Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Great Alphabet of Films—H is For

High Noon


       "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin" is the highly acclaimed song that beautifully harmonizes the grand themes of one of film's foremost westerns, High Noon. There is something masterfully presidential about it. Fred Zinnemann's film primarily examines themes of duty and honor; for this reason, former President's Bill Clinton and Dwight D. Eisenhower both name it their favorite of all-time.
      I'm sincerely sorry to any of the teens that follow my blog (to be honest, I don't think any actually do), but none of the Harry Potter films make the cut; speaking of which, if I were still only 13, Home Alone would gain my unavailing recognition. If Charlie Sheen was managing my site, then we'd all be subjected to the "Warlord's" "Tigerblood" defense of Hot Shots!, and the more criminally reprehensible, Hot Shots! Part Deux. With all due respect to my voracious and enormously refined cinematic pal Nebular, Yimou Zhang's beautiful Rashomon-style visual rapture, Hero, narrowly misses out on prime real estate in my "H" club. And to the super witty and unreserved badass film fatale, M. over @ The Smoking Pen , Gary Cooper deserves a BAMF of the Week tribute, strictly, solely, and single-handily owed to his portrayal of Marshal Will Kane.
      More than a western badass of the strong and silent ilk, Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) reaches the tender age of retirement; a chance to embark on a wonderful honeymoon with his new Quaker bride, Amy (Grace Kelly). But his marital bliss proves ephemeral when he learns that the Miller gang, whose leader (Ian McDonald) Will had arrested, is due on the 12:00 train. Ever the pacifist, Amy implores Will to flee town, but this isn't his style; protecting his land (Hadleyburg) has always been his duty, and it remains so now. But when he asks for deputies to valiantly oppose the Millers, virtually nobody will stand by him. Chief Deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) fancies Will's job and ex-mistress (Katy Jurado); his mentor, former lawman Martin Howe (Lon Chaney Jr.) is now an arthritic shell of himself, unable to wield a gun. Even Amy, certain of her husband's demise, deserts him.
      Meanwhile, the clocks tick off the impending minutes to High Noon—as the film is masterfully shot in "real time," thus its 85-minutes corresponds to the story's actual timeframe. Forsaken to his own faculties, Kane walks into the center of town, readying himself for his climactic showdown with the murderous Millers.



      High Noon was originally criticized for its overt abandonment of western archetypes: excessive chases, flagrant, almost routine violence, over-the-top action, and alluring scenery. Instead, Zinnemann's film relied upon a conscientious morality and raw emotional sincerity—the action is embellished only in the final ten minutes.
      In terms of an essential historical lesson, High Noon represents an allegory of the collective deficiency of intellectuals to buck the atrocious rise of McCarthyism. The film's production and release coincided with the second Red Scare and the Korean War. Carl Foreman was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee while he was writing the film. Foreman had not been in the Communist Party for almost ten years, but his invocation of the Fifth Amendment made him an "un-cooperative witness." Consequently, he was blacklisted from Hollywood. Thus, Foreman was sending a forceful and deliberate message to the people of Hollywood who remained silent, almost in unison, while their peers were blacklisted. The message, which will forever resonant with Hollywood, is the power of conviction exceeds the complacency of fear. 
      Marshal Kane is a man of principal lead by a strong dedication to duty, law, and town despite the adamant refusal of his fellow townspeople to yield their support. Kane's conflict is quite startlingly, a man's conflict of conscience. Consequently, the film's tension mainly derives from his desperation, aided by proficient editing and formidable character portrayals. The shots of the various clocks with the hands approaching noon, and the still shots, work wonderfully in concert, heightening the edge-of-your-seat tension. One of the more memorable shots occurs at the film's climax. Zinnemann employs a crane shot, just before the final gunfight. The shot maneuvers a few times before our focus is centrally drawn to the image of Kane, completely alone and isolated on the street. The entire town has deserted him. Accentuated by an austere gray backdrop, the message Zinnemann leaves us with is the triumph of defiant courage.  
      Emboldened by an atypical set of circumstances, High Noon is the quintessential western that thrives as a film because of its astute attention to the psychology of its characters and situations. There are numerous sequences which embody this slant: the sharp expression of tension on Kane's face, the rancorous, ticking clocks, and the menacing, bare train tracks. What sticks out most though, concerns the dynamics between Kane and his wife. The woman he loves so dearly deserted him because of her unflinching aversion to violence, but in his most dire need, she stands by his side. After all the townspeople have abandoned the town, Kane takes off his badge and chucks it in the dirt—leaving us with such terrific symbolism. 
      A landmark of the "adult western," High Noon won four Academy Awards: Best Actor for Gary Cooper, Best Film Editing, Best Music Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, and Best Song for "Do Not Forsake Me, O My darling," sung by Tex Ritter. In my battle of the alphabet, High Noon won the letter "H," and with mention of this trivial fact, my respect for the Western Hero could never be greater.


*The marvelous theatrical trailer for High Noon. This one dates back to 1952. 

25 comments:

  1. thanks for the classic =) love those old westerns.

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  2. Thanks for the mention, Matty! "voracious and enormously refined" - I'm extremely flattered! :)
    My cinematic hunger is unappeased, and my love for Zhang Yimou and his masterpiece "Hero" is immense, enormous, and... unmeasured :)

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  3. ah ... Grace Kelly ... such beauty will never be repeated till the end of time ...

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  4. I have not seen High Noon, but now I must. Especially since I'm still coming back from my Good, Bad, and Ugly high. Any potential BAMF is a friend of mine! Thanks for the shout out!

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  5. @ Tara

    You're very welcome. I'm a sentimental lover of the classic westerns as well. This ranks right up there with The Searchers, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Unforgiven, and Butch Cassidy!

    @ Nebular

    As you should be, lol. I don't extend such high praise too often! Nah, it's very much deserved. And I know all too well of your grand appreciation for Zhang Yimou, particularly, Hero!

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  6. @ Dezmond

    Her beauty is timeless. Great statement, Dez!

    @ M.

    No problem! One shout out deserves another!

    And, you will absolutely love this western (if you're a fan of the classics, which I presume you are). Gary Cooper's BAMF quality is incontestable.

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  7. Hmmm, our first disagreement. I can expand on that, or we can let it go at that. ;)

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  8. I hate to admit I've never seen this film. But, I'll fix that. I promise. LOL =D

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  9. What a classic in movie and theme! As I was raised on westerns, I find myself still partial to them.

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  10. Don't feel too bad about teens not getting Harry Potter featured on your blog. Through your effort you've might've introduced some of them to High Noon, just as I introduced you to the Human League over at my blog.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing what you dish out here. Thanks for the follow!

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  11. High Noon is a terrific film and most deserving of your H spot. Gary Cooper gives the performance of his career here, the only westerns I love as much are the original 3:10 to Yuma and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

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  12. This is one of the greats to me, and you write about it brilliantly. I'm also with you on Home Alone; I never laughed so hard in my life, although it was slightly demented.

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  13. @ Craig

    Really? We'll I don't see how one can disparage the greatness of this classic, but I guess, I'm glad you didn't.

    With 26 films, there's bound to be some disagreements, so it's all good!

    @ RaShelle

    Do fix that! Thanks for the honesty, lol.

    @ junebug

    Lucky you. Westerns represent one of my favorite genres. So what you're telling me is your upbringing was just fabulous!

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  14. @ Jeff

    Thanks for stopping by! You did introduce me to that musical artifact. Hopefully, this post pays it forward.

    @ Melissa

    Cooper does give a mesmerizing performance; sympathetic, yet heroic.

    Those other two films you named—well, they're just epic!

    @ Clipped Wings

    Awesome and thank you so much!

    Home Alone was a childhood classic, but now that I'm an adult, it loses some legitimacy. Still, it's good for some over-the-top laughs.

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  15. One of the best westerns I've seen (though I've probably seen fewer than most). Cooper's performance was spot on.

    (And is it wrong that I count among my favorite westerns the recent Korean flick The Good, The Bad, The Weird?)

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  16. How'd you know High Noon was one of my fav movies?

    John Wayne was so cool. And who could forget that voice of his!

    Great blog. Thanks for the follow and comment over at my house. :-)

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  17. @ Nate

    It is one of the best westerns! And I can make that statement as a representative of someone who's seen virtually all the "noteworthy" American westerns dating back to John Ford's Stagecoach, along with the great spaghetti westerns (such as Sergio Leone's Fistful of dollars trilogy).

    And no, it is not wrong to thoroughly dig Jee-woon Kim's film. It's a masterpiece. I love the fact that he was inspired by Leone who, quite frankly, is one of the best "western" directors of all-time.

    @ Robyn

    I'm a cinematic clairvoyant. I'm sorry M. Night Shyamalan, But...I...See...Great...Movies.

    Thanks for your kind words. And you're welcome!

    And John Wayne is too cool, but sadly he is not in this movie. The Searchers, which is his greatest western role IMO, is in my Top 3 of Westerns!

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  18. Greetings! I saw that you commented on my friend, Darlene's blog (who just got the new haircut!) and I said, "Hmmm, how refreshing to see a young guy blogging!" Then I read your profile and see that you come from Conn. and went to NYU. I immediately knew you were a good kid since I am a born and bred Brooklyn, New Yorker, now living in Conn.! :) I wish you great luck in the film industry. My grandfather was an actor and director in the early 1900's and I myself love anything associated with the film industry. I hope you are a great success!
    Best,
    Gloria

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  19. just found your blog. glad to be here:)

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  20. Matt, thanks so much for your encouraging comment on my blog. I really appreciate it. it's comments like yours that make me think that perhaps I can make it through to Z. Sue@JumpingAground (Alliteration & drabbles)
    Sue@traverselife(Workplace bullying)

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  21. Wonderful! High Noon is one of my all time favorite movies, and "Do not Forsake Me" is a brilliant song that I thought everyone had forgotten about, Thanks, this post made my whole day!

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  22. @ Gloria

    I'm flattered! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your wonderful thoughts. This is the kind of support that confirms why I love providing this content! Your well-wishes have made my day!

    And, as you are a Brooklyn product, now CT transplant, you must be a breath of fresh air to this state!

    @ lines n shades

    Happy to welcome you aboard. Thanks!

    @ Sue

    You're welcome! Your blog highlights such an important cause, so I commend you for your work!

    @ Brent

    Haha, no problem buddy. I was hoping someone would have your kind of reaction because this film is just that good, and sadly, just that "forgotten." I'm glad a fellow cinephile could appreciate it! Glad to make your day (not in the Clint Eastwood sense)!

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  23. I really enjoyed some great westerns and High Noon is absolutely one of my all time favorite.

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  24. I love your site and as I browsed your blog I decided to award you the Creative Blog Award.
    Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.
    ~Deirdra

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  25. @ Jaccstev

    Glad you're on the same page!

    @ Deirdra

    Thanks! I appreciate the virtual hardware!

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