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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

'High Noon' DVD/BD: Stanley Kramer '50s Classic Old West '24'

These musings regarding the launch of the Olive Films Signature collection including the September 20, 2016 DVD and Blu-ray releases of the 1952 Stanley Kramer classic "adult Western" "High Noon" reinforce the thoughts in the Unreal TV review of the simultaneous Signature releases of the 1954 Nicholas Ray (of "Rebel Without a Cause" fame) Western with equally mature themes "Johnny Guitar" that Olive wisely pairs the two. One cannot imagine a better weekend afternoon double-feature.

Part of the fun of "Noon" relates to regular references to a tin star; that badge is the title of the magazine article on which the film is based. 

The four Oscar wins for this Old West version of the Kiefer Sutherland drama series "24" include Best Actor for Gary Cooper in his role as perhaps the first lawman to have a horrible last day on the job Marshal Will Kane. The awesome Tex Ritter song "High  Noon (Don Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin')," which provides classic Western style (and '60scom "F Troop" spoofed) exposition is awarded Best Original Song for 1953. Other awards include several Golden Globes. 

"Noon" is also notable for being a Stanley Kramer joint. Kramer goes on to produce scads o' '50s and '60s classics. A woefully incomplete list of these films includes "The Caine Mutiny," "Judgment at Nuremberg," and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

Grace Kelly rounds out this top three as Grace Fowler Kane (rather than Amy Farrah Fowler) , who is a Quaker whose honeymoon period with Will lasts less than five minutes. This actress who goes on to be one of Hitchcock's favorite blondes shows equally quickly that she is far more than just another pretty face. Her quiet strong will (no pun intended) and limited willingness to stand by her man make her an early film feminist hero.

Just as "Guitar" dramatically opens with blasting rock as part of a railroad expansion that is integral to that film. "Noon" commences with a gathering of outlaws ahead of their recently paroled leader scheduled to arrive at the titular hour. 

The action soon shifts to the closing moments of the Sunday morning wedding of recently resigned Marshal Will and Amy (Wamy?). The pronouncement of that union is barely out of the mouth of the presiding Quaker minister when a literally rude awakening comes in the form of  Will leaning that Frank Miller, who is a particularly ornery outlaw that Will arrested five years earlier, is paroled and is arriving in just over an hour. None of the assembled group doubts that revenge against Will and the other locals responsible for that not-so-unfortunate incarceration is the motive for that visit.

The ensuing real-time period between Will receiving the dual bad news and the anticipated showdown is sure to have fans of the aforementioned Sutherland series imagine a digital clock on the screen and hear accompanying ominous music. "Noon" director Fred Zimmerman, who also is behind-the-camera for dramas that include "From Here to Eternity" and "A Man for All Seasons," provides the effective substitute of still shots of a wall clock.

The "24" vibe continues with the lone wolf aspect and related betrayals of that series. We further get plenty of the moral dilemmas that contribute to Sutherland's Jack Bauer literally sleepless nights.

The Kramer-caliber substance of  "Noon" that separates it from stampedes and gunfights style Westerns also commences with the countdown to the titular time. Will must initially determine that staying to fight is the better course than running, try to convince the town folks to stand with him, and confront his past demons. The latter include incompetent interim Marshal (and former deputy) Harvey Pell, whom Lloyd Bridges perfectly portrays, and Will former flame/Harvey current love interest Helen Ramirez. The spot-on portrayal of  Ramirez by Katy Jurado earns her a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe.

It seems that tough and independent saloon owner Helen inspires the tough and independent saloon owner Vienna whom Crawford plays in "Guitar." They both have a "past" about which neither is ashamed. An awesome scene in "Noon" refers to the history of Helen by having a hotel owner comment that Will knows the way when the former asks if Helen is in her room.

Another parallel exists in the form of the earnest boy who is eager to prove that he is a man. Turkey in "Guitar" is a barely post-adolescent who wants to prove that he is as tough as any man. One of the best scenes in "Noon" has a teen trying to convince Will that the lad has what it takes to be the Robin to Will's Batman. 

Kramer and Zimmerman also add their own artistic touches to the shootout that comprises most of the final 15 minutes of "Noon." Rather than merely being two foes facing each other on an otherwise deserted dusty street, the gun battle looks more like a modern police drama chase. A highly symbolic scene in this segment has an "in imminent peril" Will take the time to save a herd of horses.

The involvement of Kramer and "Noon" not being your typical kiddie matinee oater leaves the barn door open for the possibility of a finale that is not a typical Hollywood ending. Determining if Kramer adheres to the Hayes Code in having Frank Miller killed or jailed and Will riding off in the sunset with Amy requires watching the beautifully restored film; the semi-spoiler is that its complicated.

The booklet, which seems to be a Signature staple, that the (awesomely produced) Blu-ray set includes has an essay that offers more insight into "Noon" than one could hope for. This article expands beyond the themes discussed above to discuss the involvement of blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and the relevancy of the film in this era of the Trump candidacy. We further learn of the parallels between "Noon" and the 1929 Cooper film "The Virginian," based on the classic 1902 novel of the same name.

The special features also include the theatrical trailer, documentaries on the editing of "Noon " and the awesomeness of  Kramer productions, and a Must-See "making-off" feature narrated by recently deceased young actor Anton Yelchin.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Noon" is strongly encouraged to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy,

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