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High Noon: Collector's Edition

Republic Entertainment
Artisan Home Entertainment

Starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly

Written by Carl Foreman
Directed by Fred Zinnemann

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

It's almost become a cliché for self-important film critics and armchair historians to invoke Fred Zinnemann's classic 1952 western High Noon as some kind of morally prescient predictor of contemporary American issues. This review's aim is to cement that cliché, because High Noon, having reached 50 years old, is impossible to root from its timeless relevance. As it ages, too, High Noon gains added significance as a tribute to a different era of American masculinity.

In an era during which American presidents are often derided as cowboyish, one only has to look to Gary Cooper's Will Kane to think maybe that insult is an unintended compliment. High Noon begins with Kane's wedding. Older and wiser, the once (presumably) randy marshal of Hadleyville is ready to settle down with a beautiful and stubborn Quaker (Grace Kelly), whose pacifist theology requires Kane to hang up his six-guns and hand in his badge for a simpler life. However, before their honeymoon can begin word comes that condemned outlaw Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has been released and is headed back to town on the noon train with revenge on his mind.

Urged by his bride to leave town or risk their new marriage (and certainly, it is felt, his life), Kane insists on staying — the new marshal isn't expected for another day and Kane feels committed to protecting his town and facing the consequences of his career as a principled lawmaker. Kane attempts to build a coalition of citizen deputies to stand by his side and confront Miller's murderous gang, but his solicitations are meet with fear, equivocation, and evasive scapegoating. As his old friends desert him for their own preservation, Kane is forced to take a unilateral approach, facing four bloodthirsty outlaws with only his conscience as an ally.

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Told almost in real time — the 85-minute film spans an 80-minute period in Kane's life — High Noon masterfully depicts the isolating nature of Kane's stand. As written by Carl Foreman, who saw the script as an allegory for his own experience during the McCarthy-period Hollywood blacklist, Kane is a rock of committed principle while those he protected during his law-enforcement career drift away like feckless sagebrush. Some prefer Miller's lawless ways, some ascribe petty personal motives to Kane's immovable duty, and others whip themselves into a frenzy of indecision over the situation. Even the town preacher argues himself into a collapse of moral deconstruction. Only Kane, still fearful but unfettered by ambiguities, is clear about the dangers posed by Miller and how to effectively battle them.

Cooper, who won his second Oscar for the role, created a screen icon with Kane: He is serious and duty-bound and always stoic in the face of adversity. As he is deserted by his fellow townspeople, Kane never points fingers or preys upon guilty consciences. He never begs or supplicates. His appeals are directed to the honor of the men of Hadleyville, and he has no time for those who resist. In the half-century since High Noon's initial release, Kane has come to represent a sadly antiquated model of American man: an individualist bound by selfless and unyielding commitment to law and protecting those in his dominion; a man resistant to corrosive neuroses and unthwarted by moral relativism. As a result, Kane has become an icon for those who have not been roped into the post-sexual-revolution era of the "sensitive male" — from politicians, to columnists, to the fictional Mafiosi of HBO's The Sopranos.

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All of this very important subtext is fully supported by a magnificently constructed context: High Noon is ravishingly stark as shot by Floyd Crosby and presented in Republic/Artisan's terrific DVD. The Academy-ratio transfer is strikingly clean, and Dmitri Tiomkin's popular score (with its haunting, Oscar-winning theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling," sung by Tex Ritter) sounds terrific in both the restored original audio mix (DD 1.0) and the enhanced version (DD 3.0).

As a Collector's Edition, this DVD includes a very good commentary with well-informed descendants of the key players: Gary Cooper's daughter Maria Cooper-Janis, Carl Foreman's son Jonathan Foreman, Fred Zinnemann's son Tim Zinnemann, and Tex Ritter's son, actor John Ritter. Two featurettes are included, the better of the two being "The Making of High Noon" (22:09), hosted by Leonard Maltin, which considers the film's production and the effect of the blacklist on its cast and crew. "Behind High Noon" (9:47), meanwhile, is less informative in its interviews with many of the descendants featured in the commentary, but it still reflects the importance of this work in the lives of the artists who contributed to it. While the trailers advertised are really commercials for three of Republic's western Collector's Edition DVDs, the "Radio Broadcast with Tex Ritter" (5:37) features the singer and actor in an old interview from "The Ralph Emery Show."

— Gregory P. Dorr

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