It's one of the most revered movies of Hollywood's golden era. Starring screen legend Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in her first significant film role, High Noon was shot on a lean budget over just 32 days but achieved instant box-office and critical success. It won four Academy Awards in 1953, including a best actor win for Cooper. And it became a cultural touchstone, often cited by politicians as a favourite film, celebrating moral fortitude.
Yet what has been often overlooked is that High Noon was made during the height of the Hollywood blacklist, a time of political inquisition and personal betrayal. In the middle of the film shoot, screenwriter Carl Foreman was forced to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about his former membership in the Communist Party. Refusing to name names, he was eventually blacklisted and fled the United States. (His coauthored screenplay for another classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai, went uncredited in 1957.) Examined in light of Foreman's testimony, High Noon's emphasis on courage and loyalty takes on deeper meaning and importance.
In this book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel tells the story of the making of a great American Western, exploring how Carl Foreman's concept of High Noon evolved from idea to first draft to final script, taking on allegorical weight. Both the classic film and its turbulent political times emerge newly illuminated.
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Compelling story, well told
It gave me a new perspective on a film that I've seen several times, perhaps lazily, not appreciating the full context or nuance of the time.
The book has several different elements, the origin stories of Cooper and Foreman, the specter of HUAC, the blacklist, the tenuous personal and professional relationships across political lines. But yet, one of the more entertaining chapters detailed the almost Rashomon-like accounts of writer Foreman, producer Kramer, director Zinnemann and editor Williams over which of them was the true genius who saved High Noon from obscurity.
The above stated versions of each man taking credit for the film's success. And more generally, the detailing of the aftermath of choices made by significant players in dealing with HUAC... the ostracization of those who named names, and the blacklist, exile, and loss of credit for those who didn't.
A bit of disappointment, but certainly not in the book. Only in the sense that we haven't seemed to have learned a lot in this country about what honor, integrity, or patriotism really mean.
I was intrigued by the topic, not exactly sure what to expect. But I'm glad I picked it.