Our Reel Classics selection today is another iconic film from the 1950s, High Noon, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. As you can tell from the poster, this is a western, and it is set in the small town of Hadleyville in the New Mexico Territory. Gary Cooper plays the town marshal Will Kane. The story opens on his wedding day. His new bride is Amy Fowler, played by Grace Kelly. The bride is a Quaker and pacifist, and Will Kane has agreed to give up the badge, move to a new town, raise a family and run a store.
These plans are interrupted when he learns that a man he had helped send to prison, Frank Miller, has gotten out and is arriving on the noon train to seek his revenge. The bride suggests they pack up and leave town, but he is torn. He decides to face his enemy and asks his friends and various townspeople to join with him. However, one by one, they refuse to help him out of fear for themselves. It is not just Frank Miller, but his gang that has gathered at the railway station awaiting his arrival. The clock keeps ticking, approaching the hour of noon. It appears that even his wife has abandoned him.
Will Kane finds himself alone after having served to protect the townspeople for many years.
The film was directed by Fred Zinnemann (other films include Here To Eternity, Oklahoma, and The Sundowners), and the screenplay was written by Carl Foreman. I mention this as Foreman’s personal story was integral to the plot. Carl Foreman was being blacklisted by Hollywood for his past communist leanings. Appearing before the House Unamerican Activities Committee (Sen. Joseph McCarthy), he had refused to name others he knew who had also been involved with the communists.
When Foreman learned that he was going to be blacklisted, he reached out to friends seeking support against this effort. Most of his “friends” refused out of fear of harm to themselves. It has been reported that many of the exchanges between Will Kane and various townspeople were based on Foreman’s own conversations seeking support.
John Wayne and his friend (and fellow actor) Ward Bond created an “anti-communist” organization in Hollywood and spoke out against this film and Carl Foreman, believing it to be a statement against blacklisting. Wayne fully supported the blacklisting efforts and wanted Foreman out of Hollywood. Interestingly, the role of Will Kane was initially offered to John Wayne, but he refused it. Gary Cooper was also identified as conservative but later spoke out against blacklisting.
While working on the screenplay, Foreman read a short story by John Cunningham in Harper’s Magazine entitled “The Tin Star.” There were similarities in the storyline, so the rights were purchased to avoid any concerns about plagiarism.
High Noon is full of recognizable actors: Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Lon Chaney Jr. (also known as “The Wolf Man” in the Universal horror films), Harry Morgan (Col. Potter in MASH), Lee Van Cleef, and Sheb Wooley (of “The Flying Purple People Eater” fame). Lee Van Cleef made his first film appearance in High Noon and went on to appear in many films and TV shows over the years, including some of the so-called “Spaghetti Westerns.”
For those who have seen the film, the theme song stands out as memorable. “The Ballad of High Noon” was written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington. It was sung by Tex Ritter, and the opening line is unforgettable: “Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’.” The song and the clock ticking towards noon appear throughout the film.
Even with the Hollywood controversy, High Noon earned $3.4 million in the USA box offices in 1952. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including best actor (Gary Cooper) and best song. It lost the best picture award to The Greatest Show on Earth and that loss is often identified as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Academy. It is also attributed by many to the anti-communist efforts led by John Wayne and columnist Hedda Hopper.
The American Film Institute ranks High Noon as the second greatest film in the “Western” genre and ranked it #27 in their listing of Greatest Movies of All Time. Internet Movie Data Base (IMBD) rated the film at 8 out of 10. Rotten Tomatoes had a critics’ score of 95% and an Audience Score of 89%. In 1980 CBS Television aired a made-for-TV sequel entitled High Noon, Part II: The Return Of Will Kane, starring Lee Majors. TBS produced a re-make in 2000 starring Tom Skerritt as Will Kane.
To me, High Noon is a film that speaks to the attributes of courage, friendship, loyalty, and devotion (and sometimes the lack thereof). The setting is the Western genre, but the themes go beyond the setting. It is entertaining but, at the same time, also thought-provoking. It is not your “run-of-the-mill” Western. And, for that reason, it is truly a “Reel Classic.”
As usual, I researched the streaming sites where the film can be found to view for free. It is listed on Hoopla, Pluto, and Filmrise. It is also available as a DVD at the Clark County Library. I want to mention again that if you have a library card, you can access the streaming channels Hoopla and Kanopy. They both are a treasure trove of classic and more recent films as well as a host of TV shows. For more information, check with staff at the library.
As always, keep a watch out for the next “Reel Classic” and enjoy the trailer for High Noon below.