Friday, February 24, 2017

INSIDE HIGH NOON by John Mulholland

HIGH NOON 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."

Decried by influential auteurist critics and academics, HIGH NOON has been attacked for being untrue to the western genre - read anti-populist; for being "middle-brow" (whatever that might mean); for being social drama hiding behind the western genre - and muddled social drama, at that; for being the most un-American film ever made (courtesy of John Wayne), etc.

However, 56 years after its release, HIGH NOON still powerfully resonates with audiences around the world. When Solidarity needed a universal image to promote democracy and the right to vote in Poland in 1987, they chose Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON, a ballot in his hand rather than a gun. Conservatives and liberals both manage to cite HIGH NOON on the floor of Congress as a metaphor for their competing political ideals. Political cartoonists and headline writers inevitably use HIGH NOON as reference for countless crises. President Eisenhower cited High Noon as his favorite film, as have President Clinton and former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizuma.

On one hand, HIGH NOON has been attacked for being a conservative, damaging portrait of arrogant male paternalism. On the other hand, HIGH NOON is praised for challenging entrenched notions of gender, for exploring masculine anxiety, masculinity as a construct. Feminist critics and academics are offering intriguing and complex new readings to HIGH NOON.

Example: Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) is having her new husband, Marshall Will Kane (Cooper), quit his career, leave his town, leave his friends, marry outside his church, and open a store of her choosing (wearing, perhaps, an apron?). Does Will Kane take on the villains at noon as a final gasp of masculine protest, as a declaration of independence from his wife's control?

Ernest Hemingway compared a story's meaning to an iceberg - like the iceberg, 7/8th of which lies hidden beneath the surface, 7/8th of a story's meaning lies beneath the surface.

Carl Foreman's bare-to-the-bones script and Fred Zinnemann's equally spare direction are a perfect film correlative to Hemingway's iceberg theory. This taut, seemingly straightforward little suspense western is complex, multi-layered, and perhaps even more relevant today than when it opened 56 years ago.

John Mulholland, writer/director
INSIDE HIGH NOON


Narrated by Frank Langella
Produced by Richard Zampella & Shannon Mulholland

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John said:

Example: Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) is having her new husband, Marshall Will Kane (Cooper), quit his career, leave his town, leave his friends, marry outside his church, and open a store of her choosing (wearing, perhaps, an apron?). Does Will Kane take on the villains at noon as a final gasp of masculine protest, as a declaration of independence from his wife's control?

I’ve never thought about it from that angle.

I can’t see a man like Will Kane giving up his job and leaving his home unless at least some part of him wanted to. At one point Will’s deputy Harvey (Lloyd Bridges) tells him that he’s been washed up for over a year. Now, is he just spouting off because he’s sore at Will for not recommending that Harvey should be the new marshal, or is it more than that? Could it be that Will has been losing interest in his job? If so, did this happen before or after he met Amy? Either way, once he met Amy maybe he realized she was the kind of woman he could make a home with and was willing to leave his job and his town for her. One thing I’m curious about is did he meet Amy while he was still with Helen (Katy Jurado)? Judging by Helen’s actions towards Will (she’s still obviously in love with him and very hurt over his leaving her), I think they were still together when he met Amy and he left Helen for her.

Here’s another take on the feminist angle. Why did he leave Helen? Could it be that it was because she was a strong, smart, independent woman and he felt threatened? Is that why the more reserved and proper Amy appealed to him? I don’t think that is the reason but you can make a good argument for it I guess. Also, I can’t help but wonder if Amy is a “trophy wife”. She is an awful lot younger than Will (which I don’t have a problem with because I find Gary incredibly attractive in this movie and I’m around 20 years younger than he was when it was made). I don’t think I would feel that way about her though if she had been played by a more skilled actress, even if the age difference was the same.

I guess it just depends on what kind of person you are and what you want to see. Some people see Will as a man who is endangering his life for no reason other than stubborn pride and a skewed sense of uber-masculinity. Others may see him as a man who is deferring to his wife and giving up his sense of masculinity to appease her (as was mentioned earlier). I don’t see it from either one of those viewpoints though. I see my ideal man in Will Kane. He’s tall, handsome, and strong which are typically very masculine traits, especially from a more old-fashioned viewpoint. But he’s also kind and caring towards the people he is close to. He has a very strong sense of what is right and wrong and has the courage to stand up for his principles even when all those around him try and sway his decision. He has feelings of anxiety and fear but he tries to hide them from others so they will still feel safe and protected. He’s willing to take that burden on himself so others don’t have to. He’s the best of what a man should be and no one other than Gary Cooper will ever be Will Kane, no matter how many remakes of it are done.

It’s really quite amazing that a movie which doesn’t even run 90 minutes and which seemingly has a simple plot, can bring up so many questions and differing interpretations, even today nearly 60 years after it was released. Every time I watch High Noon (which is quite a lot as it’s one of my favorite films) I love it a little bit more. Now that is truly filmmaking at its best and something Hollywood has sadly forgotten how to do.

Angie (Coopsgirl)

High Noon - 2 Disc DVD

High Noon - 2 Disc DVD
Release Date: June 10th, 2008