It’s ‘High Noon’ for the next RiverRun Retro event
The clock for RiverRun International Film Festival’s next “RiverRun Retro” screening is ticking, and come Aug. 17 the series will present the immortal 1952 Western classic High Noon. The showdown will take place at the Hanesbrands Theatre in downtown Winston-Salem.
Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Frankel, author of the recently published (and much acclaimed) non-fiction book “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” will be on hand, and also attending is RiverRun regular and noted film historian Foster Hirsch, himself an acclaimed author (“Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King”). This screening promises to be a lively a discussion regarding the making and legacy of the landmark film. A reception and book signing will follow the screening, with Bookmarks selling copies of Frankel’s book.
Boasting the towering production trifecta of screenwriter Carl Foreman, producer Stanley Kramer, and director Fred Zinnemann – to say nothing of leading man Gary Cooper, who won his second Oscar as Best Actor for his iconic performance as Marshal Will Kane – High Noon remains one of the most revered Westerns in the genre.
In a tightly compressed, tightly coiled narrative that spans roughly the film’s running time (a lean, mean 85 minutes), the story follows Kane as he marries his bride Amy (Grace Kelly) and turns in his badge, effectively ending his career as a lawman in the small New Mexico town of Hadleyville.
Not so fast.
Kane learns that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a vicious outlaw and old foe, has been paroled and is due on the noon train – with cohorts in tow. Kane tries to round up allies, but even his closest friends – either out of fear or for other reasons – refuse. In the end, Kane must face them alone.
What might seem a simple, straightforward tale of heroism and honor was instead carefully shaded with Foreman’s symbolic nods toward the mounting tide of the Communist witch hunts and Hollywood Blacklist (of which he would soon be a victim), lending the film a moral tone that sets it apart from other horse operas.
The cast also included Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Otto Kruger, Katy Jurado, Lon Chaney, Harry Morgan, Sheb Wooley (of “Purple People Eater ” fame) and Lee Van Cleef (silent but imposing as one of Miller’s henchmen). The film earned a total of seven Academy Award nominations, also winning for Elmo Williams’ editing, Dimitri Tiomkin’s score, and Best Song for Tex Ritter’s “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling,” with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
Not unlike Casblanca (1942), High Noon was a happy confluence of ingredients.
“Neither Foreman nor Kramer wanted Cooper for the starring role in High Noon; they felt he was too old and too much a product of the decaying Hollywood studio system they both disdained,” Frankel noted. “They were interested in younger stars like Marlon Brando, William Holden, Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck. Any of them might have been fine, but I believe Cooper brings a special vulnerability and poignancy to the role because of his age – he was just 50 in 1951 but looks considerably older – and because of his subtle, understated and naturalistic performance.”
High Noon’s political undercurrents did not go unnoticed at the time, as both columnist Hedda Hopper and superstar John Wayne (who reportedly turned down the role of Will Kane) publicly and repeatedly castigated the film (which didn’t persuade Wayne from accepting the Oscar on Cooper’s behalf on Oscar night).
Such controversy was overshadowed somewhat by the widespread critical praise the film received. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called High Noon “a rare and exciting achievement … a Western that is the best of its kind in several years … a Western to challenge Stagecoach for the all-time championship.”
“High Noon is important in the realm of classic film for many reasons,” said Rob Davis, executive director of the RiverRun International Film Festival. “Certainly, much has been written about the political ramifications surrounding the making of the film and the storyline. There is no debating the role the Hollywood Blacklist played in influencing the film, and we’re delighted author Glenn Frankel will join film historian Foster Hirsch to discuss this aspect of the production. According to the BBC, High Noon ranks among the most popular films with U.S. Presidents of both parties. Among those watching it multiple times was President Bill Clinton, who reportedly viewed it 20 times, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower who saw it three times.
“Perhaps President Clinton best summed up the film’s appeal to Presidents when he told Dan Rather ‘It’s a movie about courage in the face of fear and the guy doing what he thought was right in spite of the fact it could cost him everything.’”
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2018, Mark Burger.
The “RiverRun Retro” screening of High Noon takes place 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $12. For advance tickets or more information, call (336)724-1502 or visit the official RiverRun website.