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  • High Noon
  • Jon Lewis (bio)
High Noon by Phillip Drummond. British Film Institute1997. $14.95; 96 pages

The British Film Institute (BFI) book series now includes over fifty titles, and it is an eclectic mix that falls into two distinct categories: more or less free-form, impressionistic readings by celebrity authors (Salman Rushdie's take on The Wizard of Oz, for example, published in 1992, or Greil Marcus's The Manchurian Candidate, published ten years later) and more traditional (but often no less idiosyncratic) scholarly studies (Dana Polan's In a Lonely Place [1993] and Scott Bukatman's book on Blade Runner [1997]) that provide teachers of film with compact, readable, and affordable single-film studies. [End Page 163]

Phillip Drummond's 1997 book on High Noon falls into the latter category; it is a straightforward piece of objective scholarship that provides a useful class text for a film that is well worth teaching. The movie High Noon was released at the height of the Western's postwar popularity: in 1952 alone, 108 Westerns were released, a little under a fourth of the total number of films to reach American screens that year. In addition to its importance in the Western genre, High Noon offers a telling blacklist parable written and coproduced by a famous victim of the Red Scare, Carl Foreman, who, by the time the film reached American screens, was already living in London, ostensibly in exile, his passport seized and his return home barred. Teaching American film history requires a full-stop at the blacklist; like movies after the advent of sound or the formation of the PCA, the medium changed suddenly and significantly in 1947 when the Hollywood 10 were hauled in to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Drummond's book opens with a quick look at the key players in the production of the film. Under the chapter heading "Authors," he dutifully credits the several players who composed the final product. This notion of collaborative authorship counters the conventional model of the director as sole auteur, but it is offered by Drummond in large part to problematize the complicated relationship between producer Stanley Kramer, who by most accounts did little on the film, and his soon-to-be ex-partner Foreman, who did a lot. Also on the set were the "friendly witness" Gary Cooper, then one of Hollywood's biggest stars (and whose iconic presence helped shape the film), who despite his own personal politics, privately and publicly supported Foreman's continued work on and screen credit for the film; and Lloyd Bridges, who had already ratted out his friends to keep his career afloat and, legend has it, encouraged Foreman to do the same.

The New York Film Critics named Fred Zinnemann Director of the Year for his work on High Noon. Zinnemann was (back when the term really meant something) a top "studio director" who proved adept at navigating even the most treacherous of times in Hollywood. There were few films in 1952 with more significant on-set distractions and conflicts than High Noon, but by all accounts, Zinnemann brought the film in on time, on budget, and on topic. But that he was in any real way the sole or primary author of the film seems fundamentally ridiculous.

Drummond moves from the question of authorship to a view of the film as a mass cultural product. Acknowledging fifties Hollywood's "significant economic readjustment,"1 Drummond tracks the film from development (when yet another eventual blacklistee, Ben Maddow, wrote an early script), into production, post-production (the stage where Kramer would claim, dishonestly, that he "produced" the picture), and through release (where the film became a late-summer success, drawing crowds seeking relief from the heat of the summer in what were then newly air-conditioned movie theaters).

We are 45 pages into an 83-page monograph before Drummond commences a close reading of the film. For students who are too often taught (by literature professors dabbling in media studies) to read films like literature, this is an instructive [End Page 164] strategy: context first, text second. Using some very good-looking film stills—the BFI...


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