If like me you like to know everything there is to know about a favourite film, you’ll understand why I was very pleased to see the documentary ”Inside High Noon: Directors Cut” .
Made as a dvd extra in 2003 at the time of the 50th anniversary of the classic western, director /writer John Mulholland interviewed many people who were able to comment on the making of “High Noon”.
The 50 minute documentary ,with a new narration by Matthew Rhys , is now being re-issued and completely re-done in honor of the 70th anniversary this year. It will air on Public Television in America in November and will be released world-wide in 2023.
Director Fred Zinnemann had worked previously with producer Stanley Kramer on “The Men” ( also scripted by Carl Foreman).
Independent producer Stanley Kramer went on to make The Caine Mutiny, The Defiant Ones. And I love his earlier films , Member of the Wedding and Champion.
Gary Cooper’s daughter explained how ‘High Noon’ came to have its own meaning – moment of reckoning, abandoned by people who should be allies….to be ‘high nooned’ – left in the lurch.
Jonathan Foreman, son of Carl Foreman, confirmed that John Wayne was NEVER offered the leading role.
To this day, on the Internet, practically everything you read about High Noon says John Wayne refused the role . (Even the 2019 blu-Ray says so!)
Gary Cooper was not the first choice to play Will Kane. Several other actors were approached – Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas.
Funding required for the Stanley Kramer independent production amounted to $750,000. When they were $250,000 short of the total, a business man offered to put up the shortfall but only if Gary Cooper starred.
There was concern over Cooper’s age and the fact his costar ,Grace Kelly was 30 years his junior.
Cooper took a drastic cut in salary , but with a hefty percentage of any profits.
Jonathan Foreman said that his father absolutely intended the plot as an allegory of McCarthyism and the Black List.
The use of the ticking clock throughout the film added so much to the drama and tension.
The first look at the clock is at 10.40am after the wedding , and after Kane receives the news about Miller’s release from prison.
The women in Will Kane’s life are no shrinking violets. Helen Ramirez runs her own business. She seems to understand Kane much better than his new bride. Their exchange:
Helen: “If you’re smart, you will get out too.”
Kane:”I can’t .”
Helen: “I know.”
This was Katy Jurado’s first English speaking role and she was excellent
A young Grace Kelly does well as the young bride, though I think that the relationship of Kane and Amy is a weak part of Foreman’s great script.
A brief but good role for Lon Chaney Jr. as the retired sheriff who would help Kane if he could.
Otto Kruger never disappoints in his small role as the judge who sentenced Miller and isn’t sticking around for Miller’s arrival.
Shots like this at the start of the film need to be seen on a big screen. Beautifully framed. Washed out sky.
Another shot as the trio of henchmen await the train bringing Frank Miller.
( The train depot was built for the film but the company used the Railtown 1897 Historic Park at Jamestown.Calif. with their steam train , belching smoke, coming along the tracks.)
- It was interesting to read of some casting suggestions – Peter Graves and Hugh O’Brien were considered for the role of ‘Ben Miller’ which Sheb Wooley played.
- Royal Dano was a possibility for the role ‘Pierce’, which Robert J. Wilke played.
- High Noon was Lee Van Cleef’s debut film and he had no dialogue – but that stare of his spoke volumes!
The famous shot of that solitary figure of Gary Cooper, deserted by everyone, all doors shut to him.
Director Fred Zinnemann borrowed a huge crane to achieve the effect on the Columbia Ranch western street.
That ending. You know what is going to hit the dirt. Sometimes words aren’t needed.
“High Noon” won four Oscars ( Best Actor, Score,Song, Editing.) Gary Cooper was filming in Europe and asked John Wayne ( they were friends) to accept his Oscar for him and Wayne joked about why he didn’t get to do High Noon instead of Cooper! Considering Wayne’s subsequent comments about the film (un- American etc), that remark about wanting to be in the film takes some beating.
And isn’t this Wayne admitting he was never offered the role?
”High Noon” lost to “The Greatest Show on Earth” as Best Picture.
In the middle of production, Carl Foreman, who had been a member of the American Communist Party , was called before HUAC ( the House UnAmerican Activities Committee )
In September 1951, Foreman attended the Los Angeles Federal Building and appeared before the Committee. He refused to name other Communist members and was labelled ‘an unfriendly witness’, leading to his blacklisting.
The Motion Picture Alliance ( of which John Wayne was a prominent member) pressured producer Stanley Kramer to take Carl Foreman’s name , as associate producer, off the film.
Kramer consented. He had a new contract with Columbia and was thinking of backlash because of his association with Foreman.
When Zinnemann and Cooper threatened to walk off the set, Foreman’s credit as the screenplay writer remained, but it was the last time his name appeared on screen for many years.
Foreman’s friendship and partnership with Stanley Kramer , begun during World War 2, ended.
Carl Foreman left Hollywood and made a new career for himself in Britain ( writing The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone.)
Carl Foreman later said, “Coop put his whole career on the block in the face of the McCarthyite witch hunters.”
On the set: Fred Zinnemann talks to Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado.
Jack Elam with Gary Cooper in a scene cut from the film. There was also footage of a second deputy bringing a prisoner into town which was also cut.
“High Noon” is often described as based on the 1947 short story, “ The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham. Mainly because the film’ s producer Stanley Kramer had bought the rights to the story to avoid any copyright issues and gave it a credit on the film.
Having read the short story ( available in the booklet with my 2019 blu-ray), the very loose connection is the fact that the story is about an elderly, arthritic sheriff waiting on the arrival of the man he sent to prison.
The train is due at 4.10pm , the sheriff dies after a gun battle and his deputy decides to stay on in the town.
Other than the sheriff (called ‘Doane’) going to visit his wife’s grave, there are no women in the story and the sheriff doesn’t ask for help .
So only the basic premise of the badman being released from prison and seeking revenge is possibly taken from the short story. Having a credit on the film has , for me, given the Cunningham story more prestige than it deserves.
The film is very far from being an adaptation of the Cunningham short story.
- Tex Ritter’s rendition of the Dimitri Tiomkin/Ned Washington song, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’” is just perfect in my view – Ritter’s Southern drawl as he tells the story ; the superb, stark , repetitive arrangement of the music matches the film’s look.
Tex sang it on the night of the Oscars, when it won Best Song. ( Tex sang it many times afterward but I wish we could see it live that night.)
Other singers, like Frankie Laine, have recorded the song, but there is nothing to beat that dramatic rendition by Tex Ritter.
- According to IMDB, only three instruments accompanied Tex Ritter – guitar, accordion and a Hammond Novachord (an electronic synthesiser).
….Wait along, wait along…..
Back in 2015 I attended a wonderful concert by the Scottish National Orchestra of music from Hollywood’s golden age, including Dimitri Tiomkin’s “The Old Man and The Sea” and “The High and the Mighty” .
Dimitri Tiomkin’s widow, Olivia was in the audience and had brought along the two Oscars her husband had won for these two films. They were displayed in front of the conductor’s podium.
I was sitting behind Mrs. Tiomkin and told her what a thrill it was to hear the music and see the Oscars. ( if only I could have interviewed her.)
This documentary could be twice as long – I wonder if Stanley Kramer’s widow, Karen Sharpe Kramer, was approached for comment on the controversy over Foreman’s blacklisting.
There could have been footage of Fred Zinnemann himself,speaking about the film- and much more about the Tiomkin score. And the scenes filmed but not used.
And shots of the filming locations – St Josephs’s Catholic Church in Tuolumne City, Calif. where ‘Kane’ goes for help, still stands; and you can stand on the railroad tracks of the Sierra Railroad where the noon train came in.
There is another documentary I would love to see – “DARKNESS AT HIGH NOON: THE CARL FOREMAN DOCUMENTS , made in 2002.
A TV movie about the making of High Noon would be fascinating. But who would play Cooper, Kelly, Jurado, Zinnemann, Foreman………
Finally, isn’t it amazing that this well nigh perfect movie was filmed in around 4 weeks.
And that iconic shot of Cooper:
Close ups of Oscar winner Gary Cooper’s face show the loneliness , the fear and the courage.
Terrific post! I really enjoyed it.
The 1953 Oscars were the first to be televised.
Excellent article about that, which also mentions that a 16mm copy of the broadcast exists. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/first-televised-oscars-academy-awards-full-show-rewatch-1235115714/
What a superb article. Thank you. May do another post just quoting from it. Nice to know there is a recording.
A story about Katy Jurado that has nothing at all to do with High Noon:
In the mid-1970s, Jurado was one of the stars of a play by Tennessee Williams, The Red Devil Battery Sign. It co-starred Anthony Quinn and Claire Bloom. Every time that Jurado spoke, the entire audience turned to whoever was next to them and asked, “What’d she say?” She was wonderful in a lot of English language films, in all of which she must have had terrific speech coaches.
I barely recall the play, but I think that it was really bad. Check out the summary on Wikipedia; it even sounds dreadful.
Your post, on the other hand, is excellent.
Interesting though surprising story.
Glad you liked the post.
As others have said, that was a most enjoyable read about the personnel and circumstances around this great western.
I’m hoping for some discussion! It’s such a well known and liked western.
Yes, the whole background against which it was made is fascinating in itself, as are the reactions it then provoked in other filmmakers such as Hawks.
It’s a very stylized piece of work – the music, the cuts to the clock, the almost self-conscious shooting choices – yet the whole affair never loses its authentic feel, probably because that authenticity derives from the emotional core. Sure the social and political commentary is writ large, but the themes and issues underpinning that have a breadth, a universality, to them that arouse a response from the viewer on a much more basic, almost an atavistic, level. There are so many layers of apprehension reflected throughout, so much confrontation of fear and doubt, musings on collective and individual responsibility, what one owes to oneself as much as to those around etc. With a foundation like that to build upon, before you even get to the quality of the performances, editing, direction and so on, it is hard to go wrong.
Fascinating stuff, Vienna! I look so forward to seeing the documentary when it airs. It took me years (and years) to finally see High Noon, but it was worth the wait. And my appreciation is enhanced by this background info.
Colin, thanks for your observations. I almost find it hard to believe that Howard Hawks couldn’t appreciate the quality of High Noon. I love the locations and the photography.
Karen, glad to hear you finally saw and liked the film.
There are for sure a lot of Internet legends that don’t exist anywhere else; but the story about the lead actor part of High Noon isn’t one of them…. Wayne himself said in several interviews that he turned down the role in High Noon. Now that said , maybe Wayne lied or didn’t recall correctly or whatever, but there were some others in the industry who corroborated his story back in the “old tv days” of the ‘60s – ‘80s including George Stevens & John Ford.
Personal opinion – High Noon sheriff has to be an old man for it to work. Wayne couldn’t have carried that role in 1952 but he could have done a terrific job with it in 1972. Like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper aged very quickly, much faster than some of his other contemporaries did like Stewart, Wayne, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea.
Thanks, Han, for your comments. I agree that making the sheriff an older man added to the drama.
I’d like to believe that Carl Foreman’s son, Jonathan, got the story straight -John Wayne wasn’t offered the role.