High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic
Part of the reason I read film books is to have an outsider entice me to check out a movie. Where some of you come here to have me tell you whether a certain film is worth your time or not – and if you value my opinion, I thank you – I defer to experts whose cases for a certain film are presented in a book of some type. Enter former Washington Post reporter Glenn Frankel and High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, the ultimate in-depth examination of the Hollywood blacklist and High Noon’s (1952) place within it.
High Noon is a film as representative of the blacklist era as 1954’s On the Waterfront. The tragic story of a small-town sheriff (played by Gary Cooper) coming up against a posse of baddies only to realize the entire town has abandoned him presents the blacklist writ large. For screenwriter Carl Foreman, though, High Noon was a personal story of his own decision to testify for the House Un-American Activities (HUAC) or not. Frankel lays out a stark narrative about the formation of HUAC, initially started in the late ’40s but gaining the most traction in the 1950s, but what’s indelible is how he captures Foreman’s life. Stories of those whose career was ruined by HUAC are well-known, most especially Dalton Trumbo’s, but Foreman’s is a case of “wrong place, wrong time.”
Frankel lays out the inner turmoil that inspired Foreman to conceive and execute the script for High Noon. Foreman initially refused to name names and spent time in jail for contempt of court. Unable to find work after the studios blacklisted everyone Foreman attempted to find succor with his business partner, Stanley Kramer. Kramer, whose fledgling Kramer Company was known for defying outdated studio logic, originally planned to stand by him. Frankel presents a balanced view of what Foreman says happened to him, and what Kramer says caused him to fire Foreman. The saddest part is, even when Foreman did cooperate with HUAC later on, it still didn’t fix his career. He’s one of many people whose lives were ruined by the blacklist, and Frankel captures the hurt, frustration and ultimate futility Foreman probably felt. The rest of the narrative is a frightening look at how government interference can dictate media representation. Without saying it outright, Frankel’s book is almost a guidebook for how our own political world and media could be walking us into another round of HUAC trials.
Frankel also takes the time to chart the production of High Noon as it navigated the waters of HUAC. Similar in tone to Noah Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca, High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic focuses on the casting of the film – Gary Cooper wasn’t always happy with his performance and Stanley Kramer felt Grace Kelly was miscast – to the scripting and the ultimate reception. Hollywood’s response to High Noon is fascinating as many conservatives saw through the metaphor and took it as a Communist feature, particularly John Wayne who doesn’t off too good in the book (though Frankel isn’t saying anything most people don’t already know). What started as a small, independent production transformed into an indelible time capsule of a moment of terror.
High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic is an essential read for fans of the ’50s Western, as well as those who want to learn about how the blacklist played out through one particular film. Frankel commands the narrative like a college professor teaching a class, and that’s not a criticism but a genuine accomplishment.
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Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Hi, Kristen – it is a superb book and, as you say, an essential read for any Western fan. His previous book, about the making of The Searchers, is also outstanding.