HIGH NOON (1952)

High Noon

Olive Film’s 60th anniversary Blu-ray edition of High Noon (1952) presents this critically lauded, still controversial western masterpiece in a Hi-Def transfer that renders all other home video versions obsolete.

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The Stanley Kramer production, tightly directed by Fred Zinnemann and written by the blacklisted Carl Foreman, earned the hatred of 1950s McCarthyists, including John Wayne and Howard Hawks, who were so outraged they made Rio Bravo (1959) as a right-wing response. Wayne went further than that, teaming up with Hollywood Gossip mogul Hedda Hopper and the House Un-American Activities Committee to run Foreman out of the country. Foreman moved to England and never returned. Wayne forever boasted of forcing the writer into exile. Kramer, responding to accusations that High Noon was anti-American, tried to get Foreman’s name taken off the credits. Gary Cooper intervened on Foreman’s behalf, making Kramer’s effort unsuccessful, but Kramer had better luck forcing Foreman to sell his part of their company. So much for loyalty under pressure: ironic, given the film’s theme of civic morality.

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The biggest offense of the film, for Wayne and his fellow extremist kooks, was the final shot of Will Kane supposedly dropping his marshal’s badge in the dust and stomping on it. Wayne saw symbolism aplenty, but his faulty vision was filtered through a lens of Cold War paranoia and exaggeration.[1] Will Kane merely dropped the badge. He never stepped on it. The other offense was the portrayal of the townspeople as a greedy, self-cannibalizing lot, a hypocritical church community who argue their way out of communal (and personal) loyalty. Wayne and Hawks’ Rio Bravo depicted, in sharp contrast, a town full of old-fashioned buddy-buddy camaraderie. If Wayne and Hawks were alive today they might have rethought their depiction, because High Noon could served as an apt snapshot of contemporary division. It’s a good thing that actor/director team didn’t live to see the 21st century, though, because despite the intent behind Rio Bravo, and despite its occasional tendency towards sentimental phoniness, it remains, along with High Noon, one of the standout westerns in the genre’s greatest decade.[2] Continue reading “HIGH NOON (1952)”

MAN OF THE WEST (1958)

The Western is the near perfect genre for American filmmakers. The basic premises are pre-written, giving the filmmaker boundlessly expansive freedom. Anthony Mann took full advantage of that freedom and he did it in explorative ways John Ford never did. Mann, along with Budd Boetticher, set the model down for later filmmakers such as Monte Hellman and Sam Peckinpah. Film historians have tended to rank Mann below Ford and above Boetticher. Completely reverse that and take nothing from any of the three.

When the subject of Mann’s contribution to the western genre is explored, it is his cycle with James Stewart that is inevitable brought up. Indeed the Stewart collaboration Naked Spur (1953) remains Mann’s highest praised achievement in the great American genre. However, it is his nearly forgotten and last true western, Man of the West (1958) starring Gary Cooper that is his most strikingly modern. A telling sign of this film’s greatness lies in its still debated status.

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