Review of reviews: Books
Book of the week
High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic
“High Noon has done more than stand the test of time,” said Chris Vognar in The Dallas Morning News. Though passed over for 1953’s Best Picture Oscar, Stanley Kramer’s Western “has gotten better with age—through its timelessness and the sheer force of its artistry.” The tale of a frontier marshal forced to defend a town alone, it has been screened at the White House more than any other movie, and its title long ago became cultural shorthand for any test of moral courage. But High Noon was always something else, too: an allegory for the Red Scare, said John Anderson in Newsday. Glenn Frankel’s “energetic, closeto- exhaustive” study captures how the era’s climate of fear both inspired the movie and scarred some of those who made it.
The story Frankel delivers is “not far removed from a James Ellroy novel,” said A.S. Hamrah in Bookforum.com. His supporting cast teems with corrupt pols, hard-core Commies, powerful gossip columnists, and undercover agents. Two unlikely heroes emerge: Though screenwriter Carl Foreman was a former Communist Party member and actor Gary Cooper was a staunch conservative, the star believed in Foreman’s screenplay and that the younger man was being unfairly targeted when he was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Foreman was blacklisted shortly after High Noon was completed, having found few allies willing to stand with him besides Cooper—an aging star frustrated that he was being pushed aside. When Cooper’s marshal, disgusted by the townsfolk who weaseled out of helping him defend their community, throws his tin star in the dust, “the scene and gesture seem to encapsulate both men’s careers in Hollywood.”
The story of HUAC, so often told, “can’t help but feel a tad rehashed,” said John Domini in The Washington Post. Fortunately, Frankel gives plenty of attention to the fun stuff—like Cooper’s many affairs and the dumb luck that allowed High Noon to click on screen at nearly every level. Still, Frankel, a Pulitzer Prize– winning reporter, has dug deeply into all aspects of his story, and “even in rerun, the sheer wickedness of HUAC’s witch hunt generates terrific drama—and offers reassurance.” Though the Red Scare ruined lives, careers, and friendships, it didn’t last forever. Frankel, perhaps unintentionally, ends up reminding us that our time isn’t the first to witness politicians who traffic in fear, and that in past such eras, “people of integrity came together to do exemplary work.”