June 10th, 2008
11:10 AM ET

'High Noon,' forevermore

“A simple little Western,” Frank Langella intones in the narration to the documentary “Inside ‘High Noon,’ ” one of the bonus features on the new “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” of the 1952 classic, out Tuesday.

And, indeed, “High Noon” does seem to be a Western stripped down to its most basic elements: the reluctant lawman, ready to leave town with his bride, called back for one last showdown with a group of outlaws as his townspeople desert him. The film even looks basic, with minimal scenery, terse dialogue and black-and-white photography.

But, as the documentary notes with deliberate irony, "High Noon" isn't "a simple little Western." There’s a reason the film has become one of the all-time classics, its very title a synonym for a moment of decision: There’s more than meets the eye.

There’s the script, for one thing. Carl Foreman’s screenplay is often taken to be an anti-McCarthy allegory - though, as one film historian says, you can also read Gary Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane as Joseph McCarthy, with Frank Miller and his gang as the Communists. (Similarly, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” can be read as a film that argues against ‘50s conformity - or a horror film about the Red Menace.)

There’s Fred Zinneman’s direction, carefully calibrated to heighten suspense with its tightly drawn scenes and cuts to the ticking clocks.

And, of course, there’s Gary Cooper, whose stolid acting style - Harrison Ford is probably the closest analogue - works to the film’s great advantage, as his every emotional expression deepens the film’s power.

His performance is all the more striking considering that Cooper, 51 at the time of the movie’s release and a dimming star, wasn’t the first choice to play Will Kane, who was supposed to be in his 30s. The role had been pitched to Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Gregory Peck and Kirk Douglas, among others. But the film was made by Stanley Kramer’s independent production company, and Kramer could only get the cash from an investor who insisted on Cooper.

Cooper won an Oscar for his performance. The film, however, was beaten by “The Greatest Show on Earth” for best picture. (Oscar historians have long believed that “High Noon” faced anti-liberal bias - Foreman was blacklisted during production - and split the vote with competitors “Moulin Rouge” and “The Quiet Man,” allowing “Greatest Show” to slip through.)

“High Noon” isn’t on everybody’s short list of great films. The great director Howard Hawks called it “phony,” and many fans of Westerns prefer their genre with less allegory and more, well, West. But it’s cast a long shadow. The film has made the American Film Institute’s two lists of top 100 films (most recently at No. 27) and is allegedly a favorite among U.S. presidents. (One of those presidents, Bill Clinton, offers commentary in “Inside ‘High Noon.’ ”)

For those who purchased the 50th anniversary "Collector's Edition" DVD of “High Noon” six years ago, the new set doesn’t offer much fresh material. But if you haven’t added “High Noon” to your library, the new edition is a good place to start.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

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soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Bill

    Bud, you are wrong about Cooper and HUAC. though he did appear before HUAC in 1947, in fact, he named no names and no scripts. He did nothing but say he was there to make sure that Congress understood that Hollywood wasn't filled with Communists.

    Then, during the making of High Noon, Cooper put his career on the line to defend Carl Foreman (who had been a member of the Communist Party) against HUAC. There is a documentary on the new double disc from LionsGate that goes into all of this. Cooper was the real American and a very brave man.

    Foreman even wrote his scripts for Cooper after he was blacklisted, like Bridge On The River Kwai and Guns Of Navarone.

    Wonder where you heard that he named names and everything?

    July 21, 2008 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bud

    High Noon is a great western and in my humble estimation is certianly one of the best ever. The man Gary Cooper that was Sergeant York, John Doe and many other common men that were larger than life in the movies, was a pathetic excuse for an American when he sat before The House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. He made accusations, named names and demonstrated no courage or true American values. For that reason alone, I feel he deserves little praise except as an actor PORTRAYING some things where he had little true understanding.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. andy houston

    My mom would often talk about this movie and I always chose others to watch. Then I rented it one night and was blown away. Gary Cooper is amazing and Grace kelly is one to behold. Great film.

    June 26, 2008 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kirk

    I'm no expert on the matter, but I would argue that the film's musical score (meaning of course the song "Do Not Forsake Me" or whatever it was called, sung by Tex Ritter) added greatly to its impact. Great stuff, especially for the day.

    June 21, 2008 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Stephen

    About a year after High Noon came out, my Mom called me from the hospital and said "You have a brand new brother. His name is Gary." And my reply, "Oh boy, Gary Cooper is my brother!" I saw High Noon and knew right then how special it and Gary Cooper was. Imagine the let down when they brought home this little wrinkled runt. Oh well, he didn't turn out too bad. Can't get my grand kids interested in it though, it is not in color. If it is in color they will sit and watch old movies with me. But they just can't get into B&W. Though it is sacrilege, I wish they would colorize all the old movies so I can get the kids interested in them.

    June 17, 2008 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

    Kait -

    Not true. The documentary with the new DVD addresses that point, and shows Foreman's script - along with Zinnemann's notes - to demonstrate that the clocks were always part of the film. And that's taking nothing away from the film's edtior, Elmo Williams, who won an Oscar for his work.

    - TL

    June 16, 2008 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. kait

    my understanding is that the clock was added by the editor

    not the director

    that changed a so-so western into a classic and added the tension

    it's not all about the director

    film is a team effot

    June 16, 2008 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. Angie

    I'm absolutely head over heels in love with Gary Cooper. There was never a more talented actor to grace to the silver screen and he is absolutely perfect in the role of Will Kane. I've never been a fan of Westerns and Gary's are the only ones I like. High Noon like other posters have said in practically flawless and I enjoy more every time I watch it.

    The new documentary by John Mulholland is exceptional, very informative and entertaining. Also the praises of this new transfer can not be sung highly enough. This is the best version of the film so far released on DVD. If you have an HDtv and either an HD dvd player or an upconverting dvd player, the film looks like a high-def movie. It's like seeing it for the time again.

    June 12, 2008 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Steve

    The movie is mediocre at best, and I certainly can see the allegories to anti-McCarthyism moreso than the suggestion that Cane IS McCarthy, but there is one reason to definitely see this movie, and that is Grace Kelly. My God, has she ever looked more beautiful?

    June 12, 2008 at 4:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. Edgar, Texas

    "High Noon" may be one of the greatest Westerns made simply because, for me, it's one of those films that gets better with repeat viewings. There's always something subtle you discover when you look at it again, and for a Western that's a hair above an hour timewise, that's astounding!!!

    June 11, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Wendy

    One Saturday morning my dad took over the control of the TV and turned on "High Noon" much to the shrieks of my little sister and I who wanted to watch "Bugs Bunny". About the time that Frank and his brothers meet up with Will Cane in town my dad offered to change the channel back to cartoons only to have my sister and I shriek all over again.....we had to see how it ended. Almost 30 years later he still loves to tease us about how much we enjoyed it.....and how he was right, of course!

    June 11, 2008 at 5:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bill

    One of the greats, among a handful of virtually flawless films. As the documentary, Inside High Noon, makes clear, Cooper's performance is among the most stunning ever put on screen. Cooper is one of Daniel Day-Lewis's acting heroes, and High Noon is among his favorite films. I also agree that Viggo Mortensen is far closer to Cooper than Harrison Ford. Cooper and Mortensen both act from deep within, never having to overtly emote to build character.

    And to say there isn't much new on this double disc does a real disservice to Inside High Noon, the new documentary included. This delves deeper into High Noon, on so many different levels, than anything I've ever seen on the film. It's almost worth the price by itself.

    June 10, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Missy

    I'm not a western fan but I love this movie. I caught it on cable one morning and was instantly transfixed. I'd seen the crane shot of Cooper standing alone in the middle of the street many times by itself but it wasn't until I saw it context that I fully understood it and was moved by it.

    June 10, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gail

    It's probably the ONLY western that I"ll sit thru. The idea that this man, who has protected the locals is left standing alone when HE needs support is terribly applicable in today's world. And I'm not sure that Harrison Ford is a close analogue for acting. I think that in terms of an actor who can express emotion without moving a single muscle, Viggo Mortensen is far closer to Gary Cooper.

    June 10, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bob

    I consider "High Noon" one of the best Westerns ever made. Unlike most Westerns the characters are real instead of being cardboard cutouts. The writing, direction and acting are superb. My favorite scene is the last one, when Gary Cooper gives the townspeople a look of scorn before throwing his badge into the dust.

    June 10, 2008 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Goog49

    Like "Bugsy", "Bridge on the River Kwai", and "Godfather", it deals with themes so universal that it doesn't properly belong to any genre. It defies many of the conventions of the Western: The hero has no support whatsoever from the other characters; there is virtually no landscape shooting. Its message is simple, and it is conveyed in the simplest possible terms.

    June 10, 2008 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Anthony

    I could never get into this film. I watched in High School and never really liked it. I'm not a western fan at all, so I guess that part of it.

    June 10, 2008 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  18. gary

    My mom drug me to see this movie when I was 6; she loved Gary Cooper and gave me his first name. I struggled through it because it was a bit much for a 6 year old; too plodding, so little action, etc.
    Only later did I learn to love it. and try to watch it when it comes on cable but....sometimes I wonder if my later -found appreciation isn't but a longing to sit in a theater with my mom. Too late wise.....

    June 10, 2008 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |

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