Fred Zinnemann (director)
16 September 2019 (released)
18 September 2019
From Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s Award-winning score to Floyd Crosby’s b/w stark cinematography, from Gary Cooper’s Academy Award-winning performance to the plot played out in real-time: HIGH NOON is one of the most acclaimed Westerns ever made while at the same time isn’t your typical Western at all.
Plagued by controversy from the outset due to screenwriter Carl Foreman being ‘under investigation’ for apparent Communist activities during the McCarthy witch-hunt era, Fred Zinnemanm also had somewhat of a difficult time: in Hollywood, no one really believed that a man born in Austria would be able to successfully direct that most American of all American genres: the Western. Zinnemann would prove them all wrong, for not only did HIGH NOON turn out to be one of the most successful films ever made, but it won four Academy Awards (better known as ‘Oscar’) for ‘Best Actor’, ‘Best Film Editing’, ‘Best Music’ and ‘Best Music/Song’ (Tex Ritter performing ‘Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’). Ironically, Carl Foreman was also nominated but didn’t win. The movie was nominated for a further four ‘Golden Globe’ Awards, out of which one Globe went to cinematographer Floyd Crosby and the second Globe to Katy Jurado for her portrayal as feisty business woman Helen Ramírez, the first Mexican actress to win an award.
The action takes place entirely in the small town of Hadleyville in New Mexico. Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just married his much younger bride Amy Fowler (the prim-and-proper Grace Kelly in one of her first big roles) and is looking forward to an early retirement. The newly-weds plan on running a store in another town and raise a family (Cooper was thirty years older than Kelly at the time of filming!). Unfortunately for the couple, their planned honeymoon is not to be: word has it that all round bad boy and notorious outlaw Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has been released from jail instead of dangling from the gallows as initially sentenced. Now Miller’s gang, which includes his younger brother Ben (Sheb Wooley) plus his pals Colby (Lee Van Cleef) and Pierce (Robert J. Wilke) are waiting at the local train station for Miller’s arrival on the noon train. Kane knows straight away that Miller and his gang will come after him for it was Kane who had sentenced the thug five years ago. Amy – a devoted Quaker and pacifist (Grace Kelly looks way to glam to be a Quaker!) – suggests that hubby and her leave town before the Miller gang arrive but Kane won’t have none of it. With his strong sense of duty and pride he won’t run away from the gang, incurring an angry reaction from his young wife who makes it crystal clear that she will be leaving town on the noon train, with or without Kane!
Buying a ticket at the train station, the three outlaws linger about like vultures waiting for the train to arrive – a scene that no doubt inspired Sergio Leone’s epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. The ticket seller urges Amy to go back to the town’s hotel and wait in the lobby. Meanwhile in the same hotel, Mexican businesswoman Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) has a quarrel with her ‘toy boy’ Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), Kane’s young deputy. Bitter over the fact that Kane did not recommend him as a successor, Helen also gives Harvey also a mouthful about being too green behind the ears. Helen, who used to be Kane’s lover before she went on to become Frank Miller’s lover, owns the local salon and is the silent business partner of another store. Upon learning that Frank Miller is about to return she decides to do the right thing: sell her business and get the hell out of Hadleyville! When the hotel porter, who dislikes Kane, hints to Amy that her husband had a thing with Helen Ramírez she asks for her room number. During a one-to-one chat it becomes clear that Helen has a much better understanding of Kane than Amy and is a lot more similar to him in other ways too. But because Kane opts for a completely different life away from his duties as Marshal he feels more attracted to Amy who might be naïve in some respects but just as headstrong in others.
Knowing full well that noon is approaching fast, Kane asks the townspeople for their backup but the townsfolk turn out to be a bunch of cowards who either are too scared to help him or don’t want to help him - as they are friends of Miller’s! Judge Mettrick (Otto Kruger), who sentenced Miller, now flees on horseback while former Marshal Howe (Lon Chaney Jr.) makes his excuses as his hands are crippled with arthritis. Another man called Herb Baker (James Millican) pulls out when it dawns on him that he’s the only volunteer willing to fight alongside Kane. And so it goes on. In the end only a teenage boy offers Kane his help but of course the Marshal rejects him due to his young age. When Miller and his gang finally arrive, it’s Kane alone against the four outlaws… but then Amy, already sitting in a train carriage with Helen, has a change of heart and hurries to the aid of her man. The showdown begins…
The performances are to be applauded, in particular Cooper as the almost stoic and duty-bound Marshal and Katy Jurado in what must have been a feminist role way ahead of its time. Grace Kelly is always Grace Kelly but perfectly suited in the part of the goody-goody-two-shows wife, although her ultimatum to leave town with or without her freshly married husband can be considered just as independent.
HIGH NOON is available for the first time in Blu-ray format and with a brand new 4K restoration. It’s also presented with a Limited Edition 100-page Collector’s Book and Limited Edition (3000 copies only!) Hardbound Slipcase.