immature to be marshal.

Kane and Amt ride out of town, but Kane has second thoughts

If you come to the film for the first time knowing only the outline of the plot, then the first few minutes following the arrival of a fateful telegram informing Kane that Miller has been paroled might seem to bring the story to a premature close. By the time Kane learns that Miller has been set free and will be arriving on the noon train, he has married his new bride, hung up his guns and turned in his badge. And despite his concerns and the fact that the replacement marshal will not arrive until the following day, the townsfolk cheerfully bundle Kane and Amy into their carriage and send them on their way with the assurance that they'll take care of Miller when he shows his face. Well, that's it then. Roll credits. Of course, it can't end there, and as Kane and Amy ride off towards their new home, wherever it may be, the torment of his decision becomes increasingly visible on Kane's face and he eventually turns the carriage round and heads back to town. The good citizens seemed prepared to deal with Miller without him so will doubtless rally round now that he has returned. Won't they? It's worth noting that Kane's chosen course of action is subtly signposted by a notice visible on the wall behind him when he opens the telegram, a poster that refers to world events and proclaims, "War is Declared!" before expressing the urgent need for volunteers. There's a lot of subtle and smartly thought-out signposting in this film, much of which requires a second or third viewing to even pick up on.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the first person to turn her back on Kane is Amy, who as a pacifistic Quaker is opposed to violence of any kind and is indignant at Kane for being so willing to put himself at risk for what she believes is no longer his responsibility. She tries reasoning and even pleading with him and is unshaken by his logical claim that if Miller wants to kill him then he and his boys will likely follow them if they choose to run, and then they'd be alone on the prairie and unable to call on the good people of Hadleyville for help. Helen then delivers what feels like a most unreasonable ultimatum for a newly married woman who claims to love her man, that he leave town with her now or she'll depart without him on the very train on which Miller is due to arrive. Once again that Declaration of War sits behind them as their potential break-up imbues it with a third layer of meaning. Do not forsake me oh my darling...

Next to depart is Judge Percy Mettrick (Otto Kruger), the Justice of the Peace who married Kane and Amy just minutes earlier but who Kane finds hurried packing his worldly goods into saddlebags and in a very big hurry to leave town. He, it is revealed, is the one who passed sentence on Miller at his trial and thus also expects to be a target of his wrath. Like Amy, he encourages Kane to follow his example and hit the road. I'll be coming back to him, as his departure has relevance to the film's socio-political subtext.

Kane attempts to recruits help at the saloon

With just an hour to go until the train arrives, Kane begins the task of trying to recruit deputies and soon discovers that the citizens' earlier (and, as it turns out, deceptive) confidence that they could handle Miller has since drastically waned. Almost everyone he talks to has a personal reason for declining his request for assistance, with each encounter exposing the worst fears of the person in question. Harvey seems willing to help but is put out by Kane's lack of faith in his ability to take on the role of marshal, and after an unimpressed Helen throws him out, he storms off to the saloon to drown his hurt pride in a bottle of whiskey. Former marshal Martin Howe (a quietly excellent Lon Chaney Jr.) reminds Kane, in a single economically written line of dialogue, that his knuckles are busted and riddled with arthritis and thus reasons that he'd be more of a hindrance than a help. Herb Baker (James Millican), a member of the posse that helped capture Miller in the first place, seems up for the job, but when Kane later reveals that it's down to just the two of them, his nerve fails him and he stumbles with excuses until Kane cuts him loose and tells him to go home. He friend Sam Fuller (played by Harry Morgan, and yes you read that character name right) doesn't even have the nerve to face Kane with whatever excuse he might be able to concoct, and instead sends his wife to the door to tell the marshal an awkward lie about his whereabouts while he sits frightened and shameful in the living room. On the rare cases when help is offered, Kane has little option but to turn it down, giving drink money instead to one-eyed alcoholic Jimmy (William Newell) and rejecting the enthusiastic pleas of 14-year-old Johnny (Ralph Reed), despite his quiet admiration for the boy's pluck. Later, when Kane appears to have lost respect for almost everyone in the town, he makes a small but deeply meaningful exception for a boy he clearly sees has a future ahead of him, one he was able to protect by his decision.

Twice Kane makes his case to groups of local people at diametrically different public locations. At the church, in a scene that was directly parodied by Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles and hints at Carl Foreman's disdain for religion, Kane's request triggers a heated debate in which arguments for and against helping him are thrashed out, with the communal decision not to do so shaped primarily by the triple corruptors of politics, economics and self-interest. At the saloon, he is given a discomforting reminder that Miller still has friends here and not everyone was happy about his arrest. Again economics play a corrupting role here, summed up by an oily hotel clerk (Howland Chamberlain), who admits to the waiting Amy that he dislikes Kane because business was much better when Frank Miller was around.

Every bit as important as what is said and done here is what is inferred. We learn early on that before he met and fell for Amy, Kane was in a relationship with Helen, and it's clear that while she still has feelings for him, she also harbours some resentment over a breakup that was likely initiated by Kane. It's an emotional self-conflict that first indicated by a simple movement of Helen's body – when her associate Sam (Tom London) asks her if she wants him to see if he can help Kane, she leans forward just enough to reveal her longing for an offer that she then gives some thought to and ultimately turns down. That Helen's initial instinct is communicated so effectively is all the more impressive when you consider that at this point she has her back to the camera. Later she talks to Amy, who at this point has just become aware that Helen and Kane were once an item, and it becomes clear that Helen has a far better understanding of him than Amy does, which made me wonder just how long Kane and Helen have known each other and indeed how two such seemingly mis-matched individuals could have met and fallen for each other in the first place.

Kane and Helen discuss their options

Helen's lingering affection for Kane does not stop her from making immediate plans to leave town on the same train as Amy. It's never revealed exactly what crimes Frank Miller committed, but we know from every mention of his misdeeds that they were bad, something first hinted at when Mettrick says to Kane, "Have you forgotten what he is, what he's done to people?" We also learn that before she got together with Kane, Helen was Miller's girl, and both we and she can assume that he is likely to want to make her pay for subsequently taking up with his mortal enemy. As a character, Helen is fascinating and another component of the film that breaks with the genre norm, a smart and elegant Mexican woman who has bankrolled and remained a silent partner in a number of the town's businesses. These include a store run by Ed Weaver (Cliff Clark), a middle-aged white male who clearly respects Helen and whom is treated fairly by her when she offers to sell her share to him. As Meir Ribalow notes in the special features, it's actually hard to see why Kane would chose the innocent and moralistic Amy over the smart, level-headed and frankly lovely Helen, particularly when she and he appear to be so in sync. As it happens, the explanation he offers makes sense for a man looking to put his past behind him and start a new life free of conflict and violence – I just can't imagine life with Amy could be anywhere near as much fun as even a few weeks in Helen's company.

Technically, the film is close to flawless, inspired in its audio-visual approach to storytelling, immaculate in its pacing and brilliantly shot by cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who makes striking use of the Academy ratio and whose sometimes extraordinary deep focus work gives Greg Toland's celebrated compositions in Citizen Kane a run for their money. He also pulls off one of film history's most celebrated crane shots, as the camera pulls up and out from a mid-shot of Kane to an extreme wide of the town's now empty main street in one of cinema's most perfectly realised images of lonely and isolation and abandonment. Elsewhere, sometimes motion-free shots prove more expressive than dialogue or action (Miller's arrival is repeatedly anticipated by a static, vanishing-point shot of train tracks that seem to taper off into infinity), which peak in a brilliantly realised montage as the town's clocks tick down to noon. It's one in which Crosby's compositions, Dimitri Tiomkin's music and Elmo Williams' consistently superb editing combine to genuinely pulse-raising effect, building to a crescendo that is punctured by what may be the western genre's most portentous train whistle. Years later, much was made of 24's real-time storytelling and use of a countdown clock, but almost 50 years earlier both were every bit as crucial to the manner in which High Noon unfolds. The clocks may be analogue here, their ticks and pendulum swings providing the heartbeat drive for Tiomkin's extraordinary score, but by making them a crucial aspect of the film's mise en scène, the speed with which the fateful hour is bearing down upon Kane is every bit as evident and urgent to him as it becomes to the audience.

The townspeople debate the merits and demerits of helping Kane

Although now widely recognised as a genre classic, opinion about the film was more divided on its release. As a western, High Noon breaks so many of the genre's established rules that it was disliked by some genre purists, but the nostrils it really burrowed into were those of Hollywood right-wingers. First up, they objected to a central characters who was an ordinary guy with every failings instead a fearless and sharpshooting superhero. In traditional westerns the good guys went up against the villains and showed no fear, and if the odds were stacked against them then that didn't matter, they were crack shots and could always call on the assistance of a number of similarly skilled comrades. The very idea that a western movie marshal could fear for his life, write his last will and testament before heading into battle and even break down in tears at the prospect of his seemingly inevitable death was an anathema to them. Real men don't feel fear, real men don't cry, and real men stand in the street and simply outdraw the bad guys, they don't take them down individually using hit-and-run tactics. And the suggestion that good American townspeople could ever be so cowardly that they would be willing to watch a good man die rather than put their own lives at risk was, in their view, a preposterous one.

All of which, of course, is complete and utter bollocks. One of the things that continues to make High Noon such a crucial western is that it dispensed with the genre's fantasy heroics and grounded its characters and story in reality. In the real world, only a sociopath would really not care if he or she lived or died, and Kane's tears are born as much from his frustration, despair and sense of abandonment as they are from his conviction that he is to die a senseless death on what should have been the first day of a new life with a woman he loves. The reluctance of the citizens of Hadleyville to help him also has its basis in a societal truth that was still being explored by American cinema almost two decades later in films like The Incident, a film in which the passengers in a subway train carriage are terrorised by two thugs whose reign of terror is able to continue because no-one present has the self-confidence to forcefully intervene. It's a similar story with this film's climactic confrontation (skip to the next paragraph to avoid spoilers, where you'll be warned to do likewise before that paragraph ends), which genre traditionalists would have preferred to see staged as a stand-up, one-on-four gunfight in Main Street. Instead the battle unfolds far more plausibly, with Kane employing guerrilla tactics to pick off Miller's men one-by-one, given timely assistance at one point when a transformed Amy shoots one of them in the back as he reloads. Shot in the back by a woman. I'll bet that went down a storm with the traditionalists.

Colvy, Piece and Ben Miller men await the arrival of Frank

Of course, there's plenty more to rattle right-wing genre purists here than a sensitive marshal, small town cowardice and duck-and-dive fighting tactics. High Noon was written when the House of Un-American Activities was busying its wretched self by purging Hollywood of anyone and everyone who had ever held progressive political beliefs. It was, as I said in my review of The Front, a dark time for American society and American cinema, one that destroyed lives and careers of great and talented people and even forced some of them to flee the country. Foreman, himself a left-wing progressive, was enraged by what was happening to people he knew and respected, and saw an opportunity to weave a commentary on this right-wing persecution of the creative community into his screenplay. Thus, while on the surface High Noon is a western about a principled man doing what a man has to do against difficult odds, it also plays as an allegory of McCarthyite America, one in which Hadleyville is Hollywood, a happy and productive place until the arrival of the vindictive House of Un-American Activities in the shape of the Miller gang. The members of this community initially respond with dismissive confidence, but when one of their number is targeted they quickly turn their backs on him, just as so many did in Hollywood when faced with the career and reputation-wrecking prospect of being tarred with the same brush through association. Long-standing friendships and working relationships were destroyed overnight, as individuals named names to project their own careers and others disassociated themselves from the accused to avoid also becoming the target of vindictive persecution. Viewed in this context, the actions of the townspeople are believable because they were an accurate reflection of the behaviour of those who had chosen to shun their former friends and colleagues in the blacklist America of the day. And in a case of life imitating art, during the course of the film's production Foreman was also hauled before the Committee, and like the Marshal Kane of his creation he refused to buckle under and name names. As a result, he was stripped of his co-producer credit on the film and demands were made that his name be removed as author of the screenplay as well – only the defiant stance taken by his good friend Gary Cooper, a lifelong Republican who did not hold with the Committee's actions, prevented this further act of ignominy. In a final unfortunate parallel (once again, hop to the next paragraph to avoid spoilers), the ending of the film – which sees Kane contemptuously tossing his marshal's badge to the ground at the feet of the citizens who turned their back on him and then riding out of town – almost plays as a prediction of Foreman's own departure from America to Britain when further job opportunities in Hollywood all disappeared.

It's been noted that director Fred Zinnemann did not see the story in quite the same light as Foreman, but as a socially conscious Austrian Jew who spent his formative years in pre-WW2 Germany, he clearly responded to the themes of social isolation and prejudice and the conviction to do what you believe is right whatever the consequences. In remaining faithful to Foreman's screenplay, he also gave visual realisation to some of his intended themes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the scene where Kane discovers Judge Mettrick packing up his belonging in preparation for his hasty departure, where the first things the man who is an emblem of the rule of law takes down and puts away are an American flag – ostensibly a symbol of the country and its values – and the scales of justice. How's that for symbolism? Later, as Kane walks the street alone, two anonymous citizens scurry away at his approach rather than converse with him, an experience that would be painfully familiar to those who found themselves unjustly blacklisted as a result of the Committee's actions.

Kane  plays hit-and-run with the Miller gang

If it seems I've got a little carried away analysing a film that is ostensibly a straightforward tale of a man doing what a man has to do, it's because there's just so much material here to sink your deconstructive teeth into. It's the very fact that it works so well on so many levels – technically, artistically, subtextually, allegorically, and as a masterful example of film storytelling – that makes High Noon such a giant in a genre that has more than its share of tall-walking works. Even the fact that it was hated by likes of Howard Hawks and John Wayne ultimately had its upside in the production of Rio Bravo, which the two men made as a direct response to what they saw as High Noon's sullying of genre traditions. It's a film whose every component is exceptional, and it seems only appropriate that a work in which clocks play such an important and iconic role should be as finely made and tuned as a proverbial Swiss watch.

sound and vision

Sourced from a 4K digital restoration, the 1.37:1 1080p transfer on the Eureka Masters of Cinema Blu-ray is just terrific. The detail is consistently crisp, any blemishes or damage have been cleaned up or repaired, and the monochrome tonal range is consistently lovely, ensuring the black levels are solid, the highlights are stable and the grayscale between is handsomely rendered. A fine film grain is visible and the image is consistently stable, with no errant jitter.

The Linear PCM 2.0 mono soundtrack is clear, albeit with the expected restrictions in the dynamic range, which gives the soundtrack a slight treble bias but not so that it adds hiss to words ending in the letter ‘s'. The music fares particularly well here.

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired have been included.

extra features

Audio Commentary by Historian Glenn Frankel
I do like audio commentaries, but for me this one is a bit of a mixed bag. As you would hope from the author of High Noon, The Hollywood Blacklist and The Making of an American Classic, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Glenn Frankel provides some detailed information on Carl Foreman's dealings with the House of Un-American Activities Committee and how his views on these proceedings are allegorically reflected in the film. This is good stuff. Unfortunately, and as ever I'm speaking from a personal viewpoint here, he spends way too much of the time simply describing what's happening on screen, with the result that much of the commentary plays almost like an audio descriptive track.

Kane writes his last will and testament

Audio Commentary by Western Authority Stephen Prince
Western authority Stephen Prince Gives us a lot more to chew on in this second commentary, though I still managed to get unreasonably irked by the fact that he highlights so many of the things I'd covered in my review, once again making it look as if I'd just lifted it from him. Then again, the points in question should be self-evident to anyone taking a good look at the film, so this gripe is effectively moot. This really is an informative extra, with Prince discussing the locations, the actors, the editing, the symbolism, the characters, the themes, the blocking of actors, the use of deep focus photography, the in-film relationships, the subtext and a whole lot more. He recognises that Rio Bravo was made by Hawks and Wayne as a direct response to what they disliked about High Noon, then makes a solid case for why he believes High Noon is the better film, and ends with the veiled suggestion that its commentary on American society has found new relevance of late. I wonder to whom he was slyly referring?

Interview with Neil Sinyard (29:35)
The ever-knowledgeable Mr. Sinyard takes a detailed look at what makes High Noon so special in a genre that has its fair share of enduring classics. He touches on the various themes and socio-political readings of the film, the pared-down and newsreel-influenced visual style, what he describes as "Zinnemann's three visual strategies," the myth that the film was somehow rescued in the editing, the strong female characters, the score, and more. He also talks about the film's long-term impact, and there's even a poster included here (which I'd never seen before) for Solidarity, the Polish trade union movement of the 1980s, that features Gary Cooper as Kane as a symbol of the union's struggle and resistance to government repression (this is also in the booklet, I should note).

Carl Foreman Interview (76:43)
Recorded at the National Film Theatre (now the BFI Southbank) in 1969, this on-stage Q&A with screenwriter Carl Foreman is a hugely valuable inclusion. Introduced at some considerable length by a gentleman whose full name I didn't catch, Foreman answers questions from the audience with grace and honesty on a variety of topics. These include the difference between writing in America and the UK, his first experience in the director's chair on The Victors, working with his producing partner Stanley Kramer, the experience of making High Noon and its life-changing aftermath, how the messages in his films have sometimes been misinterpreted, his planned future projects (one of which, Young Winston, is coming to Blu-ray soon from Indicator), the importance of holding a mirror up to contemporary life, and more. He cheers the emergence of great new British writers, expresses a hope that there would one day be a National Film School in Britain (such an establishment was founded just two years later), and cheered me with his open disdain for religion and his dismissal of "the spirit of Christmas" as "a load of crap." There are some audio quality issues in places but they're easy to live with given the quality of the content.

Judge Mettrick takes down the American flag

Inside High Noon (50:00)
A 2006 documentary on the film from director John Mulholland that covers what by this point – assuming you're watching the extras in order – should be largely familiar ground, but does so by talking not just to film theorists and writers, but to the offspring of some of the film's key contributors. These include Gary Cooper's daughter Maria, Carl Foreman's son Jonathan, Fred Zinnemann's son Tim and Grace Kelly's son, Prince Albert of Monaco. Being so close to their parents and in at least one case having visited the set during the film's making, their words have authority, particularly when Jonathan Foreman states categorically that the film was indeed intended as a comment on the blacklist, to which his father fell victim even before the film was completed. There's a comprehensive look at how the film came about and was made, information on missing subplots, and some learned opinion on the strength and importance two main female characters. There's some detail on the blacklisting of Foreman and how Gary Cooper put his career on the line to defend him at every turn. Former US President Bill Clinton even chips in to rather eloquently outline why one of his favourite films is so popular with politicians, and we get a peek at Zinnemann's annotated shooting script (which the director sent to Clinton) and a letter in which he counters the myth that the film was saved in editing. There's much more here, including some very thoughtful analysis of the film's visual style, themes and subtext.

The Making of High Noon (22:11)
A 4:3-framed archive piece from 1992 hosted by an ever-smiling Leonard Maltin that looks back at the making of an unconventional western classic. A solid and detailed piece, it includes interviews with producer Stanley Kramer, director Fred Zinnemann, Floyd Crosby's son David (yes, the famed musician), actor Lloyd Bridges, and Tex Ritter's son John, who reveals that singing the theme song at the Oscars (where it won Best Song) was the highlight of his father's career. Many of the stories here are repeated elsewhere, but this still makes for a comprehensive introduction to the film and doesn't sidestep the controversies surrounding its release and the damaging effect of the blacklist. "Evil was very strong in those days," notes Bridges with feeling.

Behind High Noon (9:48)
A 2002 piece made as a 50th anniversary tribute to the film, directed by John Mulholland and constructed from the same interview material used for his 2006 documentary Inside High Noon, also included on this disc. Now when I say the same material, I don't just mean that the clips used here were sourced from the same interviews, but that much of what you'll see here is also in that documentary, and if you're watching the extras in order you'll already have seen most of this before. What is unique to this piece is a to-camera introduction and narration by Maria Cooper, and there are a few snippets of previously unseen interview footage.

The time aproaches high noon

Trailer (2:17)
"A man who was too proud to run!" is the misleading claim that heads up this so-so trailer, which, in that still-annoying need to pack such a preview with action, has some big spoilers for the film's climactic confrontation. It also informs us that "Time was his deadly enemy!" No, I think that was Frank Miller.

Booklet
Running a substantial 100-pages, this is a hell of a booklet even by even by Eureka's always high standards. Leading the pack here is a belter in the shape of the whole of The Tin Star by John W. Cunningham. Although credited on the film as the magazine story on which the film was based, according to the special features Carl Foreman was already writing the screenplay when he was made aware of the existence of Cunningham's story and the similarities it bore to the script he was writing. The production company thus brought the rights to the story to avoid any potential copyright issues. There are as many differences between the two works as there are similarities, and it's clear that having got his hands on it, Foreman drew on the story for some of the details in his own script, from an arthritic hand that afflicts the lead character in the original (and the former marshal in the film) to the names given to two of the Miller gang members. To have the whole story for comparison rather than just a few choice extracts is a serious plus. This is followed by a detailed new essay on the film by Philip Kemp, one that includes details about its making that I hadn't picked up in the previous extras and is a damned fine read. Next is a retrospective review of the film by Richard Combs that was first published in the June 1986 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin and it makes for fascinating reading – indeed, so thoughtful and well researched and argued are Coombs' points that I was struck by feelings of woeful inadequacy for my own paltry efforts. Also by Coombs from 1986 is a critical breakdown of the film's real-time storytelling and its use of clocks, and unless you've seen and studied the film in detail numerous times, you're likely to learn something here. Finally, we have a rather wonderful piece by Carl Foreman about his tempestuous relationship with famed High Noon hater John Wayne, one written in 1974 and published in the satirical British Punch Magazine. The booklet is handsomely illustrated with posters, promotional still and behind-the-scenes photos and opens with the main credits for the film.

summary

As a long-standing fan of westerns I've always had a lot of time for High Noon, but only coming back to it after a gap of many years have I been able to appreciate just how superb a work of American cinema it truly is. The filmmaking is inspired, the script precise, the acting top-notch, the storytelling taught and waste-free, and the socio-political undertones give it a bite that few other genre works of the period can boast. It's a marvellous work, and how great it is to see it looking as good as it does on this impeccable Masters of Cinema Blu-ray. Great film, great presentation, superb special features... it's a must-own release that has our highest recommendation.

 


* This is a probably a unique instance where my past relationship with the film primarily revolves around its title song. Well, sort of. The song itself was released as a single and became a substantial hit, but for reasons unknown, Tex Ritter was replaced as the singer by western stalwart Frankie Laine. Many years ago, when a good friend who I've since lost was visiting me, we paid nightly visits to a local pub and soon found ourselves on friendly terms with the pub's eccentric landlord. On the second night we discovered, to our considerable delight, that the High Noon title song was on the pub's jukebox and we thus spent a small fortune repeatedly playing it. It began to irk the locals but amused the hell out of the landlord, who by the fourth day would cheerfully sing, "Do not forsake me oh my darling!" the moment that we entered his agreeable establishment.

High Noon Blu-ray cover
High Noon

USA 1952
85mins
directed by
Fred Zinnemann
produced by
Stanley Kramer
written by
Carl Foreman
based on the magazine story The Tin Star by
John W. Cunningham
cinematography
Floyd Crosby
editing
Elmo Williams
music
Dimitri Tiomkin
production design
Rudolph Sternad
starring
Gary Cooper
Thomas Mitchell
Lloyd Bridges
Katy Jurado
Grace Kelly
Otto Kruger
Lon Chaney Jr.
Harry Morgan

disc details
region B
video
1.37:1
sound
LPCM 2.0 mono
languages
English
subtitles
Engliosh SDH
extras
Audio Commentary by Historian Glenn Frankel
Audio Commentary by Western Authority Stephen Prince
Interview with Neil Sinyard
Carl Foreman Interview
Inside High Noon documentary
The Making of High Noon featurette
Behind High Noon featurette
Trailer
Booklet

distributor
Eureka! Masters of Cinema
release date
16 September 2019
review posted
23 September 2019

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