Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: High Noon (1952)
Studio Line: Republic Pictures - The story of a man who was too proud to run.

Gary Cooper won the Oscar for the Best Actor in this classic tale of a lawman who stands alone to defend a town of righteous cowards in the greatest showdown in the history of cinema. The film also stars one of Hollywood's most beloved and prolific actors, Lloyd Bridges, and marks the first starring role for a beautiful young actress and internationally adored screen legend--Grace Kelly.

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Cast: Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Grace Kelly, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr.
Academy Awards: Won for Best Actor-Gary Cooper; Best Film Editing; Best Song-"High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'"); Best Score-Dimitri Tiomkin. Nominated for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Stereo; THX; subtitles none; 24 chapters; rated NR; 84 min.; $24.98; street date 6/26/98.
Supplements: "The Making of High Noon" Documentary; Interviews; Theatrical Trailer; Production Stills.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/B/C-

After the negative reaction engendered by my lackluster reaction to The Searchers, I was almost afraid to give High Noon a spin. What if I didn't like this western classic as well? It seemed possible that the genre's fans would emulate what they've seen in some movies and attempt an actual lynching of yours truly.

Nonetheless, since I've decided that we need a full archive of the AFI Top 100 movies, I went ahead and checked out High Noon. While I can't say I was surprised that I liked the film - I'm never startled that I enjoy something regarded as a classic - I definitely felt relieved. Sorry, cowpokes - that lynching will have to wait for another day!

High Noon presents a deceptively simple story. After having cleaned up a formerly wild town, sheriff Will Kane (Gary Cooper) marries lovely young Amy (Grace Kelly) and steps down from his post. However, just before they split for good, word comes down that the gang of Frank Miller (Ian McDonald) have come back to town and their recently-freed chief will soon arrive.

Kane knows they have one objective: to settle the score with him. He could run and sacrifice all of the improvements he made, or he could stay and possibly face his own demise. Told virtually in real-time, High Noon focuses on the tensions that grow with each passing minute, especially as Kane attempts to round up a posse to confront and hopefully defeat the Miller gang.

In case you haven't seen the film, I won't discuss Kane's success in this regard, but the I will indicate that the story was quite unusual for the time. In fact, I've read reports that John Wayne called it "un-American". On the contrary, I think High Noon endorses virtually everything that we'd like to believe is true about the US: a sense of community and a desire by all to stand up for what's right, never mind the possible personal cost.

Because High Noon doesn't reveal the American spirit as the Duke wanted to define it, he may truly have felt that it was subversive. I see it completely differently; this is the sort of film that really should inspire apathetic sorts to become more active in their own environments.

Speaking of which, the backdrop against which High Noon was made must be acknowledged. It came at the height of the Fifties Communist scare, and writer Carl Foreman was blacklisted for a few years due to his apparent sympathies. High Noon stands as a product of that period and makes for even more compelling viewing when considered against that scenario. This was an era in which few were willing to stand up for what they believed in due to the enormous pressure to follow the "common thought" of the period, and the comparison between the movie and the reality seems to evoke strong similarities.

Of course, High Noon works well even without any consideration of historical parallels as it's a strong and taut piece of drama. Director Fred Zinneman paced the movie in a terrific manner and really was able to evoke every last bit of tension out of the activities. While the film doesn't offer too many well-drawn characters, it at least benefits from a solid cast, with folks like Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, and Lon Chaney in tow.

(As an aside, I'd bet that Mitchell has appeared in more classic movies than any other actor. Look down his resume. High Noon was his last great film, but he also worked in Gone with the Wind, It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach among other movies.)

Put simply, High Noon is one of the rare films that evokes its era but doesn't feel like a prisoner of that age. It provides a deep and satisfying morality play that has barely aged over the last 50 years. The movie strongly deserves its status as a classic.

The DVD:

High Noon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. At times the picture shows its age, but for the most part I thought it offered a rather solid presentation.

Sharpness appeared consistently strong. Throughout the movie, the image seemed nicely crisp and detailed, and only a few wide shots displayed any signs of softness; for the most part, the focus remained clear and well-defined. I detected a few instances of moiré effects and/or jagged edges; the railroad tracks were the prime offenders in those regards, and the slats in the door to the saloon also caused some problems, but all of these concerns were small.

Black levels seemed quite deep and rich, despite the fact that contrast appeared slightly weak. For much of the film, I thought the image looked too bright. This issue arose only during exterior shots; at those times, I felt that the lighting mildly overwhelmed the rest of the picture. Because black levels stayed as solid as they were, I believe the excessive brightness was a filmmaking decision and was done intentionally. It surprised me, but it probably added to the spare and desolate look of the film. In any case, dark tones seemed solid, and shadow detail appeared appropriately heavy but not overly thick; the brightness issues did not render these segments excessively light.

Print flaws appeared fairly minor for such an old film, but they still caused the most problems. Light grain could be seen through much of the movie, though the occasions on which it appeared surprised me. Usually grain is more easily detected in very bright shots, but the overly-lighted exteriors only showed slight grain at most, and some of them looked perfectly clean in that regard. Some of the additional defects that can be found during High Noon included scratches, blotches, small hairs, black grit, and some thin white vertical lines. I also saw a few examples of "jumps" during which it appeared that a frame or two was missing from the print; to see what I mean, check out the segment at 10:38.

That "clipped" snippet took place in Helen's room, and for reasons unknown, most of the image's worst problems took place in that setting. They showed the heaviest grain and also displayed more intense examples of the other print flaws. I also found that the contrast seemed weaker, with an excessively-dark image on those occasions. These segments are pretty much the exceptions, however, as most of High Noon looked quite solid.

Also perfectly adequate was the monaural soundtrack of High Noon. Overall, the sound seemed clear and accurate without any substantial flaws. Dialogue was distinct and relatively natural, though it displayed some of the thin qualities typical of audio from the era. However, it was quite listenable and I never experienced any problems related to intelligibility. Effects came across in a similar manner and appeared fairly crisp and distinguished without any signs of distortion.

The film's score seemed slightly thick at times; the instrumentation didn't appear very well-differentiated and the overall impression offered by the music could make it sound somewhat muddled. However, it generally remained clear and concise, and I also detected some modest low end as well. I noticed some very light background noise a few times during the film; once again, most of these instances occurred in shots filmed at Helen's room. Despite some minor defects, the soundtrack seemed pretty strong for a film from 1952.

This DVD packs in a few supplemental features, but not much. Easily the most significant is a program called "The Making of High Noon". Hosted by Leonard Maltin, this show from 1992 lasts 22 minutes and 10 seconds and offers a nice overview of the movie and its era. We find then- contemporary interviews with producer Stanley Kramer, director Zinneman, actor Lloyd Bridges, and children of participants David Crosby (son of cinematographer Floyd) and John Ritter (son of singer Tex). Also included are some snippets from a late Fifties TV interview with Gary Cooper.

In addition to these interviews, we see some valuable glimpses of the film's script with Zinneman's notes written all over them. Overall, the documentary provides a nice discussion of the classic movie that covers a lot of elements in its brief running time. Not only do we learn some details of how the picture was made, but we also receive additional information about the western genre as a whole - especially how High Noon stood out from the pack - and some facts about the "Red Scare". It's a solid little package that will add to your enjoyment of the movie.

Other than the documentary, we only find the film's original theatrical trailer. It's not exactly a packed DVD, but the high quality of the video program compensates for the lack of other materials.

Frankly, High Noon is such a solid movie that I'd endorse the DVD without any supplements; the documentary qualifies as gravy. The film holds up well after almost 50 years and stands as a strong piece of dramatic storytelling that also features a powerful social connection. The DVD itself shows some signs of age, but I thought the picture and sound seemed pretty good overall, and the "Making of" program added value to the package. High Noon is a DVD that belongs in the collection of any serious film fan.

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