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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
High Noon: CE (1952)

"And in the end you wind up dyin' all alone on some dusty street. For what? For a tin star. It's all for nothin', Will. It's all for nothin'."
- Martin Howe (Lon Chaney, Jr.)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: November 11, 2002

Stars: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly
Other Stars: Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Lon Chaney Jr., Otto Kruger
Director: Fred Zinnemann

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:25m:00s
Release Date: October 22, 2002
UPC: 017153125719
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's always difficult to air your impressions of a classic film upon first viewing; the pressure is really on when your opinions will be condensed into a written review. Though I've slowly but surely been exploring the cream of the crop from the western genre over the past few years, I'd yet to see High Noon prior to receiving a copy for review. It's difficult to balance my personal impressions against years of critiques and criticisms, but I'll give it a go.

High Noon was immensely popular upon its theatrical release in 1952 (much to the surprise of the studio, as a slightly different cut had received terrible scores from test audiences), and over the years, it has risen in esteem. Some have even gone so far as to call it "the first serious Western." Fifty years later, I say that it's still marvelously entertaining, a multifaceted character study set against a backdrop of exquisitely crafted and ever-increasing tension. The story is simple enough. Retired lawman Will Kane (Gary Cooper) hears that a man he sent to jail, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has been released and is coming to town to kill him at high noon. Kane decides to stay and face the man, and must explain this to the people in his life as the morning drags on, from his wife Amy (Grace Kelly), to his deputy (Lloyd Bridges)—who offers to help only if he is made the next Marshall—to the Judge (Otto Kruger), who skips town when he hears that trouble is coming.

From that rather loose framework, a remarkable thriller is born. Elements that would otherwise feel tired or melodramatic are saved by one innovation: the film's concept of "real time." Clocks are a motif, and shots frequently linger on the large one in the town square as it clicks ever closer towards doom. Amy insists that Kane leave town and leave the fight to someone else, and as the hour draws near, it sometimes seems as if he'll take the bait. If nothing else, High Noon is masterfully edited, and something as simple as a cut to a clock does wonders for the film's pacing (which is near perfect throughout the 85-minute running time). It's interesting to note that that original, disastrous test screening featured a print minus the majority of the clock shots—they really make a difference.

Fred Zinnemann's direction can be credited for the effective flow of the action, perhaps more so than Carl Foreman's somewhat muddled screenplay. He seems to have particular trouble settling on a "message" for the film, though many soapbox scenes are shoehorned in (reportedly at the behest of producer Stanley Kramer). For all its surface ambiguity, High Noon basically boils down to the old adage that a man must stand up for his honor despite the consequences, hardly a departure from the idyllic westerns of the 1940s. One reading of the film is that the town represents the American populace, and that none will stand up to the villain is analogous to the caving of Hollywood to HUAC during the blacklist hearings in the late '40s and early '50s. Whether this was intentional is up for debate, but even so, the meaning is obscured by a script that takes the easy way out.

However you rationalize the ultimate message of High Noon, it remains, at least, an entertaining film. I'd say its reputation is well deserved.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For such an old film, this black & white transfer looks pretty good, though it has its problems. The image looks nice and crisp, but at what cost? Ringing is frequently quite noticeable, and many scenes suffer from artifacting in the film grain. Blacks are nice and solid, though, even if shadow detail is lacking (though this can be attributed to the high-contrast photography employed by cinematographer Floyd Crosby. Surprisingly, print flaws are rarely present, let alone intrusive—a marvel for a film five decades old.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoOriginal English, Enhanced Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in both the original restored mono and an "enhanced" restored mono track. I was honestly hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two (though the enhanced track does have a less obtrusive background hiss). Otherwise, these tracks are typical of most mono presentations. Fidelity is somewhat limited, particularly in the presentation of the score and for sound effects like gunshots. Dialogue is always clear, however.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 1 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Rio Grande, The Quiet Man
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Maria Cooper-Janis, Jonathan Foreman, Tim Zinnemann, John Ritter
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Tex Ritter radio interview
Extras Review: Artisan replaces the old, bare-bones edition of High Noon with this snazzy 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition (though, oddly enough, the package makes no mention of the anniversary... wake up, Artisan marketing team!). Some of the extras are new, some are newly rediscovered archive material, and some will be quite familiar to longtime fans of the film, but regardless, with a list price of but $19.99, its hard to argue that the extras aren't worth your money.

First up is an interesting commentary track from the High Noon cast and crew: the next generation, as most of the original production team is no longer with us. Joining us are Maria Cooper-Janis (daughter of Gary Cooper), Jonathan Foreman (son of screenwriter Carl), Tim Zinnemann (son of the director), and John Ritter (yes, the one from Three's Company—his dad sang the Oscar®-winning theme). The four actually have quite a few memories to share, and they are obviously quite knowledgeable about their forebears' careers. They discuss all elements of the production, from casting to scriptwriting to shooting the film, displaying good humor and humility throughout. Quite an entertaining track, if a bit unconventional.

Next up is a pair of making-of documentaries. The first, The Making of High Noon, is the better of the two. Hosted by film critic Leonard Maltin, it offers a 22-minute look into the creation of what everyone involved seems to regard as a work of art (I'm not necessarily disagreeing here). Filmed in 1992, when producer Stanley Kramer and actor Lloyd Bridges were still alive, the piece features their remembrances of the film (including Kramer's answer to those who call High Noon a commentary of the blacklisting in the Hollywood of the 1950s), augmented with lots of backstory from Maltin. The other piece, Behind High Noon, is far less interesting. Hosted by Maria Cooper-Janis, it explores some of the legal issues that surrounded the film's release (a book with a similar plot was optioned to avoid possible litigation) as well as the steps that went into choosing Zinnemann as director. The real problem with this featurette is that the interviews are poorly edited and the random comments from the offspring of the original cast and crew seem a particularly odd choice for a featurette, especially when same are featured on the commentary track.

An odd piece of archival material, the Tex Avery radio interview from the Ralph Emry show is a welcome inclusion, despite the brief running time. For five minutes, the two discuss the singer's career, with particular attention paid to his performance of High Noon's Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin' for the Oscars®. Speaking of vintage promo material, there's also a trailer and clips for two other western DVDs: Rio Grande, and The Quiet Man.

The feature is divided into 20 chapter stops (with a whole separate chapter break for Ritter's song). No subtitles are provided, though there are English closed captions, provided your TV supports this.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

High Noon is widely regarded as one of the best Westerns ever made, and Artisan's new collector's edition treats it as such. Anyone with an interest in the genre will surely want to pick this one up.


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