Saturday, April 30, 2011

High Noon - a different kind of western: Movie Review by Robert Steven Mack

America's world renowned western genre has enchanted movie-goers since early 1920 when cowboy stars like Tom Mix and William S. Hart graced the young movie theaters with charming but gruff attitudes. In those early days, westerns were often tales of adventure, romance, and a hero. Add the irresistible brew of humorous sidekicks, dramatic showdowns, dangerous villains, ongoing Indian chase scenes, gunfights, and that dusty beautiful countryside consisting of scattered towns in the middle of nowhere. All this made an immortal component of Hollywood history and brought the imaginary Old West to the 20th century.

In 1939, starting with John Ford's Stagecoach - which was one of John Wayne's best remembered films, and a big relief for him after working with a bunch of budget-freak amateurs - westerns were produced on a higher budget with a wider release. By the 40's and 50's the genre had reached its peak and saw such films as Fort Yuma (1955), Rio Grande(1959), The Magnificent Seven(1960) Virginia City (1940), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Cattle Queen of Montana (1954- and starring our future president Ronald Regan). Around a decade later, during our civil rights era, westerns were becoming stereotypes and unpopular with the new generation of moviegoers. Still there have signs of a revival of the genre with the popularity of the recent box-office hit, i.e. the Academy Award nominated film remake of the original 1969 film True Grit. Whatever the future of the genre may be, westerns have continued to entertain generations of fans.

I have recently acquired the classic and controversial western High Noon, which stars Gary Cooper, Lloyd Bridges, and Grace Kelly -in her first starring role. The plot is simple: An old enemy will arrive on the noon train in a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere seeking revenge from the marshal (Gary Cooper) who had beat him before. What is unusual about the film is that it takes place in real time and is nonviolent almost the entire time. It is unlike any film I've ever seen before in my life! The film chronicles the marshal, who has one hour to get a poesy and prepare himself for one of the greatest showdowns in movie history. He wanders through town yet nobody is willing to help him. Many back off out of fear, some out of jealousy, whatever the reasons may be no one will help him. The lonely rather surrealistic tone, its lingering western score, and the brilliant story and dialogue make this more than a western, it makes it a masterpiece like nothing I have ever seen.

Curiously, people didn't see it this way when High Noon first came out. They criticized the film for not being the usual scenic stunt show, not appreciating its moralistic character driven dialogue, and its miraculous story telling. John Wayne, for example, publicly resented the film calling it "the most Un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life.” In fact the film was allegedly made as an allegory to Hollywood blacklisting as many of the film's cast and crew were later blacklisted as Communists--though Cooper himself was a known Republican. Howard Hawks and John Wayne would make Rio Grande seven years later as they both shared a dislike for the film. Ironically however, when Gary Cooper won an Academy Award for his performance in the film, John Wayne accepted it for him as Mr. Cooper was absent at that time.
I hope you dear reader will enjoy High Noon as much as I have as it is a must see for a fan of any kind.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

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