A bonafide movie star for over thirty years of his working life, Gary Cooper is considered by most film historians to one of the more iconic movie stars. Fans loved him because they felt they could relate to him. As fellow film legend Clint Eastwood said of Cooper in the 1991 documentary, Gary Cooper: American Life, American Legend, “[we] saw in his face the face of all America.”
Perhaps it was the all American, everyman quality that convinced Producer Stanley Kramer and producer Fred Zimmerman to cast Cooper in High Noon’s lead role of Marshal Will Kane despite the fact that his recent films hadn’t fared very well at the box office and at nearly fifty years old, he looked considerably older; especially when compared to his co-star, twenty-two-year-old, Grace Kelly. As it turned out, the filmmakers made a wise choice. Gary Cooper won his second Oscar for his portrayal of Will Kane and High Noon has achieved legendary status, reportedly it’s the most requested film by sitting Presidents in the White House.

noon.jpgAt just after 10:30 on a Sunday morning, three gunmen ride through a small Western town and roost at the train station to wait for the noon train. As they pass, Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is marrying Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly), a Quaker whose unflappable belief in nonviolence means the sheriff will be surrendering his badge and leaving town that very day. Only, fate has other plans. As it turns out, the trio of men at the train station is the gang of Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a killer whom Kane sent to jail several years before and has now unexpectedly been pardoned. Realizing that Miller is coming to kill him, Kane decides he must stand his ground and fight or forever be looking over his shoulder. Everyone else in town, including Amy, thinks he should leave, but Kane isn’t the type of guy to take the easy way out; he doesn’t do things because they are easy, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Set in real time, High Noon unfolds in an undeniably dramatic fashion. Kane is a respected man in his community, a person who brought his small town to prominence. With those credentials, it would seem easy for him to recruit four men to help him face off against these would-be marauders. As time screams by, he finds that there are no takers. The judge is leaving. His deputies hide behind their families or personal inadequacies. Appeals to the parishioners at the town church and the saloon go unanswered. After all, if Kane leaves, the threat goes away Isn’t it Kane’s mess?
Made in 1952 at the height of McCarthyism, the films questioning of the notion of heroism and love of country being a throwaway virtue was a risky one. Several members of the cast and crew, actor Lloyd Bridges and screenwriter Carl Foreman were facing blacklisting in Hollywood because of the Red Scare, but proceeded with the project anyway. All involved with the making of High Noon were very smart in their approach to the project: The message is still timely, but High Noon’s packaging gives it bite. It looks like a conventional western, but message of morality makes it a classic. Multi-layered and full of a rich cast of characters, High Noon manages to touch on race, religion, social and one’s sense of self.
Even without considering all of its complex messages and themes, High Noon is a great film to watch. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it, yet I never tire of it. Aside from his portrayal of Lou Gehrig in 1939’s Pride of the Yankees, Gary Cooper has never been better. The everyman quality that was associated with the actor throughout his career really comes to the fore in his portrayal of Will Kane. One gets the sense the role wasn’t much of a stretch for Cooper, rather a heroic extension of his loyal, laid back personality. As Kane, he wears his emotions on his face, in his body; his confidence slowly deteriorates even as he shores up his resolve.
While High Noon is clearly Gary Cooper’s picture, praise must be given to the fine supporting performances of Lon Chaney Jr. and Katy Jurado. So to, Tex Ritter, whose song “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’,” follows Kane around like a melancholy cloud.
Such a fine film wouldn’t be complete without a climatic ending, and High Noon provides a legendary one. The shoot-out will not disappoint, and the very last shot of the movie drives the message home with quiet force.
I have a couple of other DVD releases of High Noon and the 4X3 full-frame black-and-white image can’t be beat: excellent resolution with well-rendered tonal values, free of dirt, scratches, or bad splicing. It’s the one to own until we can see it on blu-ray.
There are two audio options available: a basic Dolby mix of the original soundtrack elements and an “enhanced” remastered version. I didn’t notice any aggressive audio effects in the enhanced version that should bother purists or that call unnecessary attention to themselves. Randomly sampling between the two versions, I didn’t notice any discernable difference. Both seem of decent quality, though, and I never had any problem hearing distinctions between dialogue and music.
There are English and Spanish subtitle options, as well as English Closed Captioning.
There are two DVDs in this new High Noon release, hence the 2-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition subtitle. The first disc has the movie and the audio commentary from the 2002 Artisan special edition, featuring descendents of members of the cast and crew: Maria Cooper-Janis, Jonathan Foreman, Tim Zinnemann, and John Ritter.
The second disc is all special features. Among them is “The Making of High Noonfeaturette hosted by Leonard Maltin that was an extra on just about every release of the movie from 2000 to 2006, and a shorter, far inferior documentary, “Behind High Noon” hosted by Maria Cooper-Janis, that first showed up in 2002. Alongside a radio interview with Tex Ritter, discussing his own film career and singing for High Noon, these are the only bonus features on this disc that are retreads from previous DVDs, the rest are new.
Tex Ritter is featured again on two more extras. A five-minute selection, “Tex Ritter: A Visit to Carthage, Texas” shows us the Tex Ritter museum, and a special television performance of “Do Not Forsake Me” shows the cowboy crooner on ”
The Jimmy Dean Show.
The final and most substantial piece is a new 50-minute documentary “Inside High Noon, narrated by Frank Langella. This awesome program dissects the cultural resonance of the picture–including negative reactions and alternate interpretations–and its tightly designed storytelling, with its step-by-step structuring. Finally, the political troubles and production hiccups just prior to release are touched on. Interviews with historians and admirers (including President Bill Clinton) and many of the offspring who participated in the audio commentary make up the bulk of the feature (sadly, John Ritter had passed away before this was made and he did not participate in Cooper-Janis’ tribute, where some of this footage was culled from). This means that interviews with actual participants–including Stanley Kramer, Fred Zinnemann, and Lloyd Bridges, as well as rock legend David Crosby, son of cameraman Floyd Crosby, and John Ritter–are left to the twenty-two minute Maltin featurette. Maltin also shows photos from a couple of deleted scenes.