High Noon (1952)

  • This is (obviously) a re-watch. This is one of my favorite, favorite movies of all goddamn time.
  • I will always remember watching this for the first time & thinking “This is a perfect movie. Nothing could be changed about this movie to make it better. It is cinema at its perfectist.”
  • I love the intro/opening credits more than life itself. Okay…maybe that’s a little extreme. But I do love them almost as much as the opening to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961) (which is my favorite movie opening of them all & makes me cry every time I see it, despite having seen that movie upwards of 20 times). Anyway, I love this one almost as much as that one, which is really saying something.
  • Did you know that on the DVD homescreen of this movie “Do Not Forsake Me” is not playing? Why is this true? It has to be playing on the DVD homescreen, right? It plays through the whole goddamn movie – therefore it also has to play on the DVD homescreen! Or so you would think.
  • Grace Kelly (Amy) is such a beaut, especially in this period costume with the lace & the bonnet & all that.
  • I love the way Gary Cooper (Will Kane) says, in response to Amy asking him not to turn back to town: “I’ve got to – that’s the whole thing.”

It’s perfectly Gary Cooper. And perfectly Kane. And perfectly & exquisitely simple.

  • The scene between Cooper & Kelly when they get back to town, when Kane explains the Frank Miller situation, is played fantastically by the both of them. The contrast between the slightly rough, slightly unclean Gary Cooper dressed in a black hat & black vest, and the beautifully clean & perfectly put-together Grace Kelly in a light-colored dress & bonnet is fabulous, & does a lot to establish their dynamic, right then & there. And the way Kelly leaves the scene is flawlessly choreographed, too.
  • The shot compositions in this movie are everything. Seriously. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again & pay attention only to the compositions used by Fred Zinnemann (the director) & Floyd Crosby (the cinematographer). The movements & angles are all (here’s this word again) perfect. They’re the types of compositions that make me giddy – especially the ones that start & are somehow a little visually off-balance or apparently a little careless – but then something or someone shifts onscreen, and the whole thing visually clicks, and you’re left thinking “Oh – now I get that shot & why the pieces were set up that way.” Those are phenomenal, as are the ones that start as a perfectly balanced & interesting image, then move into a second, or third, or fourth perfect image in a row. I love that shit.
  • I also love Katy Jurado as Helen Ramirez. What a thoroughly exceptional character. She’s bold, intelligent, poised, & beautiful. And Jurado makes her that way.
  • After the Helen/Kane scene, you’re left wondering why on earth he chose the pale daisy of a woman (Kelly), & wishing bitterly that he hadn’t. (That’s the beauty of the ending turn of Amy – your view is totally shifted on her, and her & Kane as a couple. It’s pure magic – that dramatic of a shift in sentiment, over the course of a movie as short as this.)
  • It’s great how annoyed Helen gets with Harvey (Lloyd Bridges) as soon as they’ve broken up. It’s like she’s been waiting ages to tell him how much of a dumb baby he is & finally gets the chance.

“I’m going to tell you something about you & your friend Kane. You’re a good looking boy. You have big, broad shoulders. He is a man. It takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man, Harvey.”

Helen explains that she’s not leaving town because she’s afraid – she knows that Kane is likely going to die, & when he does, the town does too. She needs to make a living, and she’s gotta go somewhere else to do that.

And then, again to Harvey:

“And as for you – I don’t like anybody to put his hands on me unless I want him to. And I don’t like you to, anymore.”

And then she slaps him!

It’s glorious.

  • Thomas Mitchell, with the turncoat dagger speech. Ouch.
  • I love the close ups on Cooper as he’s walking places. His reactions are so subtle, but so deeply felt.
  • (You know, there’s nothing like watching this for the first time. Knowing how it all ends all-but-ruins the tension, is which is built up so intensely & expertly throughout the movie. The fact that it basically plays out in real time is essential to this – because you’re living the exact same ticking of the clock they are. It’s marvelous.)
  • There’s continuous focus on the different clocks. Even one over Cooper’s shoulder as he’s walking outside.
  • “You’re joking – I don’t believe it. This town ain’t that low!” – Herb (James Millican)

Believe it, Herb. Believe it. This town is exactly that low.

  • The repeated background sound effect (if you’ve seen it, you know which one I’m talking about) is like hearing your heartbeat pounding in your head.
  • The train that brings Frank Miller is #3. Helen’s room is #3. I wonder if there’s significance in this.
  • One of the most badass movie moments I can think of is Amy killing the second-to-last Miller Gang Member. The gun goes off & the guy falls, & you think, “Which Kane friend has had a change of heart?” And then the camera angle shifts and you see QUAKER AMY WITH THE GUN. What a badass plot twist. I love the hell out of that.
  • The end. Oh, lord – the end. Cooper gives a withering stare at all the town asswipes, and then it just ends. It’s just like – yup, we’re done here. Bye.
  • Bill Clinton, on HIGH NOON:

“High Noon has stayed with me for over fifty years now & enriched my life, and reminded me that courage is not the absence of fear – it is perseverance in the face of fear.”

  • People who turned down the role of Will Kane: Brando, Clift, Heston, Peck, & Douglas.
  • Relatedly – some roles (even hugely famous ones) I can see other people playing. Not this one. It is Cooper’s movie, & only Cooper’s movie.

(The only one that I think could’ve come close is Peck – who killed it as Jimmy Ringo in THE GUNFIGHTER (1950) – but that’s it. The others, at the time – and Peck is included in this – didn’t carry the same weight of movie experiences Cooper did.)

American movie audiences had seen Cooper & loved him since the 1920s – and I think that relationship – one of “Oh, I’ve loved this guy for years & I have tremendous respect for him” and at the same time “Wow, he’s aged – I wonder if he can still cut it at this!” is part of what makes this film resonate as deeply as it does. It’s subtle, but it’s there – the “I love him, but I’ve kind of turned on him, too” thought.

It had to be Cooper. It had to be.

  • Also – I think it’s worth mentioning, in case people are somehow not aware – that this movie was partially intended as an allegory of the Black List, & the House Un-American Activities Committee. I find this super interesting. Carl Foreman, who wrote the screenplay for this, was blacklisted & accused of being a communist. Cooper defended Foreman, and he & Stanley Kramer (who produced this film) refused an order to remove Foreman’s credit from the movie.
  • Howard Hawks made RIO BRAVO (1959) in response to this movie. My reaction to learning this fact was something along the lines of ‘Oh my God…OF COURSE HE DID.’ Because…geez. Yes. Of course he did.
  • On the DVD, there is a “Making of” segment done by Leonard Maltin, & in it Maltin says Cooper won “his only Oscar” for this film, which blatantly not true. This seems like a super key piece of information to know before doing a segment on Gary Cooper & HIGH NOON. What a doofus.
  • Lastly – interesting thing I learned from one of the (non-Maltin) featurettes on the DVD: when they were shooting the scene in which the noon-day train brings Frank Miller, the train began to blow black smoke to indicate that its brakes were failing…only Zinnemann & Crosby didn’t know that’s what the black smoke meant. So they kept shooting from their down-low position on the train track, thinking ‘Wow! That black smoke will look so glorious on film!’…and then…the train just kept coming. And everyone there apparently experienced these several slow-motion moments, where they realized, ‘Dear God, the train is not slowing down & it will be on top of us in a matter of seconds’ – and made a last-second dash away from the tracks. Except a strap attached to the primary camera got snagged on a rail, and it fell back onto the tracks & got smashed by the train. However – miraculously – the film escaped the obliterated camera unscathed…and that black-smoke shot is the one used in the movie.

…Fantastic, right?!

 

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