This afternoon I screened High Noon, a film I had never seen before but that I suspected was one of the greatest westerns of all time based on reputation and its high ranking on the AFI list. Boy was I surprised. It’s not a western in the tradition of True Grit, 3:10 to Yuma or Butch Cassidy, but rather it’s a story about one man’s commitment to doing what he thinks is right despite what everyone else thinks and the fact that it takes place in the West is fairly irrelevant. I have to admit that I didn’t really care much for the film, but I was intrigued enough about why it was so critically acclaimed that I had to do some research and I found out some interesting things that changed my opinion — slightly.
To begin, the film was made during the height of the red scare and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the film’s writer, Carl Foreman, was a former Communist and when he was called before HUAC he would not name names and was blacklisted. It is said that High Noon is about standing up for what is right even when everyone else does nothing, which is exactly what happens in the film when nobody in the town is willing to help Marshal Kane (Gary Cooper) even though he was responsible for cleaning up the town in the first place. Kane’s new wife, a quaker, initially leaves her new husband because he wouldn’t run away but then goes against her religion and helps her husband, even killing one of the bad guys. Is this Foreman making a statement about religion? 🙂
What makes the film even more interesting to me is that John Wayne hated it. In fact, he said it was the most un-American film ever made. Considering Wayne was a racist and someone who agreed with what HUAC was doing I guess that makes me a fan of High Noon. Lord knows I love a good liberal cause! Strangely, the film is listed as a favorite by both Bill Clinton and Dwight Eisenhower.
High Noon was nominated for Best Picture but did not win. Cooper won for Best Actor, though in my mind he didn’t really do much so it must have been a bad year for actors!
Next: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The second Alfred Hitchcock film so far on the AFI Top 100, Rear Window stars Jimmy Stewart as a professional photographer who is laid up with a broken leg with nothing to do but spy on his neighbors out his window. When he thinks his a neighbor has killed his wife he tries to put together the story along with his girlfriend, his nurse and a detective friend. The result is really less of a suspense film and more of a commentary on society.
In terms of suspense the film is a little slow and not nearly as action packed as other Hitchcock films like Psycho, North By Northwest or The Birds. But I enjoyed it for its statement about human nature. Stewart’s character Jeff watches over his neighborhood and judges each neighbor. There is “Miss Lonelyhearts” who dines with imaginary friends, and the songwriter who struggles with his art but throws parties with lots of people. There are the newlyweds and of course “Miss Torso” who dances around in her underwear and appears to have many men chasing after her. But of course Jeff becomes obsessed with the salesman, Mr. Thorwald, who slaves over his ill wife until one strange night she seems to have disappeared. Jeff watches Thorwald’s strange behavior and rushes to the judgement that he has killed his wife.
Frankly I’m not sure why Rear Window is considered a great film by so many, including the AFI. Aside from the interesting characters in the apartment complex it’s a pretty silly film, especially the end in which Thorwald goes a little crazy. The whole premise that Thorwald would kill his wife with the shades open and then continue to prance about his apartment packing up her belongings is far-fetched. So too is his reaction when Jeff lets him know that he is on to his scheme. Thorwald’s behavior is so unbelievable that it borders on ridiculous.
On the other hand, Jimmy Stewart does a nice job as Jeff. His character has the best lines (along with the sharp-witted nurse). On top of that, any film with the gorgeous Grace Kelly is worth watching. Still, Jeff doesn’t seem to want to marry Grace so he’s really not that bright after all.
Next Up: A Streetcar Named Desire