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HIGH NOON

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Katy Jurado
Director:  Fred Zinnemann
Audio:  Dolby Digital 3.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Artisan
Features:  See Review
Length:  85 Minutes
Release Date:  October 22, 2002

“They're making me run, Amy.  I've never run from anyone in my life.”

Film ****

High Noon was the film that broke a lot of conventional thinking when it came to westerns, and started a lot of new thinking in the process.  Before Kiefer Sutherland was counting down his 24 hours, Gary Cooper, in his Oscar winning performance as Marshal Will Kane was watching the hands of the clock heading straight up to his date with destiny.

But it was more than the real-time feel that made the film such a blatant contrast to the common Western at the time.  As the genre evolved from black and white to color, as scenery became more lavish and lush, as white hat heroes fought black hearted villains, High Noon offered a simple modern morality play.  No color, no flaming sunset backgrounds, and interestingly enough, no real action until the climax.  It was the tale of a man following his conscience despite overwhelming odds…a man facing almost certain death, and confessing his fear, but facing it as his way of doing the right thing.

The story is simple.  Kane, on the day of his wedding and official retirement as a law man, gets word that an old nemesis, a murderer he helped put away, is coming into town on the noon train to exact his revenge.  Though a new chapter in his life has just begun, the new Marshal won't be in town til the next day, and Kane feels obligated to stay and face the inevitable confrontation.

Much to his dismay, he quickly learns that no one, including his new wife, approves of his decision.  Instead of finding him heroic, most find him just plain stupid.  As the clock ticks away to high noon, Kane desperately searches for men to help him face the killer and his three henchmen, but no one will.

Cooper's performance is truly brilliant: as the time draws nearer and nearer, he seems to grow older and wearier before our eyes, as he becomes more and more aware that he's probably going to die, and die alone. One of the great cinematic elements of the film is the way it unfolds in real time.  Watch the clocks in the scenes, and compare them to the time remaining on your disc. Both will show just about the same amount of time left until high noon.

Also appearing in this picture are a very young Lloyd Bridges, and in her first major role, an absolutely radiant Grace Kelly as the new Mrs. Kane.  Other big names in smaller roles:  Lon Chaney, Henry Morgan, Thomas Mitchell and Lee Van Cleef (who doesn't speak a word, but his presence is unmistakable).

But the performances only make up part of the experience…the Oscar winning editing keep the suspense building by keeping the little seen threat real while Kane makes his desperate pleas for help.  Director Fred Zinnemann was one of the first to use extensive storyboards to plan his shooting…mostly to bow to time constraints, but the final product proved that the planning was well worth it, as the editing, camerawork and performances all work together to march the story toward its inevitable conclusion.  And I haven't even mentioned the Oscar winning score and song, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'”, as sung unforgettably by Tex Ritter…a tune that became an instant classic.

High Noon looms large on the cinema landscape.  Modestly constructed but streamlined and timeless, it's no wonder it remains a fan favorite and an influential entry in American film history.

Video ****

Stunning!  This is a shining example of clean, high contrast black and white photography made luminescent by DVD.  Here is a rich, detailed world of light and shadow, with strong, crisp images that deliver a real sense of atmosphere.  The print is amazingly clean for its age…grain, dirt and debris are minimal to non-existent.  I'd easily rank this amongst the best black and white offerings I've seen on disc…superb!

Audio ***

You get your choice of original mono mix or a newly remastered 4 channel offering, which seems to utilize the three front speakers and the subwoofer.  Dynamic range is fairly formidable, as the terrific score by Dimitri Tiomkin gets rounded out nicely with the extra bass.  Dialogue is clean and clear.  A bit of noise is slightly evident during the more quieter scenes, but nothing distracting, and certainly within acceptable limits for a film celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Features ***

The features are quite cool, starting with a nice documentary on the making of the film hosted by Leonard Maltin, and featuring a few interview clips with Lloyd Bridges talking about the man he lovingly refers to as “Coop”.  There is also a short 10 minute retrospective hosted by Cooper's daughter Maria Cooper-Janis, a second generation commentary track featuring her, Tim Zinnemann (son of director Fred), and John Ritter (son of crooner Tex).  Though their memories are second hand, they service a solid tribute to their fathers and the work they did on the film.

Rounding out is an original Ralph Emery radio broadcast featuring Tex Ritter (a little over five minutes), and DVD trailers for Artisan's special editions for this film, The Quiet Man and Rio Grande.

Summary:

High Noon is simply one of the truly great American films; one that came to be both synonymous with and transcendent to the Western genre.  A solid cast headed by the excellent Gary Cooper, taut storyline, and real-time feel to the suspense make this movie a classic; the quality of the video and features make this disc a must-own for collectors.