‘High Noon’: A Remarkable Take on Society Whatever You Find Lurking Beneath Its Surface


By Sven Mikulec
The fact that somebody shoots a gun is of no interest. What I want to know is why he shoots it and what the consequences are.Fred Zinnemann

Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon has enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most significant westerns of all time. An instant hit both with the critics and the public, the story of an honest, hard-working and just sheriff who postpones his honeymoon in order to confront a vicious bandit released from prison and determined to wreck chaos on the sheriff’s peaceful little town, captivated the imagination of the viewers, simultaneously inspiring film critics and theorists to dig deeper and find what contemporary truths and burning themes the movie echoed in its wonderfully staged 90 minutes of real-time action. It’s interesting to note that Gary Cooper, awarded an Oscar for his performance as the troubled central character here, was far from being the first choice. At this time, his career was in an obvious decline, as was his health, and it took Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston and John Wayne to decline the offer for him to be able to star. Despite his career’s downfall, Cooper was still a strong name, which certainly helped High Noon get the attention it deserved.

High Noon’s screenwriter Carl Foreman was summoned to Washington during filming to be questioned about his Communist activities (he was a member, but left the party 10 years prior to this film), reportedly returning to the set frightened but inspired. He wrote in a series of scenes that reflected his own experience with the HUAC and the fact that he was soon to be blacklisted gave him vigor to make the most out of this story. There are, however, no traces whatsoever of Communist propaganda in the film: only strong feelings of disillusionment, sorrow and disappointment of a man left by his friends and colleagues to be eaten up by a malignant force threatening to disrupt a carefully built community of democracy and respect.

Some saw High Noon as an allegory of the Korean War, others connected the dots and concluded it was obviously Foreman’s effort to cinematically confront McCarthyism, but we opt for neither, choosing to see High Noon for what we in fact believe it to be—a marvelous story full of tension, uneasiness and anticipation that poses the crucial question of whether keeping civilization and order alive is worth risking one’s life for. However you call it, whatever you find lurking underneath its surface, High Noon is a remarkable take on society and morality.

A monumentally important screenplay. Screenwriter must-read: Carl Foreman’s screenplay for High Noon [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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High Noon written by Carl Forman and directed by Fred Zinnemann was hailed upon its release in 1952 as an instant classic. It won several Academy Awards, including one for its legendary star, Gary Cooper. It was named the year’s best picture by the New York Film Critics Society. And yet, even though it’s high on the American Film Institute’s 100 Best Films of the Century, High Noon’s respect has been hard won, indeed. Perhaps no other classic film has had such a rocky road as this “simple little western.”

Inside High Noon, a documentary explores both the remarkable 1952 film and the gripping story behind its troubled production. When released, High Noon was seen as an attack on HUAC. However, this means little to an audience today. Inside High Noon examines with fresh insight what makes High Noon timeless, and why it works so powerfully still, over 60 years after its release. The newly edited with added footage behind the scenes Inside High Noon—Directors Cut documentary will be released Fall 2015 in Blu-ray with numerous special features on the DVD, says producer Richard Zampella.

One of Hollywood’s legendary directors, Fred Zinnemann (1907–1997) refused to conform to the studio system. Rethinking traditional film genres and telling stories about outsiders and nonconformists were essential qualities of this master director, who created a true cinema of resistance. More than any director of his generation, Zinnemann researched, sketched, and annotated his shots—revealing a meticulous and bold cinematic artist with a complex visual style. The Getty Center celebrated the 60th anniversary of Fred Zinnemann’s classic and controversial western, High Noon (1952), with a conversation featuring the director’s son, Tim Zinnemann; Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper Janis; and Getty scholar Jennifer Smyth following the screening at the Getty Center on April 17, 2012.

The stark black and white deep-focus cinematography of Floyd Crosby perfectly captures the parched heat and dust of the sun-baked town. You can really feel the heat and taste the dust. Other striking elements of the film’s visual style include low angle shots of Kane, dressed in black, with his lanky frame as well as his anguished face, contrasted against a stark and cloud-less sky. Director Fred Zinnemann describes the visual style of the film: “For the visual concept, the cameraman, Floyd Crosby, and I started with the idea that we wanted to show a film set in 1880 that would look like a newsreel, if there had been newsreels and cameras in those days. So we deliberately set out to recreate that. I wanted to have a newsreel quality to give the thing a reality. No filters. This is also why I didn’t want to do it in colour.” —Revenge, Honour and Betrayal in High Noon

The name Dimitri Tiomkin calls forth the image of one of Hollywood’s most distinguished and best-loved composers. Whether the genre was Westerns, drama, comedy, film noir, adventure, or war documentary, Tiomkin’s visceral, dramatic underscores helped bring more than 100 feature films to vivid life. The list of respected directors who continuously called on his services is impressive: Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, and Alfred Hitchcock among them. Tiomkin’s career spanned over six decades producing some of the most unforgettable film scores of our time, bringing us the familiar sounds from The Alamo, The Guns of Navarone, Rawhide, Dial M for Murder, High Noon and many more.

Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences © Paramount. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.

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