Cult Movie: High Noon 'an astonishing film, packed with memorable moments and sublime performances'
JOHN Wayne hated High Noon. It was "un-American", he claimed, and Wayne turned the lead role down flat when he was offered it. Director Howard Hawks suggested its story of small town revenge and morality was too ambiguous for its own good and the Ku Klux Klan picketed some screenings.
Both screen writer Carl Foreman and cinematographer Floyd (father of musician David) Crosby were accused of communist leanings, with Foreman even being summoned to defend himself in front of McCarthy's witch-hunt committee, which saw him exiled and blacklisted when he refused to name names of fellow "sympathisers".
The feeling of fear and suspicion which seeps through every moment of the film feels like a reflection of that paranoid 'Reds under the bed' McCarthy era. Watching director Fred Zinnemann's game-changing western today, however, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment's gorgeous 4K Blu-ray restoration released this month, shows how absurd and offensive such accusations really are.
High Noon is an astonishing film, packed with memorable moments, sublime performances and blessed with a near real time structure that would prove massively influential in the years following its 1952 release.
While the Marshall of Hadleyville Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is marrying his sweetheart Amy (Grace Kelly), three surly looking characters are lurking around the train station awaiting the arrival of Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a steely eyed killer who's arriving back in town at noon with revenge and murder on his mind.
Kane is about to hand over his badge and leave Hadleyville for good but when he learns that Miller is back to kill him for daring to put him in prison back when his bloodthirsty gang ruled town, he decides to hang around and face his nemesis one last time for the good of the local community.
To do this, Kane needs to round up a posse of townsfolk and challenge the pacifism of his new Quaker wife, which proves easier said than done. All the while, the clock is ticking ever closer towards noon. The tension that builds gradually as the showdown at the hour of reckoning comes around is cranked up ruthlessly by Zinnemann.
Shot starkly in black and white, High Noon rejects the vast, Technicolor vistas of the more traditional western for a low key atmosphere. The result is a moody, tense film that feels almost like a documentary at times.
Gary Cooper is marvellous as the laconic Kane – he won an Oscar for his trouble – and the film picked up an impressive total of seven Academy Award nominations.
This beautiful edition of the film boasts a sparkly 4K restoration of the print, a 100 page book and a whole cantina full of extras, including a brand new audio commentary from historian Glenn Frankel and a revealing Making Of documentary.
The perfect example of a western for grownups, High Noon proves that the full complexity of modern emotion and morals could be tackled by Hollywood on occasion. It also proves that John Wayne wasn't always right.