Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Movie Time: Rewind: High Noon
In picking a great film for this months edition of the Rewind, I wanted to pick an actor I hadn't highlighted yet. For that I chose Gary Cooper, and his Western masterpiece High Noon. Released in 1952 by United Artists, this film co-starred the fantastic Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Ian McDonald, Lon Chaney, Jr and introduced Lee Van Cleef to film.
High Noon stars Cooper as Marshall Will Kane, a lawman who decides on the same day to get married (to Kelly) and retire but finds out that a killer he had sent to prison years before has been freed and is en route to find him. The killer, Ben Miller (played by character actor Ian McDonald) is coming by train with his gang with revenge against Kane in mind. As the Marshall vies for support from the townsfolk he has protected all these years, he finds them to rooted in fear to help. They all pressure him to flee the town, including his wife. Kane agrees at first, but then realizes that he can't run from his fears, he returns to town. With his friends having turned their backs to him, Kane must confront Miller and his gang alone.
High Noon is really the start of the dark Western. Starring characters that aren't necessarily clear cut heroes, it would begin to change the way audiences viewed Westerns. With television providing so many hero Westerns, films started to get darker, leading to films like this, The Magnificent Seven, and many of the Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah films of the 60's. Kane is the hero figure, but he is surrounded by people who are entirely self-interested.
Much of the film is an allegory to the famed blacklisting scandals that rocked America in the early 1950's. McCarthyism struck hard at Hollywood, labeling many screen writers and actors as Communists and effectively removing their ability to work. Kane represents the man trying to do right, and all the townsfolk the people turning their backs on so called blacklisters. In fact, screen writer Carl Foreman was blacklisted shortly before the film came out, causing the producers to cut his name from the credits to save face.
High Noon went on to win 4 Oscars that year. One for the incredible film editing in the movie. The movie is shot in near real time, taking place from 10:35 am to 12:15 pm, which is nearly identical to the movies running time of 85 minutes. The film is interspersed with shots of clocks that match up to the corresponding time. Gary Cooper also won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance.
What I love about Cooper's performance is the expression he acts with in this film. They used minimal makeup to help accentuate the wrinkles and lines of pain and worry on his face. Much of that expressionism was real throughout the shooting of the picture. Cooper was suffering from a bleeding ulcer an back problems. Somehow he channels that pain in his performance, making Kane a truly tragic hero. Cooper even does his own stunts in the film, doubling amazing considering how hurt he was.
Several big name actors were offered the role but didn't get them for varying reasons. Henry Ford was grey listed for political activism, Gregory Peck thought it to similar to a previous film he did, and various reasons saw the likes of Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston and Montgomery Clift lose the role. Even John Wayne, who called his film Un-American expressed regret that he hadn't been offered the role when he accepted Cooper's Oscar on his behalf.
Grace Kelly, who appeared in far to few films for my taste, got her first real notice here. She had appeared in television and a small part in another film before High Noon, but the success of this film started her meteoric rise. She would go on to perform in Mogambo with Clark Gable, and make several films for the great Alfred Hitchcock, like Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, before marry the Crown Prince of Monaco in 1956. She became American Royalty.
High Noon is a great Western, it has been rated as the American Film Institutes's #2 Western of all time, behind The Searchers, and ranks as their top 27th film of all time. It's truly a great Western. A terrific climatic gun battles that is brilliantly choreographed, terrific character acting by Cooper, whose face tells a page worth of dialog in of itself. You also get great cameos by some of Hollywood's great supporting actors. And the beautiful Grace Kelly. Check it out, 1952's High Noon.