ON DVD & BLU-RAY
High Noon (1952) starring Gary Cooper Blu Ray (Eureka!)
The clock ticks down to a confrontation
This classic western plays out, for the most part, in real-time. It features Gary Cooper as Will Kane, the Marshal of a town called Hadleyville who decides to turn in his badge when he gets married to a Quaker named Amy (Grace Kelly). However, just before they leave to begin another life elsewhere, he learns that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), an outlaw who once terrorised the town, has had his death sentence annulled and is heading back by train, due to arrive at noon. When he also finds out that three members of Frank’s gang - Ben (Sheb Wooley), Jack (Lee Van Cleef) and Jim (Robert J. Wilke) - await their boss at the local station, he worries that they are planning to reassemble and take revenge.
Fearing that they will pursue him and his bride relentlessly, he decides to take await their arrival and take them on in a gunfight with the help of any willing townsfolk. Unfortunately most of them, for one reason or another, are reluctant to get involved - raising the prospect that he will have to face these fierce men alone.
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A now-familiar but well-crafted western-thriller
High Noon ranks as one of the most influential films of all time, to the point where some of its moments are now oft-recycled cliches. That said, the now-overfamiliar ideas are so well-executed here that they still hold up very well nowadays.
The first hour or so focuses largely on the various relationships between Will Kane and the other townsfolk. While his wife Amy clearly loves him, his return to the use of violence to face down Frank and his men doesn’t sit well with her pacifist Quaker beliefs. His deputy Harvey (Lloyd Bridges) is resentful because he didn’t recommend him as his successor. Will’s old flame, a Mexican woman named Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado), is now going with Harvey. The film paints a compelling picture of a living, breathing community filled with individuals, all of whom have their own human motivations.
Tension is slowly built up (literally) in the background as clocks are occasionally glimpsed in shot and we intermittently cut away to the three gang members patiently awaiting Frank’s arrival with that ominous railroad stretching back to the horizon. The proceedings reach fever pitch near the end via a classic montage heralding the train pulling into the station. The inevitable final shootout makes great use of camera angles (often low angle shots) to build an appropriately fraught atmosphere. One of the most important aspects, however, is Dimitri Tiomkin’s score with its distinctive “ticking clock” motif, adding a lot to the overall mood.
The casting is top-notch. Gary Cooper, who was 50 at the film of filming, displays a grounded toughness that belies his age. While Grace Kelly (in her first major role) comes across as being overly meek and mild these days, Katy Jurado amply compensates in the “tough chick” department playing the feisty Helen. Lloyd Bridges is suitably moody as the younger deputy who desperately wants to come out of his erstwhile boss’s shadow.
Many people have read High Noon as an allegory of the climate of fear perpetuated by McCarthyism, especially since screenwriter Carl Foreman himself was known to have Communist sympathies and was blacklisted around the time when it was made. However, it isn’t a film that needs to be deeply analysed to be enjoyed. You can simply take it as a well-crafted thriller.
Runtime: 85 mins
Dir: Fred Zinnemann
Script: Carl Foreman, based on a short story by John W. Cunningham
Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Harry Morgan, Ian MacDonald, Lee Van Cleef, Robert J. Wilke, Sheb Wooley
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
This 4K restoration has some wonderfully sharp and clear imagery (especially considering the film’s age). The all-important soundtrack is vividly ominous in this presentation and the dialogue is clear throughout.
This release features two brand new commentary tracks: one by historian Glenn Frankel, author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, and the other by film scholar Stephen Prince. The featurettes include a video appreciation by Neil Sinyard (professor of film studies at the University of Hull), a 1969 audio interview with writer Carl Foreman from the NFT in London, two making-of documentaries and another looking at the film’s historical context. There’s also a 100-page collector’s book included here featuring some new and archive articles, the original short story The Tin Star by John W. Cunningham, plus some excerpts from archive interviews with director Fred Zinnemann.
While the presence of now well-worn tropes mean that High Noon doesn’t quite have the impact it once did, it’s still a satisfying, well-made piece of entertainment. The superb restoration and stuffed package of extras are major draws here.