It’s hard to talk about High Noon after all these years. It almost exists more as a symbol or representative of its time than it does as an actual movie. And I can’t help but bring some of that baggage to my watching it again.
There’s all the stuff surrounding the Hollywood blacklist. Supposedly, High Noon is an allegory about the blacklist, although I think this isn’t nearly as obvious as is assumed, unless all it takes to be an allegory is to have a situation where everyone turns their back on the hero. Screenwriter Carl Foreman was working on High Noon when he was called before HUAC. He refused to “name names”, and was subsequently blacklisted in Hollywood, after which he moved to England. Stanley Kramer was the producer of the film, the same Stanley Kramer who later made a gazillion “socially relevant” movies of variable quality, the same Stanley Kramer for whom the Stanley Kramer Award of the Producers Guild of America was created after his death, dedicated to movies which “illuminate provocative social issues”. Kramer wanted Foreman kicked off of High Noon because Foreman wouldn’t name names. There are various versions of this story.
Meanwhile, other people had problems with High Noon, most notably John Wayne, a passionate believer in the blacklist, and director Howard Hawks. Together, they later made Rio Bravo, claiming it was intended as a counter to High Noon. It’s all a big mess ... what really matters is Rio Bravo is arguably the best Western ever made, while High Noon is barely even a good film.
High Noon “works” ... the setup is irresistible, with the near-real time action, the train carrying the bad guy into town, Gary Cooper forced to stand alone. On the surface, it’s worth seeing. All of the other stuff makes it more interesting as a cultural document, but the movie itself is basic, simple, easy to take in. Cooper is far too old for the part of Will Kane, but he does exude Essence of Cooper. Grace Kelly is mostly wasted, and the part where her Quaker character shoots a bad guy is confusing at best. It’s fun seeing Lee Van Cleef in his first role. I’m not trying to keep people from watching High Noon, although they’d be better off watching Rio Bravo. But its status as a classic is unearned, in my opinion. #393 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. (I should add that the theme song of the movie, “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin’”, which won an Oscar and was a big hit, becomes unbearable after the 3,000th time you hear it during the movie.)